Beyond Organic (part 1)

In my home I have an antique Hoosier cabinet which I use as storage space for all of my DIY homestead canning, fermenting, and herbalist supplies. It is from a company that was in business in the late 1930’s early 1940’s, and on the inside of the cabinet doors, yellowed and made brittle with time, is still some of the original tacked in “helpful kitchen tips” for the housewife circa it’s era.

Konvenient Kitchen Kabinets brand Hoosier cabinet insert.

This information speaks of what foods people could plan to eat in their diet to obtain certain vitamins – A, C, and B… and that is it. No others were known. The 1930s were the heyday of scientific proof in the discovery of vitamins. The studies leading up to their discovery had only just begun in the 1900s, so just barely over 100 years ago! What I am getting at here is that, all things considered, nutrition, as a science, is still very much in its infancy. I have found I do well to remind myself of that fact any time I might feel frustrated at the seeming lack in any medical establishment’s connecting the dots between what we put into our bodies and the results we then get in effect.

The growing interest, science, and concern over the concept “you are what you eat” vs. the question “are you what you eat?” has led to the divide we see today in modern, industrial, agro-chemical heavy farming of our foods, and the organic food movement. The funny thing about the word organic is that by its base definition there is no way for any food substance to not, both scientifically and literally speaking, be “organic”. But setting semantics aside for a moment lets consider the “organic foods movement”, brought about by citizens who expressed concern about putting chemically sprayed and engineered foods into their bodies, especially considering that long term ramifications of such exposure is still largely unknown. With each passing generation, post WWII and the mass spread of agro-chemicals, the general population has essentially been the lab rats in what remains to be seen of one of the greatest unwitting world health experiments ever conducted by our species on our species.

Through advancements in medical technology, biological science, hygienic practices, life saving pharmaceuticals, and nutritional discoveries, we have largely eradicated many of the risks and causes of death which greatly impacted the generation just a century ago. That generation came from a time when average life expectancy was only 40-50 years old or less, now we generally call that merely “middle aged”. It is absolutely an amazing achievement that we have nearly doubled the average lifespan in this amount of time.
However, many contributing factors to our modern culture’s development, our “progress”, and lifestyle, have created impediments to optimal health. Yes, we may live longer, but how many of those years are spent dependent on a host of medications, medical device apparatus, living with chronic degenerative conditions, persistently suffering to some degree or another, racking up medical bills and possibly barely affording to live, while not enjoying much of the life we have? Why do we accept this as the norm and not stop to question more of “why is it this way?”, “does it have to be this way?”, and “could there possibly be some ways to better mitigate the inevitable entropy that is aging?” Shouldn’t quality of life be as equally important, if not more important, than quantity?

“Grandma” being made fun of by a young whipper-snapper who doesn’t know what’s good for’m.

Grandma was eating “organic” foods before it was cool. Back then it was just simply called “food”, and most of it for American families was largely grown in their own back yard, or in the very least just down the street in a neighbor’s back yard. For many parts of the world this is still the case today. But as previously discussed, other lifestyle and time period factors stunted life expectancy over a century ago, so at that time there was not much critical exploration into whether it may or may not be important to consider what went into the process of producing the foods we consume.

With little regard to regenerating our environment, we farmed much of America’s heartland to the point of stripping its topsoil down to next to nothing, this contributed to dust-bowls and severe drought conditions making it a nearly impossible challenge to produce enough food crop. It is no wonder that with the industrial boom and introduction of agro-chemicals it looked like the future for feeding the world was merry and bright – “Better living through chemicals” as the corporate slogans said. Perhaps we thought nature had failed us, whereas our own products – all within our own control – would surely save us? Nevermind the thought that perhaps it was we who were failing nature.

Severely eroded farmland during the Dust Bowl, circa 1930’s

The natural vs. unnatural, organic vs. conventional debates aimed to go beyond just what’s sprayed in the fields or baked into our crackers. The organic and natural foods movement tried to press for a return to simplicity even in food product formulation. For example, why should you have to eat a loaf of bread with an ingredients list a mile long when historically “bread” is one of the most simple food creations – flour, water, salt, yeast…

The tides tend to turn as the market demands. Just within the past decade enough people considered it valuable for their health, the health of their families, the health of their communities, the health of the ecosystem etc… or whatever drove their interest, to the point that collectively our culture’s investment in “organic” and “natural” products turned heads at the mega-corporations. These companies began to find ways to filter “organics” in to their own retail aisles because to them it looks like dollar signs. They also took noted interest in successful brands within the pioneering “health food” industry and began buying them up in order to snag a piece of the pie for themselves. There is really no surprise in this – it is capitalism operating business as usual.

Does it really matter if the wholesome, family owned and personally inspired, “organic” food product you love is suddenly now under the umbrella of General Mills or Coca Cola? If they’ve not changed the formula of the product you love, if they don’t seem to have sacrificed any quality or purity, why should it matter? Can’t we have our proverbial cake and eat it too?

This is the conundrum that rises before us in these times. It is a topic that generates the thought that perhaps, its time to move beyond “organic” in our reasoning and choices. To find out more about where we are now so we can better plot a way forward stay tuned for part 2 of this article…

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