Thursday, February 28, 2013
And here we are, a day we could all see coming from a long ways off. Let me start by saying that I completely support the ideal of organic agriculture, I practice it in my home garden reliably. I also have no quarrel with the USDA, they are public servants, serving the public precisely as the public has demanded. Keeping up with fatuous trendinistas that pollute the culinary channels with flimsy urban myths about food is a very challenging job, those folks are almost heroic in their pursuit of the truth.
So if you see the above label - exactly like that - then you know that the source can be trusted. What about this label?
Well it certainly looks healthy, doesn't it? It's all green and swirly with fresh tender leaves and the word CERTIFIED in big letters. Tucked neatly beneath that attention grabber is almost an afterthought, organics. More than one organic mind you, so it must be extra healthy.
Who certified it? For all I know, the Certified Organics are a new hit band full of cute boys with even cuter hair.
Once again, marketing rears its ugly head, roaring out buzzwords designed to make you feel better about yourself. Not designed to make you feel better. Do you see the difference?
Example A from the USDA is a hard thing to get, you have to jump through a lot of hoops to put it on your packaging. Because of this, the consumer has a more than reasonable expectation that the food was conscientiously produced with a minimum of harmful additives. If the consumer wants to know exactly what chemicals are allowed and other details about the organic label, that information is easily accessible, so they can make informed choices about their food.
Example B is a pure creation of someone's nifty computer widget, there were no hoops to be jumped through, because there were no hoops at all. They made a pretty picture, they made it green - which is the officially overused marketing concept of 2013 - because, damn, green sure does sell good, and slapped a couple of official sounding words on top.
Oh, they also slapped an extra two bucks onto the price, because we all know that organic things cost more. It's one of those lies accepted so knowingly by the ignorant. Yes, truly organic things do cost more, but 90% of the things labeled with some variation or organic or natural are just cleverly labeled things that are just like the un-cleverly labeled things sitting right next to them on the shelf.
Here's a handy rule of thumb, people who are trying to sell you something really good will actually put that good thing on the label. There is not likely to be an actual tree in that snack cake.
The smart label reader will virtually ignore what is on the front, because most of that is marketing smokescreen. The back of the package, or sometimes crammed down the narrow sides, is where you find all the real action. I don't concern myself with the nutrition facts for the most part, that is not what you are looking for. You'll want to peruse the list of ingredients, a short one is best, and get familiar with common ingredients like dextrose and sodium citrate. They are both just another way of saying sugar and salt, so educate yourself.
Two more things to look at are the place of origin and parent company of the manufacturer. Most of those homey little green packages from small family type operations are actually owned by the larger conglomerates. And I think it goes without saying that the less distance a product has to travel between point of origin to its ultimate destination is the least costly, least environmentally impactful choice.
I am always arguing for you to be a conscientious consumer because we have become a species that specializes in consuming. We consume without thought, in fact many people think that consumption is a duty, but it is a flimsy thing to build a culture upon.
It is too easy to consume and discard, and it is your guilt about all of that gluttony that enables to the manufacturers to exploit you. It doesn't have to be that way though, you can start a food revolution in your own life that doesn't require someone else's label.
The truth about food is easy to find, but the lies are just so much sexier, aren't they?