Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Age Cynicism

Please understand from the outset of this essay that I am totally in support of organic, local, and fair trade. I even work in the sector and have helped advanced the cause in my area. But, and I have a big but here, but how is it that I have a choice between an organic cucumber for $3.99 from Mexico or .89 cents each from Mexico or California or Florida. That means that my organic cuke would cost from 3 to 4 times the conventional one. Now I get that the price of a conventionally grown cuke is held down by mass production, cheap migrant labor, and government subsidies but the disparity is crippling. I can’t afford a $4 cuke no matter what my values are. Now I would be prepared to pay twice as much to ensure I didn’t consume toxic chemicals, pollute the groundwater, pump more greenhouse gases into the ozone, or further the exploitation of poor migrant works, but FOUR TIMES as much is out of my reach.

I’m a ardent believer in eating my food fresh and local rather than shipped from New Zealand – unless of course it’s a banana in which case I would prefer fair trade and organic – but what is with $5.99 for local organic tomatoes from a guy that farms up the road from me and still uses migrant labor? I know - I have been on his farm. Why are organic tomatoes from further away $3.99 or $2.99 a pound in comparison? I personally believe, if I were to pay $6 a pound, someone is ripping me off. And since I know for a fact the mark up at the store I shop at that means Mr. Farmer up the road is actually exploiting my desire to eat locally.

Of course one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bushel basket, but it seems to me, particularly after visiting Expo East this year (natural products exposition) that more and more profit-only minded people are muscling into the natural foods market and taking advantage of people who are genuinely concerned for the environment and eating right. It’s becoming big business with the major corporations snapping organic natural labels and even the smaller vendors becoming jaded and greedy. I do understand the rising cost of oil increasing the cost of agricultural and transportation all around but should organic and local be almost immune from the issue of oil costs? After all they aren’t shipping long distances or using petroleum based fertilizers. At a time like this I would have expected organic local foods to drop in price relative to the conventional. It sickens me that it’s going to continue the reverse with everyone wanting the bigger price tag of ‘trendy organic, natural, and local’ labels.

Meanwhile people like me with a limited or low income and no access to my own garden find themselves filling their baskets with conventional foods when their heart belongs to organic.


Beth said...

My mil doesn't understand why I can't buy all organic. That is why. I can't afford it. It is a shame--I would much rather put all organic on my table.

Cyber_Hippie said...

If you lived near me, I'd give you produce (organic, no migrant labor involved) for free. :)

You are absolutely right about greedies muscling in. That's exactly what they are doing. Not only that, but the USDA Organic standard doesn't really mean much.

My BF and I make the sacrifices necessary to eat organic, but let me tell you: Them's some big sacrifices! It's really expensive. That's part of the reason we are growing some of our own. It's too bad you are unable. :(

My mantra is "we each do the best we can." No one can ask any more of you than that. Buy what you can afford to organic. Don't worry about the rest.

Jen M.
Drag'n Rags

kim* said...

yeah organic is expensive i cant do it either...