Going Organic
Jonathan Wang '10

Whenever there is a sudden, huge burst in a certain technology, practice, or concept, there often seems to be an organized backlash. The response to the rise of food technology is the organic movement; many people seek to revert to a more natural state by buying and eating only food that is grown in an ecofriendly, sustainable and almost anti-technology way. These people shun any foods created through scientific serendipity or grown with heavy use of dangerous chemicals. There are several reasons for this; some people believe that food and nature exhibit too powerful and complex an influence on man, and that humankind should not attempt to play God with food before something goes terribly awry. Some are digusted by the hubris assumed by those that would genetically modify their own foods and feed the masses with laboratory creations or aggressively grown products, and many simply distrust the healthiness of food encouraged to grow rapidly and abundantly through cheap pesticides and fertilizers. Some detest the unfair practices of huge corporations, such as Starbucks, and prefer organic, fair-trade products.And many simply believe that organic food tastes better.

However, the fine line between "organic" food versus corporate or artificial meals is quickly dissolving into a blurred mess. The idea that "organic" food simply shuns all technology is false, and many farmers have taken this idea to hide their questionable practices behind a veil of certain organic assumptions. Organic, in the sense of "all-natural" food, is impossible today, since all agriculture relies, in some part, on human technology. Use of tools and human techniques is no new thing. There are always irrigation systems, hand tools, and pattern sowing, if not chemical fertilizers, spray-on pesticides, and artificial growth hormones. The regulations that define "organic" have also been extremely obscured; changes recently made to organic food standards allow more pesticides used in fields, hormones used in livestock, and fishmeal fed to cows. The government, with the influence of many large food corporations, twisted the definition of organic into a more self-serving, marketing scheme. The term "free-range" for chickens now (synonymous with organic), technically, means that the chicken is cooped up in a box for its entire life, but given two weeks towards the end of its existence to roam a small pen, if it so desires (and is even capable of doing so). As technology gets more and more advanced, the idea of what is real and false in terms of food becomes complex and hyperreal. Consumers rarely even know what is going on with their food anymore, since corporations continually alter, twist, and limit information to suit their needs. Social and cultural technology thus have also influenced food, as television, news, and cheerful advertising attempts to blind people from the truth about their food. A flurry of conflicting information leaves people dazed and confused, and the concept of "organic" as a marketing scheme has become a powerful influence of popular opinion of food.

Of course, there is a sense of "organic" that is less extreme. Many people on small, locally based community farms, rely on organic practices in the sense that they use the resources nature has given, and attempt to grow crops and animals without contaminating either the food or the land. The focus of some organically minded farmers is less an idea of pure nature and more the idea of sustainability and low-impact agriculture; they avoid genetically modified foods, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and large-scale automation (especially concerning animals and the concept of "free-range" livestock). There is much belief that foods grown in this way do, in fact, taste better and are healthier, and I can certainly attest to that. The pure concept of organic food is mostly false, as no farmer can claim to have just found rows and rows of beets that were perfectly watered and planted by natural chance, but many people use this concept as a goal to strive towards, in a way of getting close to the natural state. Some people simply revile the idea of the cyborg, and attempt to distance themselves from the idea of combining themselves or the Earth with technology.

The concept of organic farming often goes hand-in-hand with local, community based operations and ecologically sustainable practices. Organic farmers often have an acute sense of the natural surroundings and an increased sensitivity to the impacts of their actions, leading to greater interaction with the local community. Foods that are grown without artificial hormones and chemicals tend not to last as long as technologically enhanced foods do, and thus a small-time, organic farm often spreads its produce out liberally amongst the local community rather than focusing on long-distance shipping to the ideal places. Organic practices frequently stem from an admiration of nature, as well; by being mindful about what they do and what they affect, organic farmers often play the environmentalist, preserving the wildlife and ecosystem of their land as best they can, according to a delicate balance between care and survival.