What do the words 'organic food' mean, now that the movement has become a $7.7-billion business dominated by large corporations?
by Michael Pollan
Almost overnight, the amount and variety of organic food on offer in my local supermarket has mushroomed. Fresh produce, milk, eggs, cereal, frozen food, even junk food � all of it now has its own organic doppelganger, and more often than not these products wind up in my shopping cart.
I like buying organic, for the usual salad of rational and sentimental reasons. At a time when the whole food system feels somewhat precarious, I assume that a product labeled organic is more healthful and safer, more "wholesome," though if I stop to think about it, I'm not exactly sure what that means. I also like the fact that by buying organic, I'm casting a vote for a more environmentally friendly kind of agriculture: "Better Food for a Better Planet," in the slogan of Cascadian Farm, one of the older organic brands. Just look at the happy Vermont cow on that carton of milk, wreathed in wildflowers like a hippie at her wedding around 1973.
Look a little closer, though, and you begin to see cracks in the pastoral narrative. It took me more than a year to notice, but the label on that carton of Organic Cow has been rewritten recently. It doesn't talk about happy cows and Vermont family farmers quite so much anymore, probably because the Organic Cow has been bought out by Horizon, a Colorado company. Horizon is a $127 million public corporation that has become the Microsoft of organic milk, controlling 70 percent of the retail market. Notice, too, that the milk is now "ultrapasteurized."
When I asked a local dairyman about this (we still have one or two in town) he said that the chief reason to ultrapasteurize � a high-heat process that "kills the milk," destroying its enzymes and many of its vitamins � is so you can sell milk over long distances. Arguably, ultrapasteurized organic milk is less nutritious than conventionally pasteurized conventional milk. This dairyman also bent my ear about Horizon's "factory farms" in the West, where thousands of cows that never encounter a blade of grass spend their days confined to a fenced dry lot, eating (certified organic) grain and tethered to milking machines three times a day.