Friday, July 31, 2009

Thoughts on Food, Inc. and The Omnivore's Dilemma

So, I've been awash in the world of food activism lately. About four years behind the curve, I finally sat down and powered through The Omnivore's Dilemma, essentially finishing it just in time for the opening of Food Inc. downtown at The Ragtag this past week. Since some of my likes and dislikes paralleled between the two, I thought I'd reflect on both.

The Movie:
I thought the film was well-done. I would say I enjoyed it, but only insomuch as one can enjoy a movie highlighting all of the wrongs of an industrial food system. Most of the hot-button food-advocate issues were presented and commentated on through narration, images, and interviews. Even as someone well-acquainted with the problems at hand, seeing this movie was beneficial. It brought powerful imagery and stories of both farmers and low-income workers tied up in the system -- things that middle to upper class white food crusaders theoretically care about but don't actually encounter on any regular basis. It drove home a point for me, at least, that even if I can get my own food and live my own life relatively out from under Monsanto's shadow, there is still a world of work that could be done to better the situations of others.

I also appreciated the fact that it called attention to the growing organic industry, and thought that it portrayed that side of things in an accurate and informative light.

I found some of the CGI sequences to be a little corny at times (computer-cows being conveyed toward a factory amid ominous music, thunder clouds, and mysterious men in suits walking through fields) which might be off-putting to someone who came into this film with views differing from the general target audience's. Also, there was nary a vegetable to be seen or heard of throughout the film (corn is a grain, after all). This was a somewhat disappointing, as I feel it pigeon holes what people consider to be food into the categories of animals and corn, two things which are already pretty absent from my own conception of food. A sustainable meat farmer (Joel Salatin) and dairy were featured, but no alternative veggie operations made it to the screen.

Perhaps the corniest and most unnecessary part of the movie was the very end, after the screen blacks out and a series of white and green text tells you how to live your life. It just seemed a little insulting to the intelligence of the audience. Buy local foods? Really? I thought the very last words and image would have been a more elegant closing, where Indiana Corn Farmer Troy Rush emphasizes that to make a change, “People have got to start demanding good, wholesome food of us and we’ll deliver, I promise you.”

The Book:
Having just read Pollan's book lead me to draw some interesting parallels. Joel Salatin is featured prominently in The Omnivore's Dilemma, painted by Pollan as some sort of all-knowing, nature nurturing, wise farming fellow who had it down to a perfectly executed art. It read a little like a fairy-tale heaven man-crush of sustainable meat and land stewardship. While I'm sure a good portion of Pollan's admiration for Salatin's operation is well earned, getting to see Salatin on film was an interesting contrast. He definitely has some crazy-eyes going on, and to see that his farm looked like any other well-managed one with healthy animals helped remove him from the impossible pedestal Pollan seemed to put him on.

Obviously, the book discusses many of the same concerns regarding industrial food as the film does, to its credit. I enjoyed the history of corn that Pollan takes his time spelling out in the beginning of the book. It starts strong, and continues this way, providing a good chunk of facts regarding meat, corn, and subsidies for them (and consequences thereof).

That is, until I got to the section regarding vegetarianism. He does bring up a significant portion of the issues surrounding people's choice not to eat animals or their products, but ultimately manages to retain a nice, aloof and condescending attitude about it. His brief stint as a vegetarian was entered into most reluctantly, and his description of it in the end as an effective, but naive escape route from dealing with the moral dilemma of animal death kind of rubbed me the wrong way. But this is a battle I constantly find myself entrenched in -- the meat eaters think I'm nutso for not wanting to eat animals, but the other vegans think I'm nutso for not thinking that other people eating animals (within parameters) is wrong. He seemed to imply that veg*ism is caused by thinking about your food, but ultimately not thinking hard enough, or you'd come back around to sustainable meat.

I didn't really know what to think of the hunting/gathering portion of his book for "his meal" in the end, either. Again, he barely mentions vegetables, only noting that they are from his kitchen garden, while spending chapter upon chapter describing the painstaking efforts he put into hunting wild pig and mushrooms. It was an interesting read, and very informative about the labors one goes through to find their own food. I would have happily enjoyed it as a separate piece of writing, but it seems kind of self-indulgent and not terribly related to the tone and purpose of the first half of the book. It's great that you pulled your own pig's guts out, Pollan, but remind me where the social commentary and discussion of the food system disappeared to?

I'll never know, because it never came back. Unlike the movie, the book could have benefited from a clearer take-home message. It ends with him describing the meal he foraged and cooked for his friends sitting around his living room, drinking expensive wine and reflecting on the fact that though it was fun, he wouldn't do it every day and still appreciates the fact that he can buy soup-stock in a can. All I can say is, WTF? Perhaps I need to read his follow up, In Defense of Food, but the ending just seemed so (albeit unintentionally) culinary elitist/social classist, city-boy-has-his-country-fun-but-returns-home.

Which is not to say I didn't like the book. I liked the book a lot. I could see myself perhaps having a less critical view of it if it had come along earlier in my quest for food information, as Schlosser's Fast Food Nation had. I would definitely recommend it as a read for anyone interested in food (or not, might learn something), regardless of your current situation. I learned things and have taken away some good though-provoking points from it, but I wouldn't exactly call it my bible.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Another Chert Hollow Adventure

I spent another weekend at Chert Hollow Farm, and came home with a bounty of pole beans and pictures to share.


Saturday morning is market-time, meaning that while Eric went into town early to sell the last week's goods, Joanna and I got a late start (at 7:30 AM). The geese were particularly wary of me this morning.


We then went about the business of planting. We planted a bed in alternating chinese cabbage (some of which will be bound for sour kraut) and red onion. The Market Garden is right by the house (with the half-constructed shed), making it easy to access. It is in the shade for a good part of the morning, making it cool, easy working.


We did some weeding in the garden before heading out to the field. We were clearing out beds that had previously held several varieties of potatoes, and now offered prime space for some late-season and fall crops.


Joanna decided on beets, which I was all too happy to oblige. We planted five different varieties. While unrealistic, I can still dream that maybe a few of these will be ready (or need to be tested) before I head back to Wisconsin at the end of August. I found the shape of the seeds to be fastinating, as well as large and nice to work with while planting.


For lunch, we picked an ear of sweet corn for testing. The verdict: delicious! But still needing a couple more days to fully flesh out the kernels at the ends. Chert Hollow currently isn't growing any sweet corn for market, since sweet corn in the midwest goes for such deflated prices that small, organic operations like theirs can't compete or even recoup their costs on the crop. This bed will make a nice personal stash, if the coons continue to stay away.


I forgot to photograph the rest of our lunch, but we spent some more time in the morning weeding in the field and garden. One of my favorite field crops of their is the sweet sorghum, which is the midwest equilvalent of sugar cane. The stalks are sweet and can be cut and chewed for a treat, or pressed and boiled down into a syrup. It additionally produces a seed head in the fall, and the sorghum grain can be ground up and used as a flour or meal for baking and cooking.


One of the great features of sorghum is how hardy it is. Joanna described the growing process as planting it in the ground and barely touching it since. It grows very tall, which means that it need not compete with weeds underneath for sunlight, and is more drought-resistant than other crops. I love walking through the towering rows. They remind me of being 7 years old, when everything was so much taller than I was, and corn mazes in summer and fall were like big jungles to navigate.


Eric came home in the afternoon bearing some delicious finds: an Uprise Bakery baguette and two enormous, ripe cantaloupe melons from another local farmer. The cantaloupe made a sweet chilled soup, with some fresh peach salsa to dress it up. Combined with some Kohlrabi-slaw and a dipping plate of reduced balsamic and olive oil, it made for a delicious summer meal.


We went for a night walk after dinner, and found some interesting biology to investigate. With the help of google and an insect song CD, we got so far as identifying this guy as some sort of Katydid.


We also found a frog on the porch! My favorite part of frogs is probably their toes, which are like little sticky bubbles allowing them to adhere to essentially any surface.


On sunday we did some more weeding and harvesting, picking a hefty crop of Fin de Bagnol, Soy, and Pole beans. The cool weather this summer has been a boon to the bean crops (and bean lovers such as myself). For lunch we cooked some fresh edamame, made a white-bean salad, and gladly continued consuming more fruit soup and bread from the night before.

I went home that afternoon. All in all, another fabulous farm adventure.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rant: This is why you're fat dot com

There aren't a whole lot of things that really get under my skin enough to straight-up crazy-style rant about, but this blog that I recently stumbled across is one of them.

It isn't just because it focuses almost exclusively on animal products, or an additional emphasis on corn-based ingredients, or the weird flavor mixures that amount to what could be considered culinary sacrelige, or even the downright gross pictures; most of all, it's the idea that this is centered entirely around the idea of pure consumption, eating as much as possible for no reason other than we "can" (which is totally debatable) and viewing food as cheap entertainment without acknlowedging its costs.

I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy a piece of chocolate. And I know that there are various environmental and social consequences even for this seemingly small action (though I try to stick to locally processed and fair trade items). I love a dessert that has had a lot of love, time, care, and quality ingredients put into it. Half of the enjoyment is knowing that it's a treat, something that you can't just pull out of the cabinet and microwave for 30 seconds every day.

This is why you're fat doesn't apologize for itself in any way. The entries don't have any regard to the quality or flavor of the items involved, the care put into them, or even the real enjoyment that you get out of any given bite of the food presented. The enjoyment is derived entirely from the immense quantity or absurdity of the caloric density of these foods at any cost; which is usually not a lot financially, as they're mostly based on items heavily subsidized by the government specifically in order to make these feats of food-like-substance not only possible for the average american, but cheaper than their real conterparts.

I know there's a whole camp of people just itching to tell me, "if you don't like it, don't look". Believe me, I wish I could. I'm not protesting this blog's right to existence -- if someone has something to say, they have a right to say it (or photograph it, etc.). It just frustrates me that this type of food culture, so detrimental to what I want to support and be informed about, is pervasive enough that this kind of publication has a substantial following and therefore reason for being.

Food, Inc. is coming out here next week, and there's a special showing at the Ragtag in downtown Columbia followed by a sustainable food discussion panel which I'm planning to attend, so I'll probably write more on this subject then (hopefully with a more level head).

P.S. I could write a whole book about the fucked up social implications of the title of the blog too, but I might spontaneously combust. Want to take that one, Leanne?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

California Beet Salad

I love me a fresh salad for lunch, and this past week my culinary creations have mostly centered around beets. I'm a woman obsessed. Especially just sliced up raw, I swear to god I will eat beets with anything, anytime, anywhere. As the last of my beet supply came to an end this afternoon, I decided to bid it farewell with this salad, which is full of light, flavorful veggies that make it tasty without being overwhelming.

California Beet Salad

Beet greens, 3 large leaves
Fennel, 1 stalk (not head)
Tofu, 1/3 cup (or tempeh, even tastier)
Avocado, 1/2 fruit
Beet root, 1/2 small or 1/4 large
Tomato, 1/2 fruit
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Basil to taste
Oregano to taste
Vinegar to taste

Tear or chop the beet greens into large pieces, and then steam until slightly wilted (~5min). Lay on a serving plate. Cube tofu, add to plate. Cube (or slice) avocado and add to plate. Thinly slice beet root, fennel, and tomato, and layer accordingly. Take the fennel greens from the top of the stalk and put then in the center or sprinkle on top for added flavor/prettiness. Finally, drizzle vinegar (I used rice, but balsamic or apple cider would be tasty too) over the salad and sprinkle your preference of spices and salt on top.

Viola, a beautiful and delicious layer salad. Makes a perfect lunch with a slice of home-made bread.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Brunch with Erica!

As a somewhat new tradition, three of my girlfriends and I go out to brunch on Sundays. This started pretty much directly after I stopped working Sunday brunches at my job, thus leaving me free to enjoy them instead of stress over them. Erica, Stacey, Kristen, and I picked out some really great places to eat, including Lula, Yolk, Meli, and many others.

One Sunday, however, Kristen and Stacey couldn't make it (they were moving from their old apartment into a new one, faaancyyy!), so Erica and I decided to just have brunch together at her place. Since Erica and I both adore cooking/baking, and even have discussed opening shop together sometime in the future, needless to say we had an amazing brunch.

Here are two pictures from our glorious meal (I suggest clicking them to view the full-sized deliciousness):

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it really was as good as it seems. What you are seeing here is real proof that Erica and I don't mess around with brunch. And yes, Erica's place really is that cute :)

Erica baked that lovely strawberry rhubarb coffee cake, and together we made a vegetarian fritata out of eggs (this one was mostly egg whites but with a few whole eggs as well), goat cheese, basil, a million spices and seasonings, asparagus spears, tomato, onions, and other fabulous things. I don't have an exact recipe for the fritata because we didn't really use a I'm sure any fritata recipe you wanted to use is just fine! Get creative with ingredients...we used asparagus because it was looking *so good* that week! Also, we cut up/sauteed rainbow baby potatoes and seasoned them with rosemary and a little sea salt.

The coffee cake was the best I've ever had, ever...regardless of the fact that it was totally gluten-free! I swear she has magic that she bakes into her creations. Erica discusses the recipe in her blog:
Un Petit Oiseau.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Weekend of Harvest at Chert Hollow Farm

As a government employee, I was given holiday leave for the friday of 4th of July weekend, which is pretty great. But, you know what they say about idle hands -- and I was certainly getting the itch to do some real work after a week of computer-laden data processing. One of my co-workers has since left the USGS and taken up full-time organic farming with her husband, and I was invited to come stay the weekend with them as I have before, an offer I can't refuse.

Chert Hollow Farm is owned by Eric and Joanna Reuter, about a 25-minute drive outside of downtown Columbia. They are their own only two employees; farming, homesteading, and practicing land stewardship on their property. A local paper, the Missourian, did an informative profile of their farm, called Living Off the Land.

I arrived at the farm on Thursday evening, just as Eric and Joanna were finishing up their work for the day in the front garden. In the summer, it's light until well into the evening, allowing a long work day and often a late dinner. During a walk to reacquaint me with the place, we discovered that the Yukon Gold potatoes were nearly bursting out and ready to be eaten, and decided to harvest some amaranth greens for a taste testing. Using only seasonal produce sourced right from the garden, we prepared a tasty vegan meal and weren't long to bed.

Morning at Chert Hollow begins at around 6:30am, with breakfast and rounds to take care of the animals. They keep small flocks of heritidge breed geese, chickens, ducks, and goats. One of their goats recently had two kids, whose ranbunctiousness was not deterred even in the early hours.

Garlic the goat being milked. While they don't have the numbers of animals or facilities neccesary to sell any of their animals products, it is enough to contribute to their other livestock's diet (the milk from this morning was fed to the new chicks) and help keep the farm a more closed resource cycle. The goats are kept in a rotating pasture that helps keep weeds and invasive species to a minimum, while providing dairy (and occasionally meat, with male kids). They sometimes work in conjunction with Goatsbeard Farm, breeding, buying, and learning about goat care from them.

Chickens, geese, and ducks all devour scraps and compost from the kitchen and garden, in turn providing eggs. All of the animals can contribute to manure for eventual garden fertilizing use. Now, you're probably wondering where I'm going to go all vegan crazy and talk about how terrible animals are. Well, you're out of luck. Chert Hollow manages their animals in a way that I wish more farms would -- as a supplementary part of their homesteading cycle, in small well cared for numbers. Does this mean I will eat their goat yogurt? No, but that's a personal decision/preference, and a topic for another (probably lengthy) post in the near future.

By this time, the sun had come up and it was time to get to work in the garden. Since it was friday, that meant it was harvest day. Chert Hollow sells most of their produce at the The Columbia Farmer's Market on saturday mornings, along with occasional purchases by local restaurants and groceries such as Sycamore, Main Squeeze Cafe, and The Root Cellar, who are interested in serving local, seasonal, or organic food.

This morning we worked harvesting sweet onions and kohlrabi for market, garlic for drying, and scallions for Sycamore. Using planks from cedars they cleared from their future orchard, the Reuters have begun constructing a work shed right beside the front garden to serve a variety of functions including storage, cleaning, and work space. With half of the roof up, some of the garlic can be hung to dry there, and sometimes tickle the heads of those working at the sinks cleaning other produce (I spent a good portion of the morning swatting at imaginary bugs on my head).

In Missouri, the afternoons can get pretty sweltering. In order to survive the heat, Eric and Joanna often taken a portion of the afternoon off to rest, do indoor work that their business requires (taxes, USDA paperwork, etc), eat lunch, and catch up on relevant news and literature about farming. I took a fabulous nap, and we headed back to work the field when it had started to cloud over.

We harvested and thinned two different varieties of amaranth greens for sale at market, and sewed buckwheat in empty beds. Instead of using hay for mulch, on this day we raked up the grass clippings that were laying around from mowing around the field and lightly covered the buckwheat beds.

The weather report predicted evening rain, so we decided to stop work at around 6 to take an exploration hike through the un-farmed portion of the Chert Hollow property. The place is aptly named for the bountiful chert lenses and layers -- both Joanna and Eric have Master's degrees in geology (Joanna went to undergrad at the same school as me, and Eric and I have incidentally shared a professor), and so they enjoy documenting the history and earth processes of their land.

I, of course, enjoy getting to geek out along with them on beautiful hikes along the ridges and cutbacks. We encountered some crazy geomorphology, mississippian carbonate fossils, old cisterns (from the farm that existed in the 20's), tiny fish, and some wild gooseberries that made for a perfect mid-hike snack.

After our hike we were all thoroughly tired and hungry, so we called it an evening and collected some veggies and herbs to make dinner. Using swiss chard, zucchini, snow peas, garlic, onions, fennel, dill, and kohlrabi greens, we put together some pretty tasty vegan pizzas that I regret not photographing (I'm pretty terrible at remembering to take pictures, if you haven't noticed by now).

It rained that evening and into saturday morning. Eric took the harvest to market while Joanna and I got to catch some extra z's. Because of the weather, we weren't able to do much work, just inventory the garden and field beds and photodocument changes. Also, we squished a lot of squash bug eggs (fingers = nature's pesticide) and ate one blueberry each from their new bushes this year, which sported a whopping total of four (very typical of first-year berries).

I left just after lunch in order to avoid being flooded in for the rest of the night. They sent me home with some onions, zucchini and garlic which will serve me well during the coming week. It was a wonderful retreat from cluttered Columbia city life and a great opportunity to learn more about farming, Eric and Joanna are always great about answering my numerous questions and explaining the philosophies and mechanics behind everything that they do at Chert Hollow.

Overall, it was an experience which I plan on repeating a few more times this summer, and reccomend to anyone with an interested in farming/gardening and a friend or contact who could help you out.

Fresh, Local Links:

Chert Hollow Farm (Website) (Blog)
The Missourian: Living Off the Land
Goatsbeard Farm
Columbia Farmer's Market
The Root Cellar
Main Squeeze Cafe (Website) (Blog)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Vegan vegetable skewers!!! Easily the easiest summer food, ever.

1) cut up veggies.
2) stab veggies.
3) grill veggies.
4) eat veggies.

These have peppers, vidalia onions, baby bella mushrooms, and eggplant.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What does 'organic' mean?

The market for natural and organics foods has literally exploded over the last ten years. Walk down the aisles of any standard supermarket today, and you can't miss a section devoted to armies of boxes and bottles and bars, all shouting the word ORGANIC or ALL-NATURAL somewhere on the label.

But what does that even mean? In a purely chemical sense, that title merely ensures that what you have on your hands is a carbon-based substance. Good start, but what else? Many people assume that organic food equals health. Others assume that it means the food is morally correct -- grown with certain stardards, banning certain substances or practices. Some associate it with being fresher, higher-quality, or better-tasting. Upper-tier, white collar, $6-box-of-crackers food.

The bottom line is that being organic does not make food magical. An organic slice of triple-fudge-explosion cake has just as many calories as a conventional one (albeit lacking the high fructose corn syrup). What does make food magical (or meet your own expectations, whatever you want to call it), is how you personally can implement organic food and knowledge of organic practices to support the type of agriculture and food philosophy that is important to you, and be aware of when you are being sold nothing more than a pretty 7-letter label.

The standards by which a farm or food handler can become USDA certified organic are outlined in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. Some of the basics of this document state:

- Organic produce cannot be grown with the aid of synthetic nitrogren or phosphorus fertilizers (lime, potash)
- Organic produce cannot be grown with the aid of synthetic lead and arsenic salt-based pesticides
- Organic meat and animal products must be fed with feed not containing manure or plastic roughage
- Organic meat and animal products may not be produced with the aid of anitbiotics or growth hormones

Which, to the concerned consumer, all sound pretty dandy and well. However, there are a lot of common misconceptions about what is implied with an organic label. I'd like to commment on a few below.

(1) Organic means that the food is produced on a small, indepdenent, family-owned farm.

No, no, and no. Ok, yes -- many small, independent, family-owned farms follow organic practices. But this does not ensure that every organic product comes from this origin. People are often suprised to learn about who the giants are in the organic food industry. If one of your motives for buying organic food is to support independent business, you'd best become acquainted with who is owned by who. The following charts, just a couple of many to be found here at Michigan State Univeristy, are particularly useful.

The chart above shows the acquisition of a variety of organic food companies and who their parent or owner now is. A saturday-grilled boca burger is fueled by the same monetary giant that puts Velveeta (food only in the loosest interpretation) on the shelves. That delicious green Naked Juice smoothie? Funneled up to Pepsi. Even the most offensive of the corn industry giants, such as ConAgra, are getting their share of the growing market.

However, there still remain quite a few successful independents in the industry, outlined in this chart:

A pack of Newman's own cookies or Turtle Mountain ice-cream are still safe for those concerned with supporting independent business. However, the industry is rapidly shifting and organic companies can be bought and change hands in the blink of an eye. Just because your food is organic does not mean that it neccesarily supports the farmer-next-door; or if it does, there's a significant chance that it won't in the near future.

(2) Organic means that my food is unaltered genetically, and free of all pesticides, hormones, and anything that doesn't occur naturally/in the wild.

Organic food in the US is subject to a variety of restrictions regarding pesticide, fertilizer, hormone, and additive use. However, being organically certified means only that -- that they follow a certain set of restrictions and requirements, not that they replicate pristine natural conditions.

Take, for example, the standards by which a packaged food can even label itself organic, found in the USDA Organic Labeling and Marketing Information guide. In using the label "organic", there is a 5% allowance for ingredients that are not fully organic or may even be grown under conventional standards. In order to say that something is "made with organic ingredients", only 70% of the total food mass must actually be considered organic. The secondary whey or casein ingredients in such an instance might come from conventionally farmed dairies, where growth hormones, antibiotics, and pesticide residue from a non-organic diet can build up and present in the animal product.

In addition to this, the standards by which an ingredient or produce can be considered fully, certifiably organic are in flux, and there is market pressure to change legislation and allow for more lax regulations.

"...efforts by some of the larger organic companies to create a less stringent definition of "organic" continue. In April 2004, the USDA announced that it was considering allowing farms to retain the organic seal even if they used animal growth hormones, fed cattle nonorganic fishmeal, or sprayed some kinds of pesticides." -Jason Mark, "The Green Machine"

Whether or not this 5-30% is considered a big deal or permissable is entirely up the the individual eating the food, but simply including the word "organic" on the label does not give the item a free pass when it comes to controversial ingredients.

(3) Organic equals sustainability

There is a tremendous demand for organic food, which is growing by the day. Consequently, a variety of large-scale farms and food producers have appeared on the scene to cater specifically to this market. However, in order to meet the demands of supermarkets across the country intent on expanding their organic produce section, organic farming has taken on many of the qualities that are less than desirable about conventional farming -- large-scale monoculture, poor soil management, fuel-consuming farm equipment (tractors, combines, tillers, etc), and as I mentioned above, the potential for use of certain kinds of approved or exempted pesticides and fertilizers. Organic farms are not all owned and run my Mom & Pop.

In addition to this, the immense amount of packaging involved in a lot of prepared organic foods (frozen dinners, granola bars, chip bags) is no more biodegradable or sustainable than that used to package conventional foods. Having worked in them, I know that organic restaurants and cafes still produce large amounts of food waste every day, and often don't even have composting systems.

Even within the overarching category of organic foods, if sustainability is a primary factor in the food choices you make, it still requires thought and preparation to avoid farms, companies, and packaging that employ conflicting practices to this effect.

(4) All-Natural and Organic mean the same thing

All-Natural has even less meaning than organic when it comes to food labeling.

"The USDA's current definition says that a product labeled as natural should not contain any artificial flavor, coloring or chemical preservative. The policy also says that meats should not be more than minimally processed -- a pretty vague directive." - Allison Aubrey, All Things Considered

All-natural food can be made from conventionally-farmed ingredients without any problem -- Monsanto GMO corn, cage-raised eggs, and a factory farmed beef-derived ingredient identified only as 'natural flavors' can all happily coexist in any natural food product.

I would like to make clear that I'm not trying to discourage people from buying organic food, fight the organic industry, or even act morally superior by presenting this information -- I still buy my soymilk in a box, after all. Buying organic is still a great step forward in changing the food landscape of this country (and others) toward a more thoughtful, sustainable future. However, the label 'organic' has its limitations, and is certainly not the be-all and end-all when it comes to making progress in that arena.

There are farms out there that are making a difference, growing organic produce and operating on a local, seasonal, more sustainable scale. Getting involved and learning about the organic farms local to your area is a great start. At the Farmer's Market, ask the sellers about their farm -- you can't get better information than straight from the source of your food. WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) offers an excellent program to volunteer and learn about organic farming, or even just to find organic farms in your area that might participate in a CSA or other cooperative organization.

Feeding a world with an appetite such as ours is no easy task -- in farming and food, there's always more to learn, and there's always more to be done.

Sources and Resources:

Howard, Philip H. 2009. Consolidation in the North American Organic Food Processing Sector, 1997 to 2007. International Journal of Sociology of Food and Agriculture 16(1), 13-30.

Mark, Jason 2004. The Green Machine: Conventional food processors in the organic industry raise debate about the value of organic agriculture and the motives of big business. The Monthly, Emryville CA.

Organic Foods Production Act of 1990:

United States Department of Agriculture, National Organic Program. Organic Labeling and Marketing Information. October, 2002.

Allison Aubrey 2006. National Public Radio, All Things Considered: Meat Firms Give USDA an Earful on 'Natural' Label.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF)