Saturday, April 4, 2009

To catch up with this book summary, please click on the following: Introduction, Part 1a, Part 1b.

We can all see that "organic" has become a huge trend around the world with almost every grocery item offered in organic form. Seeing what a mass market and lucrative business selling organic can be, Pollan questions whether the word "organic" has stayed true to it's original ideal or is it just a lie to get more profit. To answer these questions, Pollan visits both large, corporate organic farms as well as the smaller "sustainable" family farms. Today I will share his finds about the first group.

"Big Organic" - Industrial Organic

While we would like to think that all our organic foods come from small, family-run farms, the truth is that most organic in grocery markets come from large corporations. Their marketing strategy is key in instilling peaceful, healthy images of bounding sheep and waving grasses. Organic sells a story with their food in name ("Earthbound"), from their picturesque packaging and descriptive labels ("free-range", "grass-fed", "fair-trade"). But what do these words all actually mean in practice? Is "organic" better?

Pollan finds these questions hard to answer since there are many different philosophies and practices within the organic world. However, he takes time to explain the development of organic farming from the alternative, hippie lifestyle of the '70s to the trendy, mass market phenomenon that it has become. A few years ago, the government finally set a standard that organic foods are to hold to, but this standard includes a level of permissible synthetics and additives. Some farmers feel like it is a farce and there is a desire to find a new word to describe their philosophy of organic farming - "beyond organic", "sustainable", etc.

In the big farms (which are often just a part of conventional mega-farms), things are run pretty much the same way non-organic farms are except the input is different. Vegetables and fruit have natural fertilizers, animals are fed organic foods. If you look closely, you might be disturbed at how much these operations mirror their conventional counterparts.  For example, we might read that chickens or their eggs are "free-range", but what that means legally is they are required to have "access to outdoors". Most of them are living in warehouses with a door that is locked until their last 2 weeks of life. Then farmers cross their fingers and hope the chickens won't venture forth and pick up diseases before they are ready to be killed. Organic milk often comes from feedlot cows fed an organic diet - not our image of freely-grazing Jerseys.

Pollan spent some time observing what it takes to get organic salad vegetables on our table. While it may be an "organic" process, it is certainly not a natural one. Soil is tilled repeatedly to kill weeds (and releasing it of many important nutrients), fertilizer is shipped in to compensate, and crop rotation is minimal. Huge amounts of energy are spent after harvesting to clean the vegetables, keep them at the right temperatures and ship them to our local grocery markets. Organic? Perhaps. Natural or sustainable, it is not.

Organic Meal
Like his McDonald's test, Pollan ends this segment by cooking a homemade meal of roasted chicken and vegetables, a spring salad mix, steamed asparagus and organic ice cream topped with blue berries. He contemplated what the same meal would be like using conventional ingredients and concluded with these questions: Was it healthier? Probably, from lack of pesticides and chemicals; however, it might not necessarily be more nutritious depending on the freshness of the ingredients and the quality of the soil they were grown in. Did it taste better? Maybe, but again, that depends on freshness and the distance the food travelled. Typically organic vegetables do taste better because they take longer to grow, building thicker cell walls. Definitely the chicken was tastier compared to it's non-organic counterpart. Was it better for the environment? Farmers? Public health? Taxpayers? All, yes. Was a better in terms of fossil fuel usage? Definitely not!

Pollan ends by saying that you can't help seeing that "Industrial Organic" is a contradiction. While what they do is better than conventional farming, it is not possible to run things on such large scales, covering such vast distances and hold true to the philosophy of "organic" as people imagine it to be. 

Comments (10)

On October 26, 2009 at 5:49 PM , Anonymous said...

p.s. thanks for the summary

On October 30, 2009 at 3:55 PM , Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
On October 30, 2009 at 4:12 PM , Anonymous said...

p.s. thanks again for the summary. they are really good

On November 20, 2009 at 6:03 PM , Anonymous said...

Good summary this helped me out for my english class so much! Thank you Thank you!

On November 21, 2009 at 12:16 PM , Jia Le said...

I'm deleting your post again because no one wants to be called names or cursed at. I get the sense that you are just messing with me to see my reaction. I'm glad you enjoyed the summary (and by the way, my family has very normal, English names - I just chose to use the names given to us in China for my blog - so don't worry about their enculturation. =)

As for the second commenter.... I'm glad I could help you out (hope I didn't do your work for you!! ;-)

On January 14, 2010 at 9:45 PM , Anonymous said...

thank you for the summaries, they were very interested

i think its really cool how your family has lived an international life, and how you all have your own chinese names

On July 30, 2010 at 8:25 PM , Anonymous said...

thank you sooo much! i needed this for ap environmental assignment and this helped extensively!

On August 21, 2015 at 8:45 AM , Unknown said...

I read all your posts on the Omnivores Dilemma and let me tell you it helped so much. This book is way more interesting then I initially thought. Your posts are probably still helping people. I was assigned to read this in AP language

On February 10, 2017 at 6:17 AM , Anonymous said...


On February 10, 2017 at 6:18 AM , Anonymous said...

WASSUP I really love the summary it helped my sooo much Thank you!!