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Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
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Monday, November 21, 2005

The Organic Faith

The three weeks I have been in Boston, I have been buying my groceries from the Whole Foods store. The Whole Foods chain, as some might know, is the champion of organic food in the US, whatever that means to the organic faithful. What it means to me is that stuff at Whole Foods is much expensive than what you get elsewhere. In fact the pack of eggs I bought had a slip of paper inside, explicitly saying: "We are the most expensive in the market, but check out the quality." After consuming half a dozen of those eggs, I was still wondering if my tongue is too low class to perceive egg quality. Add to the high cost of foods, there are always students standing outside the Whole Foods stores, asking for $15-20 donations for "Green" casues .

But coming to the larger question: Is all Organic food better than industrially produced food? Despite tall claims by Organic producers, there is no conclusive evidence yet in any direction. At least, the regulators in developed countries (e.g. US Dept. of Agriculture) have tried to ensure that people who label their produce "Organic" follow stringent production standards. All the same, Organic has become a successful concept. Whole Foods has clocked sales of ~$4bn and is growing. What used to be popular only among hippies, has now been embraced by the middle class. Even the mighty Wal-Mart is exploring this segment. What explains this success given high prices and lack of any conclusive evidence? Well, if the concept of God can be so successful while being expensive (prayer offerings, gilded temples) and lacking any evidence, why can't organic food follow the same track? Also, there will always be a segment of people who will believe that old times were much better than present days. That’s why many of us still live by religious texts written hundreds of years back by people who also knew that the world was flat without any America in it. And that’s why some people will continue to have more faith on clinically unproven medicinal herbs and organic food, even though they were developed by our forefathers whose average life span was half that of ours.

Why do I go to Whole Foods? Because it is right next door to my apartment and there are no large supermarkets nearby. Also the staff at Whole Foods is much friendlier than those at Wal-Mart, Safeway or Target. Probably most people go by the same thought process.


Thomas said...

Organic is better for the environment, even if it isn't better for the consumer. There's a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico from all the pesticides washed into it down the Mississippi River. Organic doesn't contribute to that problem.

The bigger issue for me is that organic often tastes better.

Most American fruits and vegetables are bred to be mass-produced and easily transported, not flavorful.

Apples, for example, are awful. They came up with an apple that is hard to bruise and therefor easy to ship. The problem? It tastes like sawdust with a skin. The solution? Name it "Red Delicious." (Well, it's red at least.)

Ash said...

Organic food is produced without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers - this reduces health hazards for us, prevents development of resistance among pests, and prevents loss of biodiversity.

Organic farming promotes sustainable soil use which helps control erosion and flooding.

Organic farming promotes sutainable water use, preventing wastage of water.

Organic farming makes minimal use of fossil fueld, thereby not contributing to air pollution, and helping conserve these non-renewable resources.

And like Thomas mentioned, organic foods are all natural and tend to retain flavor better.

Yes, I just finished an environmental course and am full of gyann !:)

Shivaji said...

I believe that in future there will be a market for both industrial and organic food. Industrial food is cheap and most people in the third world are yet to get rid of malnutrition. Also entry of players like Wal Mart in the organic food segment will help bring down prices.
While I agree with Thomas that organic is more helpful for environment than for immediate consumer needs, the organic producers claim both and that too strongly.