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Sunday, December 22, 2002


I admit it; I can’t taste the difference between organic veggies and the others. On the other hand, I don’t buy store tomatoes, peaches, or plums because they generally don’t have any flavor at all. We buy local peaches in season and grow our own tomatoes. My wife buys plums mostly out of nostalgia. If organic tomatoes were certified as vine ripened (while the vine was still attached to the tomato plant), then I would be immediately interested. By the way, is “vine ripened” a higher priced affectation, or do tomatoes really taste better if picked, shipped, and ripened ‘on the stem’? My rule against buying store tomatoes is very strict, because my heart has been broken too many times.

There is an advantage to organic veggies that goes beyond taste. The new organic labeling law appears to be the only certification program that will allow consumers to choose or to reject food from genetically altered plants or hormone laced animals. “What’s to protect?”, you may ask. ADM, supermarket to the world and producer of cholesterol-free corn oil (the best kind!), says that Roundup ™ Ready grains are just what we need. That they are so safe, there is no need to tell us which is which. Big Ag people seem to get downright testy when they boo-hoo about how organics are ripping off consumers and depriving the world of cheap and plentiful food. Their strategy seems to be to flood all of agriculture with genetically altered seeds, until even the weeds are Roundup Ready ™ and it is too late to reverse the juggernaut. They not only won’t tell us which products contain the designer genes and which one’s don’t, but have influenced legislators to pass laws which prevent "unnecessary labeling". That means Ben and Jerry can't tell Illinois consumers that the dairy products used to make their ice cream come from hormone free cows. That’s why the ECU won’t accept our produce, and why Zaire would rather starve. But organics are certified free of designer genes, chemicals, hormones, and irradiation. It’s a no-brainer. Buy organic!

Unlike the veggies, organic meat and dairy have immediate taste appeal. For some time now, I have been buying local home-grown lamb and eggs, and buy produce this way, if available. Some years ago I could get locally produced milk, cream, and butter, but no longer. The next best thing to farm eggs are the organic/free range eggs in many markets. The shell is hard, the yolks are not too tired to stand up proudly, and the taste is very good. A little more color would be nice. I’m told by my egg lady (who mysteriously runs out of eggs every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas) that a little more corn in the feed would take care of that. Free range chickens have much better flavor and texture than factory raised birds.

I like plain yogurt, and I prefer the whole milk kind. I have been buying Dannon ™ Plain Natural Yogurt, but only one of our stores carries it, and they are out-of-stock about half of the time. Mostly what they carry is fat-free vanilla. Shudder. But my newest discovery is the organic whole milk cream-top yogurt. Really fine. Organic plugra European style butter is vastly superior in flavor and texture to even name brand butters. With the recent passage of the Organic Labeling Law, more and more organics are making their way to supermarket shelves. While I can do without the organic cheese curls and organic packaged salad dressings, it is still a healthy trend, because it provides the choices that agribusiness doesn't think we are ready for. A whole, popular, group of foods that ADM can’t control. There is natural, low fat, and now organic. Perhaps the natural and organic trend can take some of the authority away from the low fat police, so we can begin eating well again.

On a recent (Thanksgiving 2002) market excursion to HY VEE, an Iowa based mid-west chain, I scored organic eggs, milk, and chicken, as well as organic cream-top yogurt and Gold Medal flour. Organic Turkey was also available, as was a good range of organic produce. I would like to buy organic lamb, veal, and beef too, and probably will be able to in the not too distant future.I begin to see America moving towards a two-tier quality/pricing structure in our food markets; more expensive quality organics vs. price-driven mass-produced food. Are the organics better-tasting? Many times, the answer is clearly “YES”, especially in poultry and dairy.

Are the organics better for you? They have to be because they are chemical, hormone, and antibiotic free. And not bio-engineered or irradiated, in case these turn out to be bad too.

Are organics the right thing to do? Just the provision that food animals be allowed to move about in a manner consistent with the requirements of their species is enough for me. A Swiss farmer, who sustains his business on cows with barely half the milk yield of US dairy animals said, “The cows deserve a life too.”

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