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Is sustainable food an all or nothing construct like truth or pregnancy? If we do not, as consumers, buy 100% organic, 100% sustainably sourced food 100% of the time are we doomed to a fate of ill health and - worse - relegated to the periphery of our communities and blamed for the demise of the earth?
I have always believed that - assuming we are talking about organic actual food versus conventional actual food and not aluminumized 'American cheese’ or weird sweeteners our bodies don’t know what to do with and, as a result tuck neatly away in our livers (the attic of the body) - that the dosage makes the poison. That is to say, buy organic, locally, ethically produced food whenever you can.
Whether one can or cannot is a matter of various factors. Commonly, it comes down to either availability or cost. Supporting all-organic retailers may still be the domain of the ecologically, economically elite few. But the grand tipping point is on the horizon. We have already seen micro moves in preparation for the seismic shift. I’ll provide an ironic example: sugar. In 2000 the price per pound for conventionally produced sugar was 50 cents. Conversely, organic sugar sold for $2.00 per pound. A mere 4 years later, the margin narrowed from the 200% seen at the turn of the century to 45%*. Understandably (for big agri-business) there is a reluctance to disclose the numbers from more recent years but the trend is clear. Some of the difference can be attributed to a rise in the production cost of conventional sugar in the wake of practices exposed beautifully in movies like "The Price of Sugar"** reminding us, of course, that even the factor of cost is complicated.
All this said, as a health conscious foodie and mother, I cannot be described as a moderate. I am passionate and determined to see and be part of the seismic shift. As a health conscious foodie and mother, I probably didn’t contribute a whole lot to the shrinking price gap between conventional and organic sugar. But I probably did contribute to the virtual doubling of the revenue generated from national sales of organic food between 1997 and 2000***.
How did that 100% increase occur in just three years? The answer is that we did it.
As middle class consumers, we often underestimate the potency of our dollar votes.
In 2009, Gary Hirshberg, Founder and former CEO of Stoneyfield Organic Yogurt was lambasted for his lauding of and commercial partnership with Walmart. Yes, Walmart has generated controversy over its alleged sweat shop like processes in their production of garments. So don’t buy the clothes. But if the price is right and buying organic yogurt or rice or apples at Walmart can move some of us out of the cannot category into the can category, why not make that choice? Walmart put those items on their shelves because Walmart knew there was enough demand to make it worth Walmart’s while. It’s OK: Walmart’s motivation does not have to be pure. As long as ours is.
How else can we get closer to that elusive 100% organic, sustainable and always? The obvious prescriptions have been written before: support farmers markets, be guided by the Environmental Working Group**** lists and those like them. Other methods are more abstract but perhaps can lead us more fervently to the tipping point: Don’t just join but also cooperate in your local co-op; Don’t just listen to but also generate discussion; Don’t just read blogs - also write them! Remain conscious and conscientious at the grocery store, farmer’s market and online. Whether your shopping cart is real, virtual or metaphorical, vote for every item in it. And don’t worry just yet if every item isn’t 100% organic . But know that every conscious, impassioned, knowledgeable vote brings us closer to the shift which, for the first time in over fifteen years in within our reach.
* Buzzanell, P. ʻHot Issues for Sugar, 2000; Peeplo.com
** ʻThe Price of Sugarʼ; Haney, Bill (Director) DOCUMENTARY; Uncommon
*** IBID 2.
****“Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen”; Environmental Working Group; ewg.org