For anyone who has ever eaten a chicken McNugget and remains oblivious as to what it looks like before the McWeird-piece-of-chicken takes shape and finds its way into your mouth, you should know one thing—chickens don’t have McNuggets. It’s not real food, in fact it looks more like a hideous stream of pink silly putty with feathers and beak remnants poking out of it only before being breaded, packaged and shoved down your throat. But there is hope for America’s fat ass. With the organic food industry booming, we can only hope that there is beginning to be a paradigm shift in the way America consumes food—a shift from a fast food nation to a more organic nation with smaller asses. Will we live to see the day fast food becomes obsolete or will the growing popularity of organic food potentially serve to undermine its sustainability?
The idea of maintaining the land and keeping it productive for future generations to use and cultivate is not a radical one. For instance in Cuba, by necessity an entire sytem of local community organic gardens called organipónicos, was developed because of the shortage of pesticides and difficulty of transporation. These semi-privatized collectives help feed the community, they serve as the bare-bones example of what organic farming should be.
Organic farming began as a marriage between the ideals of land stewardship and the rejection of industrialized farming around the time of WWII. Food shortages experienced during the war caused many farmers around the world to become less dependent on industrialized farming and begin to practice using the land as stewards rather than pillagers. This increase in farm longevity and productivity soon became known as “organic farming.”
But just like with everything else ‘America,’ with popularity comes the indubitable corporate takeover. And with organic farming becoming more and more popular, we are beginning to see those greedy “people” known as corporations take hold of the market. The shift in consumer behavior from the “all you can eat” mentality to a healthier and more environmentally friendly consumer is not a bad thing. However food giants such as Dean Foods, Heinz, and Kroger are all jumping on the organic bandwagon and beginning to bog it down with labels and fat wallets. Smaller farms, ones that encourage consolidation and land stewardship cannot compete with huge corporations that pump out as much organic food as the consumer can put in their mouths and feel good about themselves because they saw the organic sticker on the box on the shelf while pushing their overflowing buggy down the aisle at Wal-Mart.
But we can’t let these corporations outsmart us and pervert our demand for healthier foods. When you’re shopping for organic food it’s imperative to your health and small organic farmers’ existence that you don’t go by the “organic sticker only” rule of thumb. Instead try and purchase whole foods, like meat, grain, vegetables and dairy products directly from an organic producer, not from Wal-Mart or Kroger.
Recently Cornucopia, one of the most aggressive agricultural watchdogs in America filled a former legal complaint with the USDA asking them to investigate allegations that Wal-Mart stores were falsely labeling conventional food as “organic.” Cornucopia Institute released a statement that said this problem had first been brought to their attention after noticing stores in Texas misidentifying food products as organic.
Misrepresentations such as this may account for the exponential increase in retail sales of organic foods, which have jumped from $3.6 billion a year in 1997 to $21.1 billion in 2011, and are expected to increase even more. However, agricultural research groups and think tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute argue that this growth is unsustainable due to the lack of land needed to not only produce the organic goods, but also provide and feed the animals needed to fertilize crops. Tim Worstall of the Adam Smith Institute, a pro free market capitalism think tank, recently wrote a column criticizing the direction organic farming is going in. “The system doesn’t actually work, doesn’t actually do what a system of feeding people is supposed to do: feed people. I’ve said it before and will no doubt have to say it again in the future. The problem with a peasant system of agriculture is that people have to live the lives of peasants: short, exhausting and hungry,” Worstall said.
Could it be that perhaps the demand for organic goods has exhausted the means necessary to produce them? As per definition, organic food cannot be made. It must be grown without the use of sewer-sludge fertilizers, most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetic engineering, growth hormones, irradiation, and antibiotics. So with that said, perhaps the only means we have left to guarantee the sustainability of organic foods, is to just go out and grow it ourselves and just cut out that greedy corporate middle-man altogether. Or if that proves impossible--as not too many landlords are fond of goats and chickens- -we must at least have enough common sense to think twice about buying all of our organic foods from Wal-Mart.