Organic Food vs. Chemical Food

I read a recent post in Triple Pundit that dropped one of the more head-nodding statistics I’ve heard in a long time about organic farming-

“Sustainable agriculture is the fastest-growing sector of the food industry. On the other hand, less than 1% of American cropland is farmed organically.”

Great that it is the fastest growing and wild that only 1% of the U.S. is organic- that means 99% of the U.S. farmland is covered in chemicals.

Our current food system is very energy intensive- accounting for 19% of the fossil fuel use in the U.S., and with a growing population to feed, I doubt that number will be going down anytime soon.

My thought on the shift to organic food from food that we consider traditional is a semantic one- how does each of the terms we use to refer to food come to mean what we take them to mean on a day to day basis. What? You say?... Here’s what I mean…

Organic food- it’s a great term meaning food grown without extra pesticides or fertilizers, right? Tell that to any high schooler that I used to teach, especially to students growing up in low-income neighborhoods. There isn’t a whole lot of “organic” anything going on around them and the word, in fact, comes to be synonymous with “tastes bad.” More importantly, where else do you see the word organic? Medical books or descriptions, maybe a conversation about different forms of growth…

My point is, it’s not a sexy word. And further, it’s not even necessary. The version of food that gets the extra adjective is suddenly the “other,” and people are going to treat it that way. It’s weird for people to think about switching from the food the grew up with to “organic” food- when, really, they aren’t switching anything- it’s the same food. Not necessarily vegetarian or vegan or slow or any of the words that come along with the larger food and health movements-

Organic food is grown without chemical assistance. Who can argue with that? If anything, it turns out tasting better. Sometimes it does look worse for the wear, which is a major disadvantage and one of the big reasons for non-organic in the first place:

Wait- “non-organic” did you hear that? I typed it. I don’t know if it’s a standard term- I think not, but you’ll have to agree that it doesn’t sound strange. In fact it is- non-organic food is just food, no added words. But there are a lot of additives- chemicals and pesticides and fertilizers and processing etc. all combine to grow and produce the food we have come to think of as normal.

Here’s what I propose- the food with all the additives gets the extra adjectives. We start calling non-organic food we are used to: Chemical Food.

The food that is grown without any additives gets no extra words: Organic becomes Food.

Or at least we call them Chemical and Organic- give each one a label. Let people decide between the two without thinking that “organic” is the weird one.

The power of naming.

Photo Credit under CCL: oceandesetoiles