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May 30, 2008 10:54 AM

"Preserving the Organic Integrity of Food" - Tell me why I shouldn't snicker.

I've been noticing signs in my local Whole Foods telling people how they can "preserve the organic integrity" of their food. It's basically advice on how to make sure that your organic food doesn't come in contact with conventional foods. For instance, it advises that you slice bread and grind coffee beans at home, since the store's slicers and grinders are also used for conventional food. It asks people to be careful about what scoopers, etc they use so as to get things mixed up.

I don't keep kosher, but I know enough about it to know that kosher food can be made treyf (non-kosher) by mere contact with treyf food or, for that matter, mere contact with something that has come in contact with treyf food. But kosher is a ritual status. The piece of formerly kosher bread that sat on a clean plate that once held a piece of bacon is not physically distinguishable from the piece of kosher bread that has never touched treyf. But no one is claiming that it is. The difference is spiritual/religious/ritual and I understand the concerns about contact.

But last time I looked, food was organic when it was grown, raised and or processed according to certain rules, using certain methods and ingredients and avoiding others. Are there seriously people who believe that the organic-ness (so to speak) of their food is compromised or ruined by the slightest contact with conventional foods? Do they believe that being organic is somehow a spiritual state that can sullied by the slightest contact with conventional foods? Do they believe that slicing their organic bread on a slicer used for conventional bread magically disorganics their bread? Changes the way its ingredients were grown? Ruins the special organic healthfulness of the bread?

Now, I buy a lot of organic products. Some I prefer because I think they're better for my family's health, others I choose because I think it's a more responsible environmental choice. But it never really occurred to me to worry about my organic coffee beans coming into contact with a few grains of conventional coffee in the grinder or whether the scoop I use to get my organic flour once touched the conventional stuff. Who cares?

Maybe I'm missing something. Here's your opportunity to persuade me that this isn't just some silly greener-than-thou nonsense.

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  1. They say that b/c they're probably liable for it if they don't.

    'Organic' is a legal definition now in the US, and they could lose their certification if they're certified, or be sued, etc.

    And, while most people don't care, someone probably does.

    1 Reply
    1. re: xanadude

      xanadude is correct, I am sure. However, I do find it pretty silly myself.

    2. I won't tell you not to snicker, I know I am. :-D

      2 Replies
      1. re: swsidejim

        >>this isn't just some silly greener-than-thou nonsense.

        You betcha. It is.

        1. re: dolores

          I heard a radio talk show host refer to these types as "greenies" I had a good chuckle.

      2. Well, this is a stretch but here goes . . .

        I know of people who believe food holds energy that is transferred to their body when they eat the food. These folks will not eat something that has been treated with pesticides, for example, because even if the pesticide residue is washed from the product the negative energy of it is still present in the food. Likewise, they may not eat meat or factory farm eggs for the same reason. To someone with this belief system, it could well matter if their organic bread came into contact, however slight, with nonorganic bread. One of these folks told me this is why blessing your food is important. It's not just a religious expression of gratitude, it clears the bad energy of the food. I have also read in more than a couple books that the food preparer's attitude influences the energy of the food and one shouldn't cook when angry.

        I respect this belief and think it's kind of cool that the world has so many interesting people in it. In the case of WF, however, I think the signage is a gimmick.

        5 Replies
        1. re: three of us

          Food sure does hold energy that is transferred to the body. Wish I could get food with some of that "negative energy"--a way to eat and lose weight.

          1. re: three of us

            "I know of people who believe food holds energy that is transferred to their body when they eat the food... To someone with this belief system, it could well matter if their organic bread came into contact, however slight, with nonorganic bread. One of these folks told me this is why blessing your food is important."

            What this tells me is that the difference here is also a matter of ritual, just like the kosher rules. Some call it a belief system, some call it superstition; whatever it is, it is not based on science.

            "Gimmick" is too kind a word; I would call it pandering.

            1. re: three of us

              Now I can't drive the interstate because some truck carrying "Bad Karma" veggies polluted the asphalt.

              1. re: bkhuna

                Thanks for the laugh! Yasgur Farms is closing down after lo these many years (site of the original Woodstock Festival). I'll miss seeing their "Good Karma" psychadelic milk delivery trucks on the road!

                Flower Power forever.

              2. re: three of us

                Sadly, I would bet if I tested "organic" food for traces of contaminants at the limit of analytical abilities (much less than nanograms and in some causes single atoms) you would find "traces". The simple reason is that they are still exposed to the atmosphere and rainfall containing small quantities of various items - lead, mercury, organic hydrocarbons etc... no matter how isolated ( save if they are greenhouse grown under even stricter conditions) there is still "negative" energy attached.

              3. when one talks about beliefs, the mature thing to do is accept the fact that others will believe in different items than you, the rest of the posters and jfood. As jfood respects the vegans, the vegetarians, the carnivores on the eating side, and all religiuous beliefs as they relate to food, if one wants to adhere to a pure-oganic interpretation, more power to them.

                Does jfood believe in this theory, well he just finished a half Jif low-fat PB on Pepperidge Farm bread, so obviously not.

                Jfood's only contention is that they do not impose their single-mind set to others, unwillingly. Many years ago jfood was in a Mongolian BBQ place where you packed your little tin and then they walked around this 5' flat heated iron thing to cook your stuff. All kinds of food were prepared sequentially. A gentleman asked that they clean the thing because he was a vegetarian and did not want his stuff cooked on the same thing. He was told that it was cleaned about every 20 minutes and if he would like to wait they would cook his first. He started to make a fuss and then saw the line behind him start to get a little edgey (and this was in NJ), so he gulped, thanked the guy and waited.

                2 Replies
                1. re: jfood

                  I agree with you on the live and let live aspect. In fact, variety is the spice of life as they say.
                  I do however agree with what Hunt said. Pandering. Feeding some ones fears/dillusions/whatever is just as bad as trying to force your beliefs on someone.


                  1. re: Davwud


                    Yup, Hunt, as usual, has great points. To be clear jfood does not pander to the needs of this group and he expects them to leave jfood to his hot dogs on processed buns, oreo cookies and diet mountain dew.

                2. I have known quite a number of people who have, mostly for health issues, purchased only organic food and went to the extreme of even laying their own bag or jacket onto the conveyor belt at the checkout so their food would not be sullied. They believed any contact with un-organic goods would taint them with pesticides, bad vibes, etc. (Evidently they never thought about what happened before it reached the special section in the store.). While I was tempted to snicker, myself, they believed they were doing something that would help cure them of truly awful problems that western medicine had not been able to cure, and this is a growing problem. Sometimes you do what you think is best, even if it is not scientifically sound.

                  Other than this kind of extreme behavior, I believe that places that segregate organic and non organic food so rigidly do this at the request of the customer who is paying more for the organics and wants to be assured they're getting their money's worth, to some degree.

                  What is worse, in my opinion, is the practice of pulling and trashing items that have gone out of date, whether or not they have gone bad at all. I would be perfectly happy to pay less for something that was still edible but out of date and take the risks (vegetable/fruit/bread only).

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: PersnicketyChicky

                    My ShopRite grocery store always has reduced price fuits and veggies - perfectly good but not up to perfection standards. Nothing wrong with it, so I sometimes buy it. And of course my bakery always has "day-old" baked goods and breads - whatever didn't sell the day before. Anything left after that goes into big bags for animal feed! Lots of people with horses or goats, or who feed deer in winter, love stale bread.

                    1. re: Catskillgirl

                      Mmmm, pain perdu or bread pudding.

                      1. re: mrbozo

                        my thoughts exactly! plus croutons & french toast....