I wrote a few weeks ago on the dilemma faced when choosing to buy a local product versus an organic product here.
Since writing the previous post, I have been doing some reading and have discovered a few interesting pieces of info that I wanted to share which have pretty much convinced me to choose local over organic under any and all circumstances.
The first thing I’d like to share with my readers is this article from the Washington Post about holes in the organic labeling regulations, including a rather terrifying look at the lobbying efforts made by some large corporations to allow non-organic and wholly manufactured ingredients in those foods which are given the Organic label.
I am well aware of how politics as usual works, however I have to admit to being particularly appalled at the quote taken from the woman who is currently the administrative head of the organic’s program at the USDA. This is taken from the article above:
In an interview, Robinson said she believes the federal program’s main purpose is to “grow the industry,” and she dismissed controversies over synthetics in organic foods as “mostly ridiculous.”
Maybe it is my anti-capitalist sensibility, but I find it a bit appalling that the head of the department responsible for certifying food is concerned more about it being a growth industry. Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of this debacle is the fact that the same woman, Barbara Robinson, also overruled her staff and choose to allow non-organic, chemically manufactured DHA and ARA into baby formula which carries the organic label. The manufacturing process of these chemicals involves the use of Hexane gas. Taken from wikipedia:
The acute toxicity of hexane is relatively low, although it is a mild anesthetic. Inhalation of high concentrations produces first a state of mild euphoria, followed by somnolence with headaches and nausea.
Chronic intoxication from hexane has been observed in recreational solvent abusers and in workers in the shoe manufacturing, furniture restoration and automobile construction industries. The initial symptoms are tingling and cramps in the arms and legs, followed by general muscular weakness. In severe cases, atrophy of the skeletal muscles is observed, along with a loss of coordination and problems of vision.
It should also be noted that this gas is also used to extract oils for cooking, which is why you should always look for expellar pressed nut oils, preferably cold pressed ones, when shopping.
As a result of the questionable practices of many organic dairies (something referenced in the article) I decided to do a little research about the sources of my milk. I regularly buy the following milk labels – Trader Joe’s Organic, Strauss Family Creamery, and a local milk called Rasband from Albuquerque, which I buy at my local Co-Op. The Rasband milk, while local, has no labeling that distinguishes it as organic or from grass fed cows, or any of those things which have become increasingly important to me, so I decided to ask some questions.
The helpful attendant at the Co-Op assured me that Rasband does not use any hormones and that they are only fed what the Rasband farm grows. Unconvinced, I called Rasband dairy to ask the questions directly. It being New Mexico the person on the other end was exceedingly friendly and really wanted to help, but alas didn’t know a thing – and the supervisor was, of course, out for the week. So while I was able to confirm that the cows are hormone-free, I was not able to confirm exactly what the cows were fed (ie, grain or grass) but I was assured that it was entirely vegetal. This milk costs approximately $3.50 a gallon.
As for the Strauss Family milk, I was able to find that the dairy received a four cow review from the Cornucopia Institute Dairy Report Scorecard. This was reassuing, as was their web site found here. This milk costs me $2.99 (I buy it when it becomes discounted due to the date) for a half gallon with a one time $1.50 bottle deposit. It comes in fancy glass bottles which are sent back to the dairy to be reused. I like this aspect of the milk a lot as it creates less waste, and I really enjoy that it has a creamy top (it is not homogenized) which I typically mix back into the milk to make it extra rich.
Lastly, we occaisionally buy Trader Joe’s brand organic milk, which is typically about $6.00 a gallon. This milk was given a single cow by the Cornucopia Institute, and was listed as a multi-source dairy product, buying the majority, if not all, of their milk from factory dairy farms. As noted in the Washington Post article, these farms routinely cut corners and make cursory nods to the current organic regulations. Additionally, there is effectively no cost difference between the Organic milk from undisclosed sources, and that which comes directly from Strauss.
The fourth option is, of course, to buy raw whole milk from the “local” dairy. New Mexico allows the sale of raw milk throughout the state, as long as the dairy meets the requirements and has a license. I put local in quotes because New Mexico is not known for it’s excellent grazing pastures and as a result, the closest grass fed raw milk dairy here is approximately 100 miles from where I live – Sunshine Farms. Additionally the dairy has not received a transport license, so they can only sell the milk from their store which is located on their farm, making the 200 mile round trip necessary if I want to buy any. To make things even more difficult, this milk is $10 a gallon (although it should be noted that butter and other milk products could be made at home as it is cream top as well, making up for the cost by increasing the yield a bit). I am determined to try it eventually, however at the moment it is simply too inconvenient to make the trip worthwhile.
All this research has basically inclined me to stick to my guns regarding buying local products and to continue to be vigilant about my label reading and product research. It is unfortunate that so much of what inclines folks to buy Real Food is based on the consumer’s trust in accurate labeling – apparently there really is no such thing. The insidious nature of agri-business and the desire to “grow the industry” has turned what was once a genuine desire to provide sustainable and natural alternatives to processed food into another way for the large corporations to make their money. The real source of all the organic foods? Here is a chart that illustrates which mega-corporations own which organic brands.
The conclusion I have come to after reading all of this is that it is better to buy locally than organic under pretty much all circumstances. I encourage all of you to research where your food is coming from. It seems that unless you speak directly to the rancher, farmer, or grower you may never know exactly where your food comes from.
Happy research and Happy Eating!