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Sep 1, 2007

I've been reading "Sane Living in a Mad World: A Guide to the Organic Way of Life" by Robert Rodale (1972). Note the year and the author; this is the Rodale, the same one whose Rodale Press has published hundreds of books on gardening and growing things over the years, as well as other products. The year of publication was 1972 -- 35 years ago. Organic farming is a very old idea -- indeed, "old as the hills," but even its current resurgence is much older than the 5 or 10 years since we started seeing a respectable amount of organic products on the store shelves. It's a bit heartbreaking that in the book Robert thought he was seeing the beginnings of a major turnaround in the way the country produced its food, but then we got a bunch of Republican presidents and little changed. Robert Rodale's father, J. I. Rodale, is actually credited with introducing the organic idea to the U.S. in 1942 - some 65 years ago. I found the following quote on refined foods that I found quite interesting: (emphasis my own)

"Organically-grown food is handled differently after it is harvested. It is not refined, chemically treated, or processed beyond the dictates of bare necessity. There is no such thing as organically grown white bread, for example, since by refining the wheat you would destroy its "organic" quality. You can see that the word organic has grown beyond its original farm and garden meaning, and has become a matter of interest and concern to all people who want to improve their health."

Note the very broad and decisive statement that there is no such thing as organic white bread, and that it is said by someone with such authority on the subject and presented as fact. It was basically considered to be self-evident that "organic" meant preserving the organic nature of not one but three things: the soil, the food, and the food as it will be presented to the public. This means increasing the organic material in the soil and not presenting any refined/dangerous/toxic chemicals to it; harvesting food from that soil that contains no refined chemicals; and in fact presenting the food to the public in an "organic" state, which a refined/pure chemical is not. This actually did seem self-evident to me, as I balked the first time I saw food items that included "refined organic cane sugar" or "sea salt" in them. Sea salt is technically still a "whole food;" it is similar to honey in that it is predominantly one chemical, yet contains small amounts of many other minerals and/or vitamins. But when we have companies pushing Oreos with "organic flour and sugar," I think we've gone too far. If these are the only organic items in these Oreos, they are not two important things:

1. 70% of the ingredients are most likely not organic. (Which is the usual definition of whether an item can be certified as organic -- most people prefer 100% actually)
2. It is not a "whole food."

This brings to light a few important things we need to think about with "organic foods," lest we buy anything that mentions the "o" word and think we're getting our money's worth in the form of better taste, less toxins and more benefits to our health.

A. Food that was organically-grown but then refined is no longer "organic" in nature but a refined chemical. It does not contain a healthy balance of calories-vitamins-minerals which is a primary goal of organic eating.

B. Food that has been shipped from another country or even several states away may have lost much of its nutrients along the way, and may have used up an awful lot of fossil fuels to get to you (an increasing concern among vegetarians and organic enthusiasts). Caveat emptor.

C. Food that was organically-grown but then processed in numerous ways (especially those that involve cooking or soaking) will have lost much of their nutrients and become more of a refined chemical product than an organic/whole food. Check the vitamin content of processed "organic" foods; if they're the same as their non-organic counterparts you may be doing a little better than if you bought the national brand, but you're probably not getting your money's worth. You're paying extra for all the processing the manufacturer did to the food, so you are basically paying them to degrade your food.

In summary I would like to see store items such as those touted for their "organic white flour" also having in the same print size a note that they are not a certified organic food, nor a whole food. And perhaps we should begin to be a bit more vocal (with our mouths or pocketbooks) about the types of foods and ingredients we expect to see available to us, lest we end up with the same old junk food, processed chemically and mechanically to the point of mutilation, simply minus the poisons (pesticides/chemical fertilizer residues) and drugs (antibiotics/hormones/etc.). While that would be a minor victory, we would still be an obese nation prone to diabetes, heart disease and cancer -- which are the main problems whole foods and exercise are meant to solve.

William A. Otis
Visibility: Everyone
Posted: Saturday September 1, 2007, 10:32 am
Tags: exploitation whole organic foods farming commercial whitewashing [add/edit tags]

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William Otis
male, age 37, committed relationship
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
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