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What does the word "organic" mean to you?

thinks too much Jul 18, 2012 09:17 AM

If your response immediately includes the words "silly," "neurotic" or "excuse to be overpriced" please go on to another thread. I am looking for thoughtful responses that are not immediately hostile to the concept of organic.

I read a NY Times article about the politics of what ingredients can be included into foodstuffs and still maintain the label "organic."


So I post to the people who buy organic, or those who would like to buy it if it were more affordable or more available in their area. What does the term mean to you? What do you see as the goal of "organic food?"

Personally, I believe that it espouses a method of growing food that is not dependent on vast amounts of herbicides, pesticides, or chemical-derived fertilizers to ensure continued fertility of the land.

Within meat, it should imply that the meat is grown without hormones or preventative antibiotics, two practices that have evolved as a result of large scale agriculture. I don't think vegetarian eggs are better, since chickens are designed to grub for worms and bugs as part of their diet. On the other hand, I don't think they should be eating food comprised of slaughterhouse meal.

I think mono-cultures tend to foster inherent problems in food production. Greater efficiency also breeds greater ruthlessness in dealing with problems. Perhaps my Pollyanna viewpoint is a holdover from children's books, but I can't help thinking that on a smaller scale farm, cow manure is a fertilizer. On CAFOs, (concentrated animal feeding operations) it is a pollutant.

What are your thoughts? Do you accept the organic label as a be all and end all? Do you think that it is better than nothing? Do you think that the system all went wrong somewhere? I lean towards the latter two.

Disclaimer: I am no expert. I am also no farmer. I favor farmers markets conventional over supermarket organic. If I talk to a farmer about their production methods, I will trust them when they say that they use no pesticides, but don't bother with expensive certification more than I trust that someone with an organic label has been vetted thoroughly and conscientiously by the government on an appropriate basis. I buy "happy meat" when I can afford it, but still sometimes buy supermarket meat too.

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  1. s
    sandylc RE: thinks too much Jul 18, 2012 01:15 PM

    I am on the same page as you. I teeter between how things are, how things need to be, how things should be, etc. I think that change is seriously needed for both health and the planet, but I can see how things came to be the way they are and why the necessary changes will be difficult. This will be a good thread to follow, I hope.

    1. j
      John Francis RE: thinks too much Jul 18, 2012 08:49 PM

      Nothing to add - you've just about covered what I understand by "organic." But I confess I don't care enough about organic to investigate whether what I buy at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods really is organic. I rely on their reputations and take their word for it.

      1. f
        FoodPopulist RE: thinks too much Jul 19, 2012 01:37 AM

        I'd prefer a tiered certification level of organic so that people can choose which definition they want to adhere to rather trying to come up with a single standard of "organic food".

        13 Replies
        1. re: FoodPopulist
          sandylc RE: FoodPopulist Jul 19, 2012 03:51 AM

          That's a good idea.

          1. re: FoodPopulist
            DougRisk RE: FoodPopulist Jul 19, 2012 11:03 AM

            We do sorta have that (i.e. Organic, All-Natural, Grass Fed, and non-gov't certifications like Certified Humane, etc.), but, since the Government has their definitions, and larger companies can help influence the exact definition, they are likely to rule the day.

            If, say, Whole Foods were to attempt to have as much Biodynamic produce and Certified Humane Meat as possible, they would still likely end up with only a small amount of each.

            Personally, I am in favor of having multiple programs, in line with your thinking, but having none of them defined by the government. (Things like state inspections by the USDA or OSHA are a different matter).

            1. re: DougRisk
              FoodPopulist RE: DougRisk Jul 19, 2012 02:43 PM

              I'm thinking more along the lines of different levels, of increasing level of strictness. So, let's say that the strictest level would be called Organic-A and would be the tightest definition of "organic". Then, Organic-B would be a less strict standard that permits some things not permitted in Organic-A, and Organic-C would permit even more things.

              Basically, have shades of organic-ness, instead of an either/or rating.

              1. re: FoodPopulist
                DougRisk RE: FoodPopulist Jul 20, 2012 08:42 AM

                They basically have something like this. Don't quote me on the actual wording of these things, but, the Federal Government regulates things like:
                - 100% Organic
                - Made with Organic Ingredients
                - Organic
                - etc.

                There are various levels of "Organic" according to the Feds.

                And, that is my point. They already have what you are asking for, but, since it is the gov't, it is not that great a system.

                Whereas Certified Humane is pretty great. Of course, that is not a government program.

                1. re: DougRisk
                  FoodPopulist RE: DougRisk Jul 20, 2012 03:57 PM

                  I would strongly prefer a government-run labeling program.

                  1. re: FoodPopulist
                    DougRisk RE: FoodPopulist Jul 24, 2012 04:55 AM

                    FoodPopulist, I was away for the weekend, but, you did not read what I had said. We DO have a government run labeling program.

                    I understand that you may respond with: "Well, I want a better gov't run program", but, such is life. The Federal Governement, and almost all large centralized programs, are almost doomed to being bought bureaucracies.

                    1. re: DougRisk
                      GH1618 RE: DougRisk Jul 24, 2012 11:30 AM

                      That's the cynical way of looking at it. Another way is to consider that the USDA and FDA are responsible for the food supply for the entire nation, not merely for small minorities with an extremely narrow view of acceptable food production and labelling practices.

                      1. re: GH1618
                        sandylc RE: GH1618 Jul 24, 2012 12:04 PM

                        But our food system does need change/improvement, and history shows that with a bureaucracy it takes noisy people with somewhat extreme views to push through change.

                        1. re: GH1618
                          DougRisk RE: GH1618 Jul 25, 2012 05:44 AM

                          That's fine.

                          But, I stand by my beliefs when it comes to large centralized bureaucracies. They have proven time and again how effective and efficient they are. Though, I am certainly not interested in making this discussion overly political.

                2. re: DougRisk
                  thinks too much RE: DougRisk Jul 20, 2012 08:09 AM

                  As I understand it, the term "All-Natural" means absolutely nothing from a regulatory standpoint.

                  1. re: thinks too much
                    DougRisk RE: thinks too much Jul 20, 2012 08:45 AM

                    Well, it depends on what you mean. But, the USDA does define what All-Natural means:

                    "According to the USDA, which has defined the term natural only for meat and poultry, products labeled natural or all natural must not contain any artificial flavoring, color ingredients, chemical preservatives, or artificial or synthetic ingredients. Currently, no standards exist for this claim except when used on meat and poultry products. There is no organization behind the claim other than the company manufacturing or marketing the product, and there is no third-party certifier."

                    1. re: DougRisk
                      ennuisans RE: DougRisk Jul 20, 2012 09:33 AM

                      So not much better than "magically delicious".

                      1. re: ennuisans
                        DougRisk RE: ennuisans Jul 20, 2012 09:53 AM

                        Right, All-Natural basically means that the animal was not raised in a nuclear reactor.

              2. s
                sandylc RE: thinks too much Jul 19, 2012 09:43 AM

                One thing that organic does NOT mean to me is the produce I bring home from the store smelling like store disinfectant.

                1. g
                  GH1618 RE: thinks too much Jul 19, 2012 10:00 AM

                  The US Department of Agriculture defines the meaning of "organic" in the US:


                  While some people may disagree with details of the USDA definition, it is preferable to have a single, regulated standard than to have individual producers using it to mean different things.

                  1. r
                    redfish62 RE: thinks too much Jul 19, 2012 10:50 AM

                    I'm pretty much an agnostic when it comes to organic but to me it means "likely to be of somewhat better quality," if I'm not happy with the conventional produce I often find that the organic section has better looks produce. And shopping at Publix means I'm very often not happy with the conventional produce.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: redfish62
                      sandylc RE: redfish62 Jul 19, 2012 10:59 AM

                      To me, it means "doesn't have poisons all over/throughout it"; this doesn't guarantee what might often be considered "better quality".

                      1. re: redfish62
                        Davwud RE: redfish62 Jul 19, 2012 01:40 PM

                        "likely to be of somewhat better quality,"

                        Not at all in my limited findings.


                        1. re: Davwud
                          sandylc RE: Davwud Jul 19, 2012 04:32 PM

                          That would depend upon your definition of quality. I consider a smaller, less "beautiful" apple without poison in it to be of higher quality than a large, plastic-looking specimen that has been soaked in poison.

                          1. re: sandylc
                            acgold7 RE: sandylc Jul 19, 2012 06:15 PM

                            Redfish specifically says "better looks" and I, like Davwud, have usually found the opposite to be true.

                            1. re: acgold7
                              sandylc RE: acgold7 Jul 19, 2012 07:11 PM

                              But my point is that better-looking rarely translates automatically to better-tasting or healthier.

                              1. re: sandylc
                                acgold7 RE: sandylc Jul 20, 2012 12:11 AM

                                Got it, but that wasn't Redfish's point, which is what this particular subthread is about. Just trying to stay on point.

                                1. re: sandylc
                                  Davwud RE: sandylc Jul 20, 2012 03:13 AM

                                  My point is that I've found that better is better. Not organic or non organic. I've found stuff on both sides of the line very easily.
                                  I will say first and foremost some of the best meat I've had is from a local farmer that sets up shop at the neighbourhood farmers market. Fantastic stuff. Not organic either.


                            2. re: Davwud
                              redfish62 RE: Davwud Jul 24, 2012 05:03 AM

                              I buy most of my food at Publix and their conventional produce isn't very good. Usually the organic will take it up a notch to "halfway decent."

                              1. re: redfish62
                                thinks too much RE: redfish62 Jul 24, 2012 07:44 AM

                                Again, thank you redfish for a pragmatic and honest reply!

                          2. c
                            calliope_nh RE: thinks too much Jul 19, 2012 03:13 PM

                            Made of carbon-based compounds.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: calliope_nh
                              sandylc RE: calliope_nh Jul 19, 2012 04:32 PM

                              I like.

                            2. ennuisans RE: thinks too much Jul 19, 2012 06:37 PM

                              I figure 100 years ago you just bought food, and it was mostly good except when people tried to cheat and screw you over. Now you have to buy organic to get that level of quality control.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: ennuisans
                                DougRisk RE: ennuisans Jul 20, 2012 08:48 AM

                                I am a bit of a hobby-est historian when it comes to food, and, I can tell you that things were not that great way back when. There was a lot of cheating, mis-labeling, and other under-handed things happening back in the good old days.

                                This seemed to be truer for larger metropolises than for smaller towns. But, of course, choices were much more limited in smaller towns.

                                However, if you are specifically referring to things NOT being sprayed with chemicals and animals being injected with god-knows-what, then, you are right.

                                1. re: DougRisk
                                  ennuisans RE: DougRisk Jul 20, 2012 09:43 AM

                                  I think we're mostly in agreement. Nowadays my worry is that the organic requirements are being fudged, and I'd expect that to happen more often with national brands than with small/local productions. But I can buy organic and reasonably expect that no one has outright dosed it with poison, and conventional foods offer no such assurances.

                                  1. re: ennuisans
                                    Davwud RE: ennuisans Jul 20, 2012 09:47 AM

                                    "Nowadays my worry is that the organic requirements are being fudged"

                                    Hence the scam argument.


                                    1. re: Davwud
                                      ennuisans RE: Davwud Jul 20, 2012 10:10 AM

                                      "But I can buy organic and reasonably expect that no one has outright dosed it with poison, and conventional foods offer no such assurances."

                                      Hence the not-scam argument.

                                    2. re: ennuisans
                                      DougRisk RE: ennuisans Jul 20, 2012 09:59 AM

                                      I agree.

                                2. The Chowhound Team RE: thinks too much Jul 20, 2012 10:29 AM

                                  Folks, as with all threads, if you don't like the question being asked, you're not obligated to answer it. But derailing a thread by taking it off on a tangent about whether the poster is asking the right question really doesn't help.

                                  1. John E. RE: thinks too much Jul 20, 2012 09:52 PM

                                    When I think of organic produce I think of something that probably does not have any pesticide residue but quite possibly does have some contamination with 'organic' fertilizer. By the way, the plants cannot tell the difference between organic fertilizer and 'chemical' fertilizer. Nitrogen is nitrogen.

                                    1. c
                                      cheesemaestro RE: thinks too much Jul 21, 2012 12:00 PM

                                      To me, "organic" implies the following three concepts:

                                      1) Avoidance of synthetic chemicals to control pests or weeds or to regulate growth;

                                      2) Sustainability, i.e., implementing a growth system in which water and soil nutrients are not depleted faster than they can be replenished so that the land can be productive indefinitely; and

                                      3) Refusal to expose plants, animals or food products to artificial and potentially harmful practices, such as genetic modification and irradiation.

                                      "Organic" is not synonymous with with "certified organic." It is perfectly possible for a farm to be organic without being certified organic.The USDA's certified organic label is expensive to obtain and maintain, and imposes burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements. Large farm operations that sell regionally or nationally can afford the time and expense, but most mom-and-pop farms can't. For this reason, many small farmers who previously had government certification wound up getting out of the program, even though they didn't change their farming practices one iota. There are also alternative certifications, such as Certified Naturally Grown, which are geared more toward local farmers.

                                      Personally, I trust people in my local area who farm organically but have no certification more than I trust the big guys who sell all over the country and are USDA-certified. There are a lot of loopholes in the USDA program. For example, some of the big players grow both non-organic and organic food (and usually a lot less of the latter). They have not bought into the philosophy of organic farmiing, but are merely responding to a market demand for organic products and see it as another revenue/profit stream. In some cases, they have their organic crops growing in a field directly surrounded by conventionally grown crops and the chemicals from the non-organic side leach into the organic field and contaminate it. To be sure, there are honest, reputable people who have the USDA seal of approval. However, the USDA hasn't been particularly vigilant in cracking down on the shadier operations, nor have they been proactive in tightening the requirements to obtain or keep organic certification.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: cheesemaestro
                                        thinks too much RE: cheesemaestro Jul 23, 2012 06:21 AM

                                        Thank you for a clear and articulately expressed opinion!

                                        1. re: cheesemaestro
                                          chowser RE: cheesemaestro Jul 23, 2012 08:49 AM

                                          Nice synopsis. If you want to be "organic", you need to be more knowledgeable than looking for a label.

                                          1. re: cheesemaestro
                                            sandylc RE: cheesemaestro Jul 23, 2012 08:57 AM

                                            I agree, well put!

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