May 12, 2006

Organic or Not?

Posted by Xun  |  4 comments

The organic grocery stores The Whole Foods, or "Wild Oats" (previously "People's Market") are the places I rarely set my feet in. For the few times I did, I liked the high mounds of oranges, or peaches, the little dishes of chips for free sampling, or the exquisite display of very delicate table wares. However, the price always makes me acutely aware of my shallow pocket and conscious of the big price gap between these organic hand-picked whatever and their commercial twins sitting in Jewel just a few feet away.

Price aside, I do not really have anything for or against organic food. All through my life in China, every bit of food is probably completely organic. In the very early years, in my small town, I sometimes even saw peasants hoisted up and then shouldered away pails of fece for manure. Of course, the stench was unbearable. My mom often took me shopping for grocers in a place similar to the Maxwell market in Chicago. There, in the sun or rain, or snow, in all weathers, farmers squatted on both sides of a designated street, behind their miserable display of a small variety of vegetables. Everything was so organic and minimally processed, you still see the dirt on your spinach or carrots.

It was a miserable life for a lot of people. Before sunrise, farmers carried their very limited produces and walked miles to the little town, then after dawn, they pocketed their pennies or dimes and walked long way back home. In my family, we never worried about the organic-ity of our foods, we only worried the inadequacy of foods. Chicken was a luxury, so was pork, sometimes, even rice was rationed. Looking back, I cannot see how the organic foods have in any way make me healthier, or how I have savored the much lauded idyllly-produced organic foods.

Now a lot was vastly improved (though peasants in China are still struggling terribly). Even my mom would complain that nowadays chicken (she called "foreign" chicken") taste much less tender and lack of "flavor of chicken".

I do not know. To me, chicken is chicken, tomatoes are tomatoes, organic or otherwise, although a hefty price tag maybe sometime have made my taste buds feel a little pampered (like the way a very expensive suit makes you feel).

I have been aware of the disdain or anger and dire warnings some people have about "conventional commerially raised chicken" and the unrestrained enthusiasm towards organic food. I always try to brush aside them, knowing that my family and I could not afford the organic lifestyle anyway. However, with Emma in mind, by and by, I buy more pork than chicken. By and by, when I buy chicken, I would look for something that says "natural" or "free-ranged", or I would just buy them however not without a tidbit sense of guilt (are there horomone, estrogen, antibiotics or many tiny invisible chemicals lurking to do harm to her?)

Now I read an article "Big Organic", that says the following:

According to Samuel Fromartz, ninety per cent of "frequent" organic buyers think they're buying better "health and nutrition." They may be right. If, for any reason, you don't want the slightest pesticide residue in your salad, or you want to insure that there are no traces of recombinant bovine somatotropin hormone (rbST) in your children's milk, you're better off spending the extra money for organically produced food. But scientific evidence for the risks of such residues is iffy, as it is, too, for the benefits of the micro-nutrients that are said to be more plentiful in an organic carrot than in its conventional equivalent.

Other people are buying taste, but there's little you can say about other people's taste in carrots and not much more you can intelligibly articulate about your own. The taste of an heirloom carrot bought five years ago from the Chino family farm in Rancho Santa Fe, California, sticks indelibly in my memory, though at the time I hadnÂ’t any idea whether artificial fertilizers or pesticides had been applied to it. (I later learned that they had not.) For many fruits and vegetables, freshness, weed control, and the variety grown may be far more important to taste than whether the soil in which they were grown was dosed with ammonium nitrate. Pollan did his own taste test by shopping at Whole Foods for an all-organic meal: everything was pretty good, except for the six-dollar bunch of organic asparagus, which had been grown in Argentina, air-freighted six thousand miles to the States, and immured for a week in the distribution chain. Pollan shouldn't have been surprised that it tasted like "cardboard."


Friday, May 12, 2006
Read more


jbruno said...


Yeah, people think they're buying healthier food; I think it is more like buying food from environmentally and ethically sound businesses. That, I think, is more important.

Xun said...

Well, a sandwich is a sandwich. Never try to be environmentally and ethically correct for the sake of environment and ethic.

Hsien Lei said...

I totally know what you mean. I also don't bother to buy much organic produce. The market is unregulated and there's no guarantee that organic is truly superior in any way unless you grow it yourself.

Xun said...

Hello, Hsien,

thanks for dropping by my little blog again. No wonder that you were
confused by my comments in response to the jbruno guy.

I have a pretty confused and conflicted view with regard to organic
food myself. What I mean is, probably, when I buy food, I care much
more about the quality and appearance and price of the food itself
than the businesses behind the food. Selfish me! I do not believe that
organic food business is the answer to the environment problem anyway.

I read the new entry you posted in Play Library, l love your simple
succinct proses like this

It also sets off the "I want" train of thought that gets all the rest
of the parents into defensive mode.

Keep in touch,



back to top