Wednesday, March 01, 2006

What's In It For Me?

Back in January, I complained about Kristin Gerencher's bizarre unwillingness to investigate - let alone concede - the social and environmental benefits of organic farming.

She's at it again this month. People are willing to pay a premium price for organic food, she sniffs, despite lacking evidence that it confers personal health benefits.

First off, that's what happens in the marketplace. People will cheerfully pay premium prices for products that confer status, a sense of security, or imaginary benefits of just about any other kind. It's one of the primary drivers of our economy - and of technological and social change, for better or worse - and I'm getting very, very weary of priggish writers on organic food who pretend not to know it.

The entire issue, to Gerencher, is individual health. If it can't be demonstrated that organic food will improve one's own health (or one's family's), then there's no intelligent reason to buy it. The larger questions about pesticide application, pesticide run-off, antibiotic resistance, and land use are of no concern to her whatsoever.

Once again, she calls organic buyers hypochondriacs:

Much of the sales gain appears to be driven by the worried well, an educated, mostly healthy group with ample disposable income.
American business and government thrive on irrational worries, of course. And most businesses would be overjoyed to have "an educated, mostly healthy group with ample disposable income" buying their products. But as usual, the ordinary workings of the Free Market must be placed under a moralistic magnifying-glass when it leads consumers to buy organic food as opposed to, say, home security systems, or bath salts from the Dead Sea.
The limited presence of pesticide residues in Americans' food isn't a big risk to human health and shouldn't guide buying decisions, said Fergus Clydesdale, head of the food science department at University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a functional-foods expert with the Institute of Food Technologists, an independent scientific organization.
As it happens, this "independent" group's corporate sponsors have included the Coca-Cola Company, Monsanto, and Archer Daniels Midland.

Another fine job, Kristin!

In unrelated news, the Wall Street Journal notes:
Doctors are increasingly diagnosing multiple sclerosis in children and teens. Some research indicates that MS may be related to an environmental trigger early in life.


Anonymous said...

Institute of Food Technologists

the more vague the moniker, the more sinister the intent.

Phila said...

the more vague the moniker, the more sinister the intent.

Good point. You've just convinced me to cancel my membership in the United Association of Organizations.

isabelita said...

Aha! ADM, the font of high fructose corn syrup! One day in the future, we'll all just be hooked up to pumps that fill us with high fructose corn syrup...swelling, swelling...

Anonymous said...

in your last article one of the commenters mentioned the "closetedness" of it. A few years ago (?2002?) one of the moderately-annoying National Review boys wrote a pleading whiny article about the painst of being ostracized and hassled for buying organic. His family did so he assured readers not for any politicall correct [sic] reasons, but just because they liked the taste better. And yet they were given grief. But not to worry! He maintained faith that the persecution they suffered from their conservative peers for being too heterodox was as nothing to the persecution suffered by liberals for not hewing to the party line. Our internal purges are still better than their internal purges, nyah!

When I read that I realized just how far I had come, and the movement moved - that they wouldn't *want* me back. Because I remembered when it was perfectly fine to be a prolife conservative Catholic against the ERA and lewd movies and the War on Xmas (back in the '70s) AND still also to subscribe to Rodale's Organic Gardening as a good anarcho-syndicalist...

Anonymous said...

It was the same guy iirc who recently discovered that the Free Market wasn't so great and that his fantasy Texas didn't match up to the real thing, when he moved down to Dallas to get away from the liberals in NY and shock! gasp! horror! found that people turn all available land into ticky-tacky houses, as fast as they can buldoze there, including the land around *his* own lovely house and yard and privacy...

Phila said...


Yeah, I remember that silly little squabble.

It's that same "CrunchyCon" guy, right? A sad case. Alicublog has been all over his latest maunderings, but I haven't had the heart to visit his lair yet...

Anonymous said...

I buy organic because it tastes better.

Ever eaten an organic chicken? Nothing to do with the hormone, antibiotic and water pumped gelatinous mass one buys at a supermarket. It actually tastes gamey and has firmer flesh.

How about organic apples? Because they are organic, they have shorter shelf lives. Because they have shorter shelf lives, they tend to be sourced locally. Because they are sourced locally they are picked when ripe instead of being ripended "in the box". The result: sweet, juicy, crisp.

Milk? Yummy, creamy, healthy.

Oh yeah, and it is healthier too.

I just freak out when I hear stories like when they dug up US soldiers in Kuwait who were buried from the first Gulf War and the bodies had hardly decomposed. Freaky stuff.

Phila said...

Marc said...
I buy organic because it tastes better.

That's not the reason I do it now, but it was one of the main reasons I started. You're absolutely right about apples, especially...supermarket ones tend to be mealy and awful, while the organic ones are pretty much like those I picked off trees when I was a kid.

It's a very good point. I always leave that part out, 'cause I'm so busy. screeching about pesticide run-off and land use. But yeah, organic farms often do make a much better product.

Anonymous said...

I grow 'organic' because where can I go buy Brandywine tomatos?

This year, I'm starting with sweet corn from the 1909 seed line. Amish paste are on the list, and my grandparents last harvested in 1991 red kidney beans I'll try to propogate, along with the 1980's heads of dill I saved. Rattlesnake beans...I'll try to save them. For oil seed - sunflowers. And if I can make some chopping and crushing devices, I'll try to make "corn squeezings" (alcohol) by actually squeezing the leftovers of the sweet corn. Stalks will get squeezed, then dumped right back on the land.

Next year, I'll be trying to get sugar fodder beet seeds (I'll buy a bag or 2 of sugar beets for deer feed, save 'em and try to harvest the seeds after xplanting the beets.)

Phila said...


When do we eat?