What does the word “organic” mean? That probably depends on who you are and what you want out of your food. For Makenna Goodman, organic should be a wholistic term that refers not just to a lack of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, but also to a humane treatment of the animals we eat and the soil that nourishes us. In her essay, she points out one of the dirty little secrets of the organic label — often times it’s just a label, and doesn’t necessarily reflect all the conditions surrounding food production.
But, as often happens when one among the ranks dissents, an attack is quickly issued. And, as happens all too often, the counter-attack misses the point of the argument. Farmers, or CE-Yos (as he brands himself), like Gary Hirshberg aren’t getting it.
Makenna Goodman isn’t calling for people to quit purchasing organic. She’s a farmer herself. What she is saying is that people need to show some initiative, discernment, and intelligence before blindly accepting the organic label. At the end of the day, it’s just a label, a marketing ploy to sell you something at a certain price.
What counter-critics like Hirshberg should address is the utter un-affordability of organic food. Let’s be realistic. A family with three or more members on a limited budget cannot afford to feed itself solely on organic food or food purchased from the local farmer’s market.
I would love to do that, but I can’t. Instead, I have to make intelligent choices about my organic and conventional purchases. Potatoes, celery, strawberries — these are among the items that I will only buy organic. If a chicken is hormone and anti-biotic free, but was raised conventionally? Well, a $5 or $6 chicken is a hell of a lot cheaper than the $13–$15 dollars you will pay for organic. And that organic label still doesn’t mean that the animal was treated any more humanely than it was on the Tyson farm.
If organic, as Hirshberg asserts, is truly healthier (and I don’t doubt that), then isn’t this a healthcare issue? And can we not see that this issue reflects the larger dilemma in America, where you get the healthcare that you can afford, not that you deserve?
If the organic movement is to have any impact beyond catering to the elite, it’s going to have to do two things: address the prohibitive costs of organic food and take seriously the legitimate critiques of farmers like Makenna Goodman.