In the recent Halloween issue of the Foghorn, readers may have seen an article entitled “The Hard Truth About Organic Food” by Andrew Menzer. As an urban agriculture minor and citizen who cares deeply about the environment, I found the arguments presented in the aforementioned article to be one-sided and misinformed. For the sake of food justice, I felt compelled to postpone my trip to the farmer’s market in order to sit down and write a response.
Menzer admits there are “inherent risks in the overuse of pesticide[s]” with inorganic operations, but he seems to overlook his own point in this regard when he promotes conventional farms’ ability to provide cheaper strawberries. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found a sample of strawberries that contained 13 pesticides, such as methyl bromide and chloropicrin. These chemicals are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and developmental problems in children. Not only are they found in inorganic produce that we eat, but they are utilized (in massive amounts) on farms near homes and schools — ultimately washing into rivers and the bay.
Menzer also claims that organic food is expensive, elitist and that small farm practices could never feed everyone. This is what multinational corporations that control the food system want people to believe, but as someone who has extensively studied our food system I can tell you it is simply not true.
As a counter argument, I offer this conundrum: globally we are producing more than enough food for every person on the planet, yet at least one out of six people in the U.S. do not have enough to eat, according to the non-profit organization, Feeding America. How can it be that we produce more than enough food, yet not everyone gets some?
The problem is a serious inequality in distribution. A large portion of the global population cannot afford to buy the food that exists in enormous quantities.
Food today is treated like an economic commodity, meaning that the supply is controlled to food producers to maximize profit. Proponents of Big-Agra say that economies of scale ensure that the most food will be produced for the lowest possible cost. However, if a food-producing entity’s motive is profit, it creates a clear conflict of interest with their stated intention to feed the most people.
It is true that even some organic food producers make profits, but to declare all organic food elitist is to ignore a large part of the story. Around the world small organic farmers, non-profit organizations and passionate individuals are taking a stand for food justice; such people are committed to making healthy, nutritious food a basic human right.
One does not need to go beyond USF to find people in solidarity with this cause. The USF community garden is run largely by students and volunteers who are enthusiastic about growing organic food, all of which is given away for donations to students on campus or donated to a local food bank for low income families.
However, I agree with Menzer that “eating only organic” will not solve all of the problems in our food system. I contend that it is a good practice for one’s own health, as well as the health of our ecosystems. So why not be healthy and hopeful? If enough people learn to care about each other as well as what we eat, we can certainly create a world in which everyone gets to enjoy locally grown, delicious, organic food.