The Point About Organics
July 1, 2006
The Point About Organics
Pamela Accetta Smith
It seems a few of our readers took my May column — in which I argued that organic foods are a luxury that few Americans can routinely afford — to mean that I did not see the value in organics, or understand the organic manufacturers’ mission, or that I opposed the products altogether.
While I completely understand the organic industry’s position that consumers should choose organic products despite their higher price point, purchasing these products is not that simple. What needs to be understood is that the average consumer — the lower class, whose kids comprise much of the obesity rate due to lack of education about health, etc. — cannot afford to shop at Whole Foods, cannot afford to choose organics. Therefore, how can they purchase these products despite the higher price?
Let’s think about this. I appreciate the benefits of organics — I really do. However, how can consumers choose organic despite the price if they cannot afford to devote double the resources for each individual grocery item?
I’ve been hearing the buzz that Wal-Mart is going to roll out its own line of organic products. What does this say to me? That the organization is jumping in the game to make these products accessible to the common consumer who might not otherwise know what organic products are or cannot otherwise afford to buy organic. I am not quite sure why the folks who were so up in arms about my May column cannot understand this.
As it was pointed out to me by an admirable organic dairy products manufacturer, the price difference between organic and conventional products is in part due to the fact that organic products do not receive government subsidies, while conventional products get financial backing from federal programs, therefore the playing field is not level. I understand this, too. But how do we solve the problem?
According to an excellent article in The New York Times, “30 years ago the rap on organic was a little different: Back then the stuff was derided as hippie food, crunchy granola and bricklike brown bread for the unshaved set (male and female division). So for organic to be tagged as elitist may count as progress. But you knew it was over for John Kerry in the farm belt when his wife, Teresa, helpfully suggested to Missouri farmers that they go organic. Eating organic has been fixed in the collective imagination as an upper-middle-class luxury, a blue-state affectation as easy to mock as Volvos or lattes. On the cultural spectrum, organic stands at the far opposite extreme from NASCAR or Wal-Mart.”
But all this is about to change, says the Times writer, “now that Wal-Mart itself, the nation’s largest grocer, has decided to take organic food seriously.”
Beginning later this year, Wal-Mart plans to roll out a complete selection of organic foods — food certified by the USDA to have been grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers — in its nearly 4,000 stores. Just as significant, the company says it will price all this organic food at a small premium over its already-less-expensive conventional food.
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