As a consumer who generally tries to do the right thing, I've always thought the decision to buy organic was a no-brainer. But in recent years organic has grown to include paradoxes such as the organic factory farm and the organic TV dinner. And now, there is even organic high-fructose corn syrup. We are not far from organic Coca-Cola.
Now these aren't absolutely good or absolutely bad developments. As offensive a concept as organic high-fructose corn syrup may be, a product like organic Coke will sponsor a lot more organic acreage in this country. But this is certainly not what the founders of the organic movement had in mind.
It's worth remembering what they did have in mind. There were three legs to the original organic dream. One was growing food in harmony with nature --- a non-industrial way of farming that treated animals humanely and did not use chemical pesticides. The second leg was that our system of food distribution should be different; food co-ops, farmer's markets, and community supported agriculture could replace the national agricultural system. And the third leg was the food itself.
The lesson to be learned is that consumers of all kinds, but especially eaters, are producers in the most important sense. With every food purchasing decision, we are helping to create the world we want to live in, one bite at a time.
Today the organic dream is in peril. The USDA developed a set of rules --- and they got pesticides, hormones, and many drugs out of the system. All wonderful. But if you look at the new rules, that's all they address. There is nothing written about the kind of food that may be called organic, or its distribution. There is no rule against high-fructose corn syrup. This is organic food forced through the industrial system, shorn of its holism. What has been lost is that one key insight about organic: that everything is connected. The organic dream has been reduced to a farming method.
Michael Pollan is the author of The Botany of Desire. This article is adapted from a talk hosted by the Great Barrington Land Conservancy.