As farmers’ markets shutter for the season and backyard gardens go to seed, many of us will retreat to the grocery store for the bulk of our food purchases. The question is, when “local” options dwindle, will you opt to buy organic?
There seems to have been a sort of backlash against organic in recent months. Some people say it’s too expensive, that in this economy organic food just isn't relevant. Others say the complex bureaucracy of USDA Organic Certification shuts out small farmers who can’t afford the manpower to keep up with the paperwork. There’s some truth to both of those arguments.
But there’s another fact that’s been left out: The organic label is still consumers’ only institutionalized way of having a say in what kind of food they buy. When I buy organic carrots, I know at the very least they’ve been grown without chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and that, ideally, they’ve been grown in a way that nurtures soil, surrounding ecosystems and community. When I buy organic cookies, I know they don’t contain genetically modified ingredients. When I buy organic meat and milk, I know they don’t contain synthetic hormones or come from cloned offspring. Whether any of these things factor directly into our health is still being debated, but there are enough reputable studies saying yes–or even maybe–to make me dubious of putting blind trust into the conventional food system.
Does an organic sticker mean that something is going to taste better? Not necessarily. Are organic standards the end-all be-all answer to fixing our food system? Probably not. Sure, “organic” may be flawed, but until there is another structure in place that consumers can trust, organic does matter.
This week as you shop, whichever way you pick, be aware of the role the organic sticker plays in protecting our rights to choose our food.