Sunday, March 22, 2009

More press and more confusion

seems to be the result of the groundbreaking for the White House vegetable garden.

The article in today's NY Times seems to be a typical mishmash and rehash.
Besides, aren't you tired of Alice Waters? or of Whole Foods being held up as a paragon of a reformed food system?

This shorter piece by Mark Bittman makes more sense

I love the quote from Marion Nestle:

"Organic junk food is still junk food."

It's right up there with a note I made from a recent Pollan interview in Mother Jones:

"If you are willing to make it yourself, have all you want." He was referring specifically to french fries, but think about all the other things it might apply to. If it involves lots of work - and lots of fat - this maxim will save you.

The current Mother Jones issue, by the way has a provocative article, getting beneath the consumer hype of "organic". "Organic and Local is so 2008."

Actually, the most interesting thing I have read lately is a book I finished studying just this week, written before 2008. I think it must have been the author's dissertation - it certainly was written in academese. But it raised all the issues about organic in California - how the movement started, where it went astray, what it is not addressing.

Julie Guthman, Agrarian Dreams: the Paradox of Organic Farming in California
University of California Press, 2004.

"Organic" as a certifiable label really is all about inputs, that is, it is a label geared to the consumer system - growers as consumers as well as shoppers. It does not address processes, nor does it address justice issues. (I think I'll save a little rant about farm workers - and how they are mostly neglected in all this - for Cesar Chavez day.)

What organic means is that farmers are using different inputs than non-organic/conventional growers. No more, no less. Well, except perhaps for European certification schemes.

The organic movement in California was not an attempt to recover a more wholesome agrarian tradition. Most agriculture in California has always been done on a large scale. The organic movement as it arose in the 60s and 70s came from urban idealists, back-to-the-land romanticism.

Conversion to organic in California has been driven by cost (some things are just relatively easy and maybe even cheaper to grow organically, like grapes and tomatoes) and by wholesalers as much as by a vision of sustainability or ecological agriculture.

And most of the organic food available in the supermarket is grown on a large scale. Small scale growers make it through a combination of restaurant contracts and direct marketing, with CSAs probably having the most positive impact on small-medium integrated farming with just labor practices.

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