Organics. The Great Myth

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by theprivatechef, Apr 4, 2010.

  1. theprivatechef

    theprivatechef

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    If I didn’t work in Hollywood I probably wouldn’t use an organic product again. Sound Strange? One year ago I would have thought the same thing. I even wrote in my cookbook “The Private Chef” how in favor of organics I was. The whole time I had this little twinge inside me whispering, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”  When I finally started to listen it didn’t take me long to discover that I had been sucked in like millions of others.

    There are three major components to why people choose organic over conventionally grown products.

    1. They believe they’re helping the little guy and extending their middle finger to big business.

    2. It’s better for the environment. Getting rid of those nasty pesticides could only be a good thing.

    3. They’re better for  you and taste better.

    Let’s start with 1. Contrary to popular belief, most organically grown foods are produced by a handful of the biggest companies of conventionally grown and produced foods. So unless you are handing your ten dollars for a head of Romaine lettuce directly to a local farmer, the chances are you are not delivering a blow to big business. When the fad of eating organic foods started, big business said what the hell. We can grow less food and charge more for it!

    2. Better for the environment? Hardly. Harmful pesticides have not been used by conventional growers for nearly thirty years. It is one of the most scrutinized areas of government. We tend to get caught up in the “All Natural” lingo that drives most consumers these days but let me remind you that lead is also all natural. Most organic farmers have to use seven times the amount of so called “natural pesticides. One of the main ones used is called Rotenone. This is an extract from the roots of plants  and can be toxic. It is known to cause symptoms of Parkinson’s when injected into rats. It also takes farmers twice the acreage to grow the same amount of crops. So if your against deforestation you better thing twice about buying organic fruits and vegetables.

    3. Better for you?  After finding out how organic food is grown, I think not.  By the way, each time I go into a whole foods market, which is often when you work in Hollywood, I ask the produce manager approximately what percentage of fruits and vegetables are organically grown. The answer most given? Anywhere from 30-50%! So at any given time the percentage isn’t much more than most grocery store chains. The only  difference is you have to sell some of your belongings before you shop at a whole foods market.

    Better tasting? Take the challenge. What have you got to loose except the high prices charged at organic markets. Do a blind taste test! I have! I will take technology over some dread-locked kid at Whole Foods trying to push unpasteurized cheese on me any day. Has anyone ever heard of Louis Pasteur?

    As long as I keep working for the rich and famous and I buy food on their dime, I will do whatever is asked of me. But at home…it’s conventional. Now you may choose to continue to use organics and that is your prerogative. But don’t kid yourself into thinking it is causing a blow to big business or helping the environment.

    The Private Chef

    www.theprivatechef.com

    www.beaprivatechef.com
     
  2. gunnar

    gunnar

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    I agree and I disagree. 
    Most of the farmers I know are aware of the double standard of needing more "natural" pesticide and acreage for the same amount grown "commercially". More and more they are growing companion gardens, mostly in harvest-able rows side by side, such as the traditional "sister plants" or the old growing mint around your tomatoes and beets keeps pests at bay (google "companion planting"). This is to help reduce the need of more pesticide and also create natural barriers that result in less loss by deer or other critters,  sadly, it's not really new at all, we are relearning lost lessons . Also farming "Tech" is moving very fast these days to try and find ways to defeat the huge wastes of water, land and resources that "modern" farming creates.

    That being said, the scam of big business in Organics has been exactly as you say.

    Flavor.  Flavor is better in in-season products, this I believe. Can I prove it scientifically? nope. i just try to buy from as many local people as I can. 

    welcome to the forums, hope to see ya around a bit.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2010
  3. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    If you're going to get on a soapbox it would behoove you to actually get the facts.

    Organics is a complex issue, with growers ranging from the small, diverse grower who upholds the conventional idea of what an organic grower is, to the huge organics divisions of factory farms, whose methods are barely different from how they grow and market their conventional crops. So, as soon as you use the word "most" you'd be hard pressed, at best, to provide documentation. In addition to other problems inherent in keeping score, there are vast numbers of organic growers who are exempt from certification, and whose crops are not even considered in the productivity figures.

    Excluding the fact that "organic" is defined and enforced by federal law, exactly what you get when buying organic produce depends mostly on who it is purchased from. Get it from a small, diverse grower (who is likely choosing heirlooms varieties as well) and it's worth the price difference. Get it in a supermarket, where it comes from a factory farm, and you're getting ripped off.

    But there's no sense in arguing with a true believer. Especially when the facts presented are patently wrong. For instance, "One of the main ones used is called Rotenone....." 

    In point of fact, because it is so powerful, and because it is an indiscriminate killer that attacks the micro-herd as well as actual pests, rotenone is the last choice for most organic growers. In fact, it was originally on the excluded list, and is frowned upon by serious organizations. 

    Writing is Environmental Health Perspectives, for example, Katherine DiMatteo notes:

    >To set the record straight, rotenone is not commonly used in organic agriculture. Rotenone that has been naturally derived is listed as a “restricted substance” by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI 2004) and may be used only in special circumstances with designated limitations. Meanwhile, rotenone’s synergist, piperonyl butoxide, is prohibited from use in organic agriculture.<
    BTW, the links between rotenone and Parkenson's have been seriously called into question, and much of the "research" along those lines has been discredited.

    Besides which, anybody who wants to take the time can find one study after another detailing the health risks of synthetic pesticides and other agricultural products. Doesn't make those studies necessarily any more correct than the rotenone/Parkinson one.

    As to taste differences, that's about the only place in your tirade that you make a semi-valid point. If you grow the same variety, controlling all the variables, but grow one patch organically and the other using synthetics, they will (or should) taste exactly the same. Vegetables require 16 different nutrients, and the plant doesn't care how they are supplied. If they are available in soluble form then the plant will utilize them.

    There are two major influences on the "organics taste better" argument. One comes from the true believers on the other side of the spectrum from you, and can be ignored as wishful thinking. As with all true believers, they will happily promulgate anything that sounds positive, and ignore any negatives.

    The other resulted from the days before organics were mainstream. Because they were only available from small growers, who sold them at Farmer's Markets, CSAs, and the like, their offerings tended to be ripe. For most people, that's the only time they got to taste, say, a ripe tomato. Not knowing the difference, they attributed the superior taste to the growing method, rather than to the food distribution system.



     
     
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  4. bughut

    bughut

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    Well here's a can of worms.

    I absolutely believe in organic produce. My spices dont endanger the people who pick them.My carrots dont poison the folk who live near the fields where the phosphates are sprayed. There are + & - for all arguments, but surely natures way is the way.
     
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  5. theprivatechef

    theprivatechef

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     I had to read your reply a number of times before I realized you were corroborating my position.
    Let's take this paragraph by paragraph.
    In the first paragraph you say, "vast numbers of organic growers who are exempt from certification." This would mean we have no idea of what they use to grow their crops.

    In the second paragraph you state, " Get it from a small, diverse grower (who is likely choosing heirlooms varieties as well) and it's worth the price difference"... Is this one of those growers that is exempt from certification?

    In the third paragraph you accuse me of being a true believer. I'm assuming that means "not open to reason." As stated in my post, I supported organics to the point I wrote about it in my book. So I have been on both sides.

    In reference to Rotenone, you state that Rotenone, "is the last choice for most organic growers." I would sure as hell hope so! But which ones? Even the OMRI states that it can be used in special circumstances  Rotenone was one of the first organic pesticides that came to mind and I didn't want to bog down most readers with many of the others. But since you're not like most readers and I'm being accused of not doing my research here are some others: pyrethrum, which is carcinogenic; sabadilla, which is highly toxic to honeybees; and fermented urine, which I don't want on my food period.

    In your last  paragraph you state," Not knowing the difference, they attributed the superior taste to the growing method, rather than to the food distribution system."...That's my point! It is the growing method not what pesticide was used. You even said earlier that grown side by side you would get the same results.

    Lastly, I am very new to blogging. Working as a private chef for twenty years I have very little connection with other food people and when I discovered Cheftalk I was very excited. If I came across as on a soap box, I apologize. I love this type of interaction and I hope you don't take offense. I see that you grow Heirlooms and I would be happy to help you any way I can.
    Warm regards,
    The Private Chef
     
  6. theprivatechef

    theprivatechef

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    Hi Bughut,
    Thanks for your reply. I suggest going to skeptoid.com and read about organics. You may be very surprised.
    Thanks,
    The Private Chef
     
  7. gunnar

    gunnar

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    Rotenone and sabadilla have been banned Nationwide for a number of years, as I stated above the industry is moving faster then the arguments. Has most of America been bamboozled? heh, yeah.Are we learning? yes. Places like this keep minds expanding./img/vbsmilies/smilies/biggrin.gif



    ps. what am I? Processed meat by-product?
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2010
  8. warba

    warba

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    I am currently in the fresh produce industry (importing into USA and Canada from 20 countries around the world) on a very large scale.
    As a "big business insider", the whole Organics issue is as muddled as the forum posts on this thread.
     

    The one major issue that seems to get confused both by consumers and even industry "professionals" (who should know better) is the distinction between "organics" and "food safety".
    You purchase a product that is 100% organic and certified by a USDA accredited company, and yet suffer the most common problems such as e-coli or salmonella contamination. In countries where most product grown (USA included) farm workers are usually low paid and can work in fields with no access to toilets or clean water for washing; think about that next time you taste a few unwashed grapes in the supermarket.

    It is difficult to generalize across all fruits and vegetables (and proteins also) what the issues with "Organic" really are. Some fruit trees that are grown "organic" require large amounts of copper to be added to the soil to stop pests from destroying the crop; each produce item has its own issues.

    Overall, the import requirements into the USA are so stringent from the USDA that even non-organic product is required to have such low residuals from "approved" pesticides, that a light wash under clean water removes anything of concern.

    There was also a tone (?) in the first post that sort of put "big business" in a less-than-favorable light. My professional experience is that the large produce growing businesses are the ones who adhere to the government requirements, are tested more often, keep their certifications current, and provide facilities and clean water for their workers, moreso than some smaller farms which may not be able to afford this added cost and are not so much on the radar due to their lower volumes. This doesn't mean the smaller farms are bad, but size is not a valid determiner of ethics, knowledge, or capabilities.

    The other "big business(?)" implication was that they are making huge dollars on organics. Depends on the product, but generally the cost of organics to the supermarkets is substantially higher than conventional product. Organics are incredibly expensive to grow, and often have a much lower yield-per-acre than conventional product. Depending on the type of product and certification requirements, growers may have to grow for 2-4 years with no pesticides, but cannot call their product "organic" until the fields have been pesticide free for this time (it is refered to as "transitional").. so during that time they have much lower yields without the higher price of organic to cover the costs. Most commercial growers live year-to-year (barely) so this is literally "betting the farm" so to speak.

    I'm sure there are some "bad apples" out there in the commercial produce business like any industry; but, honestly, the 10's of millions of boxes of produce we sell in the USA each year (organic or not) are safe to eat and have little-to-no harmful residues, and what might be on the product is easily rinsed off. I would be much more suspect of a "local farmers market" to find uncertified and uncontrolled application of questionable pestices than I would the "big boys".
     
  9. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Isn't it ironic how your opinion on the issue and your vested interest just happen to coincide?

    I'm especially amused by this line: "the large produce growing businesses are the ones who adhere to the government requirements....." Considering that Monsanto et als all but wrote the regulations, this shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

    The other "big business(?)" implication was that they are making huge dollars on organics.

    Yeah, right. I certainly believe that the factory farmers jumped on the organics bandwagon for any other reason than to make a boatload of money.

    I'm not going to try and refute all your erroneous and misleading statements. Suffice it to say, your entire post is typical of the way big agriculture argues every issue; by making claims that are unsubstantiated, intentionally providing confusing data, and taking one set of facts and applying it to a different set of conditions.
     
  10. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    I wonder about whether or not the pesticides get into the ground water and travel up into the plant.  I totally see that happening.  It's not that we can't get rid of it by washing.  We can't do anything about the pesticide that's inside the fruit or vegetable.
     
  11. gypsy2727

    gypsy2727

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    Yes, pesticides do get into the water table. Just like people who use harsh chemicals to keep there lawns unnaturally green. Thanks to all who are following the new law  and not using them in Ontario. In my neck of the woods it is law that we cannot use water from the house for our gardens or lawns or actually for anything ..like if you wanted to make a skating rink in the backyard for your kids  (which one of my neighbors did ,,,,hmmm how did he do that?) So we have rain barrels and the sump pump water for that.....It reminds me so much of Germany  when I was there .Water is a hot commodity more expensive than beer and wine. They are so ahead of the game as far as being "Green"
      I'm not all sure about these claims to fame of "the best organic" But ( there's always a but...lol) There are quite a few here
    in Ontario that you can visit and really do the math yourself.
    and don't even get me started on Canola Oil...Canola is an ancient grain that is extinct and whatever there selling out there now is a genetically altered form of Canola.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2010
  12. gunnar

    gunnar

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    it's geneticaly altered Rapeseed. Canola is not and was not ever a plant. Although they are now marketing it as such.
     
  13. gypsy2727

    gypsy2727

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    Sorry ( I really did know that .. my meaning was Canola is from an ancient grain  I guess it was not clearly put.Oh I better be a little more care full with my threads) on not being" full on " on the info   you are politically correct Gunner ... I wouldn't want to be against you in Jeopardy!

    Thanks for the FYI

    Gypsy
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2010
  14. warba

    warba

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    KYHeirloomer (and others),

    I should clarify that my statements above refer to the fresh fruit and vegetable industry; I am also suspect of the true "multi-national" globals such as Monsanto. Corn and grain crops are a whole 'nuther can of worms of which I have no knowledge, other than what I watch (somewhat in horror of) on 60 Minutes.

    All I can say is the view I provided was not meant as "misinformation", but my own personal factual perspective from within the business - however you are correct in that the whole topic is not only complex, but very emotionally charged.

    I'd really like to see everyone interested in Organics to take the time and expense to put in a small garden; even a small planter on a balcony if living in an apartment. It it a real eye-opener to experience first-hand the amount of work that goes into producing fresh produce; tending it; dealing with the slugs that eat holes in your chard; etc..etc.. . I think one of the biggest hindrances to organics is that fresh produce is way to inexpensive in North America. Just for fun, take you back-yard garden and price it out at the supermarket, now consider if that was the scale at which your efforts were remunerated. It's a shame and the reason why so many farmers are getting out of the business.

     
  15. theprivatechef

    theprivatechef

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    Wow!,
    I really created a fire storm. Didn't mean too, but it sure is fun. Really gets the brain moving. I could read these rebutals all day but I feel I should interject something since I started this.

    First, in regards to KY Heirloom's post: I want you to refute what you consider the erroneous and misleading statements. That's how you will gain more credibility with your position. That's what Gunnar referred to earlier in his post when he said, "industry is moving faster than the arguments". We need to stay as well informed as possible.

    Second, in regards to Warba's post, you too can be more specific when you state, " the whole Organics issue is as muddled as the forum posts on this thread." Well unmuddle them for us.!You're in the business.

    I first decided to write this post as someone not in the commercial business and not in the organic business. I have no vested interest in either one. I'm in the cooking business. I read information on both sides and make my decision. I work mostly for the people in Hollywood who's positions on many topics can be quite dubious. When I am ambivalent on a topic, I can usually look at Hollywood's position and then comfortably run in the other direction. From my personal experience most of Hollywood has become organic fanatics. That's when my antenea goes up.

    The constant barrage of attacks on large growers I believe to be short sited. They provide jobs for thousands of people. They continually discover ways to grow more product on the same amount of land. And because of the technological advances, we're able to send more food to developing nations than any other country on the planet. The belief that harmful pesticides are used is just so out of date. According to the Center for Global Food Issues, organic foods make up about 1% of all the food sold in the United States, but it accounts for 8% of E. coli cases. Like I said earlier, I really am not bothered where you by your produce. It's no skin off my potato. But I'm in the kitchen not in the fields. Just an "industry professional who wants no better".
    I love you guys,
    The Private Chef
     
  16. gypsy2727

    gypsy2727

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    I feel the love Private Chef


    Gypsy
     
  17. mrchris

    mrchris

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     I buy my meat from local farmers all year round.  Same goes for about 60% of my produce.  I'm friends with these people.  Sucks to be you guys :p
     
  18. leeniek

    leeniek

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    Interesting thread...

    I have stayed away from organic produce not because I don't trust it, but because it is just so blooming expensive!  I was a stay home mom for years so we had to watch our budget.  I couldn't justify paying the ransom the supermarkets were asking for organics so I stayed away from them.  I have to say though that the prices have come down since they were first introduced, but I rarely shop for produce and meat at the supermarket anymore.  I buy all of my meat from a butcher at the farmers market who sells only Ontario meat, and my produce I buy from a few different farmers at the market.   I've learned to watch the quality of what is being offered for sale and I will pay extra for good quality food. 
     
  19. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    take you back-yard garden and price it out at the supermarket, now consider if that was the scale at which your efforts were remunerated.

    Warba, if you think this thread is something, make that suggestion at a gardening site. Then watch the feathers fly!

    One aspect of the entire "better food" controversy is that we, as Americans, are very used to having a plentitude of cheap food. I know it sometimes doesn't seem that way after a trip to the supermarket, but it's true. In terms of cost and availability we are the best fed people in history.

    Again, so there's no confusion, we're talking about the cost and quantity, not the quality.

    One aspect of that is that you cannot grow your own food as cheaply as you can buy it. Not if all the cost factors are included. There are many good reasons to have your own garden, ranging from the quality of the food, to the self-satisfaction that comes from any hobby activity. But cost savings is not one of them.

    When people say they save money by growing their own they're thinking out-of-pocket money only. Somebody pays, say, $1.98 for a packet of seed and eats tomatoes all summer long. Wow! Look what they saved over buying tomatoes. Those who grow heirlooms and other open pollinated varieties and save their own seed actually claim that it costs them nothing, cuz the seed was free. But that's not how cost accounting works.

    I grow (or trade for) much of the produce we eat. I grow heirlooms exclusively (will not put a hybrid in the ground), using organic methods. I guarantee you, there is no way I could afford to buy the vegetables I grow.

    I want you to refute what you consider the erroneous and misleading statements. That's how you will gain more credibility with your position

    I don't see much point to doing so, PC. I'll provide just one example from the post, not to argue the point but to show the way big agriculture presents issues:

    The other "big business(?)" implication was that they are making huge dollars on organics. Depends on the product, but generally the cost of organics to the supermarkets is substantially higher than conventional product. Organics are incredibly expensive to grow,...

    Break that down, and what you find is this: We (i.e. big agriculture) aren't making a lot of money growing organics (is this because we're supplying them as a public service?) Proof: Supermarkets pay more for them, so have to charge more.

    Guess what, people. Supermarkets are not growing the stuff, nor are they part of big agriculture. In this context they are consumers who also are overpaying, and passing the overage through to their customers.

    How come we don't hear how much the factory farm organics division earns from its crops? Could it be that Monsanto, and AGI, and Con-Agra don't want us to know how profitable that business is?

    Then we go on to talk about how much more expensive it is to grow organics by obfuscating the issue with a discussion about what it costs to earn certification---which is irrelevent---and with half-truths about the costs of growing.

    Etc.

    Keep in mind we're talking about the same industry that, for 50 years, did everything possible to convince us that hybrids would solve all the problems of agriculture. Then came GMOs, which would solve all the problems associated with hybrids. Huh? Wanna play that one again?

    Anyway, I won't waste time with a line by line refutation. But you can gain some insights into these issues by going to the Food Inc. thread that's currently running on the Late Night Cafe forum.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2010
  20. chefbillyb

    chefbillyb

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    Soon we will all be eating organic vegetables, not just the food stamp recipients.........Chef Bill