Barbara, at Bricoleuse (via Oregon Commentator), provides us with a list of all the organic food she found on the shelf at her Eugene, Oregon Wal-Mart. I count 44 separate organic items (more are local or “all-natural,” but this post is about organics so I’m not counting them). I’m sympathetic to her observation that:
On of my pet peeves, which Iâ€™ll be ranting about one of these days, is the way sustainability and healthly food are luxuries for the affluent in the U.S. Organic food is terribly expensive, bicycles and trailers for a family cost far, far more than an old beater car, and supporting small local shopowners may not be a realistic option for families who truly have no slack in their budget. Wal-mart makes it possible for people with lower incomes to buy locally produced organic food at prices that are comparable to conventional food. Iâ€™m quite honestly in favor of anything that makes sustainable options available to a larger group of people.
However, her notion that this somehow illustrates a “wide variety” of organic and local food is just ludicrous. How many food items are there at an average Supercenter? What percentage of this number is 44?
Furthermore, look at her list and you’ll see that it’s almost all “industrial organic” products. [Heck, she even includes Lay's Potato Chips as "all natural."] What do I mean by industrial organic? Here’s my favorite food writer, Michael Pollan, talking about one such company with products on Barbara’s list:
I understood organic to mean â€” in addition to being produced without synthetic chemicals â€” less processed, more local, easier on the animals. So I started looking more closely at some of the other organic items in the store. One of them in the frozen-food case caught my eye: an organic TV dinner (now there are three words I never expected to string together) from Cascadian Farm.
When I looked at the ingredients list, I felt a small jolt of cognitive dissonance. It included such enigmas of modern food technology as natural chicken flavor, high-oleic safflower oil, guar and xanthan gum, soy lecithin, carrageenan and natural grill flavor, this last culinary breakthrough achieved with something called “tapioca maltodextrin.” The label assured me that most of these additives are organic, which they no doubt are, and yet they seem about as jarring to my conception of organic food as, say, a cigarette boat on Walden Pond. But then, so too is the fact (mentioned nowhere on the label) that Cascadian Farm has recently become a subsidiary of General Mills, the third biggest food conglomerate in North America.
In other words, we’re left with a two-tier organic food merchandising sytem: the better stuff that’s still more expensive and the stuff you can buy at Wal-Mart. The fact that organic food is too expensive for many Americans does bother me, but Wal-Mart can’t offer a good solution to the problem yet. Don’t let them take credit for solving a problem that still needs solving.