I N · T H I S · I S S U E
The Organic Tipping Point
Organic dog food? An expensive trip to the chiropractor? You be the judge.
Yes and no, perhaps not really in the scheme of things. Terry came back a vegetarian, directed to only to eat organic food and imbibe aged wine. This while I ponder urban farming in Brooklyn. There is a fast-food movement. It’s towards healthy foods punctuated with fresh and organic fruits and vegetables.
Whole Foods. Love it, love it, until the check-out, a destination supermarket. The neighborhood Ralph’s inspired this piece. We roll down the hill a few blocks and witness the new reality. Voila, organics available, healthy alternatives, low costs. Thrilled I am. A tipping point? There is a great and growing health consciousness about what we eat, from omnivores who face the ultimate dilemma, to vegetarians, vegans, to locovores, pescavores, macros, those that eat raw foods, gluten free.
It’s driven by us all. We want to eat well. Organic food is the fastest growing segment of the food industry. Organic means that it’s grown without modern synthetic inputs, particularly pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and without genetically modified organisms, and without processing involving irradiation, or industrial solvents, or chemical food additives. It’s an industry growing at 15 – 20% a year.
Our Ralphs’ organic produce section is growing in real time. In the past year, it grew from a few sorry and expensive heads of lettuce and sorrier broccoli, to a 30% share of the produce section. We buy an organic squash I’ve never seen. Carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, chives, radishes; even attractive organic mushrooms in a recycled paper tray. (By 2009, organics represented 11.4% of the produce market with marginal consumer costs of 10 – 40%.)
Organic eggs, milk, several organic varieties with/without omegas et al., soy milk, and half and half. (Two-thirds of all organic milk, cream, and yogurt are sold through conventional super markets like ours.) We buy dog biscuits with healthy grains and farm-raised chicken; organic dog food thanks to Paul Newman.
Traders for organic wines and coffee. So accessible; the organic movement is on fire. The “food revolution is in season,” a reasoned response to the reaches of the Green Revolution led by the likes of Alice Waters, Gary Hirshberg, Michael Pollan, and now Michelle Obama.
I reminisce to days inspired by Steinbeck travelling the country Datsun pick-up-style. We were passionate about eating low on the food chain for so many reasons, buying health foods without feared Green Revolution chemicals difficult to pronounce. In that Datsun, a treasured, ragged national directory of natural food stores and coops. It was tucked under the passenger seat with the Frisbee and grease gun. Now you can buy organic produce at Costco and Wal-Mart.
It was tough buying healthy food then. Health food stores were funky and expensive; only a subset in our guide. Few markets carried local, pesticide-free produce. There were no organic certifications then. Now the European Union, U.S. Canada, Japan, and others have rigid certification standards. (In the U.S., a food can be labeled organic if a minimum of 95% of its inputs are organic.) All food stops were deliberate to fill our veggie-only tanks with pure and high-test fuels.
“Someday,” we’d say then, “Someday this food will be in all supermarkets.” Love it.