Consumer demand is
turning small organic food companies into big ones. And that's good.
The words "organic farm" may conjure up an idyllic, pastoral
agricultural paradise, but that's not always accurate. Many organic
farms are owned and run by giant corporations and considered by some as
“ethically challenged” for adopting industrial production methods. But
even large corporate organic companies are still generally better than
their conventional counterparts.
Buying certified organic
means that a product has been certified by a USDA accredited agency to
meet the stringent production and handling guidelines of the National
Organic Standards. The USDA’s National Organic Program developed
National Organic Standards for handling organically produced
agricultural products and established an organic certification program.
In organic farming,
crops are grown without the use of any genetic engineering, irradiation,
synthetic toxic pesticides, sewage sludge or petroleum based
fertilizers. Livestock (cows, pigs, and chickens, for example) used for
the production of organic meat, milk, eggs and all other animal-derived
organic products are not given antibiotics or growth hormones, are fed
organic feed and provided access to pastures. (This guideline needs
revision: It's subject
to interpretation and does not clearly state frequency or length).
Living in California, I'm lucky to have access to Farmers Markets where
small family-owned organic farmers still exist. California is the
nation's agricultural superpower. Its 88,000 farms produce more dairy
better wine than France, and about half the
fruits, nuts and vegetables produced in the U.S.
Every week, I'm able to buy locally-grown organic produce. It’s
wonderful and gratifying to buy directly from local farmers. I marvel at
their enthusiasm, hard work and dedication. They often work from sun up
to sun down, seven days a week. They manage to smile as they set up
their little unpretentious stands, getting up as early as 2 am to
prepare, load their trucks, drive to the farmers market, unload,
re-pack, then drive home. Thanks to their commitment, lucky
consumers like me get to enjoy the fruits -- literally! -- of their labor and support the organic movement directly.
Public support, California's climate and many other factors make it
possible for these small farming communities to make a living while
remaining true to their purpose and
And although many of the current large organic corporations started out
with the same ideology as small family-owned farms, change and growth
are part of any successful business.
Contrary to a recent article published by Business Week Magazine called
Organic Myth,” organic farming and production, even as it adopts
mass production practices, is still better than conventional farming and
does not mean “pastoral ideals are getting trampled,” as the article
claims. Consumer demand is
driving the growth of these big organic corporations. This trend should
make it possible for the organic food movement to further develop its
methods and practices as well as
compel conventional farmers to switch increasingly to organic farming.
Large organic corporations are crucial to the expansion of the
organic industry. The escalation of small farms into large ones has its
downsides, but it is an important and necessary trend for an industry with rising
consumer demand. In
2005, the organic market grew by 16 percent, reaching sales of almost 14
billion dollars. While it continues to increase its market share at a
fast pace, it still represents only 2.5 percent of total sales in the
overall grocery industry.
What is a myth is the belief that consumers buy organic because they
believe that all organic products come from small family farms. Most
organic buyers no doubt understand that some organic foods come from
small farms and some from big companies. It's nice to support small
farms. But the
overwhelming majority of organic shoppers are happy to buy organic foods from big companies,
as long as the food is healthy and those companies adhere to ethical,
environmentally friendly practices.
According to the Hartman Group's report, "Organic Food & Beverage Trends
2004," the reasons cited by consumers for why they buy organic food were
1) help the environment (58 percent)
2) support small and local farmers
3) improve health (54 percent)
4) quality is higher (42 percent)
5) taste is better (32 percent)
It's also a myth that those
of us who support the organic movement want our economy to revert to an
agriculturally-based one where half the population is tilling the soil.
Some of the technologies and practices developed in the past 50 years
are great. Many of them are dangerous and unethical. The organic
movement is all about keeping the good practices and eliminating the bad.
It is fairly common for conventional consumers to explore and experiment
buying organic products. They usually take baby steps, starting with the notion that organic is “pesticide free” and therefore,
better for their families. They start buying a product here and there,
eventually making a commitment to regularly buy a few specific
categories of organic items. They listen to experts who
recommend that if consumers cannot afford to buy all organic food, at
try to buy the organic version of items generally
known to have a higher content of pesticide residues and toxic
chemicals (milk, strawberries, eggs and chicken, for example). It
takes years before some consumers fully transition to buying
The Challenges of the Organic
Organic food production is not perfect -- far from it. But it is no
where near as harmful to our bodies and the environment as conventional
food production is, regardless of the size of the company involved. A
large organic farm is better than a small conventional one.
As organic consumption becomes more mainstream, things might get worse
before they get better in terms of where the food comes from, where it
is produced and how much you have to pay for it. It’s a double edge
sword. While the increase in demand of organic produce and products
means that conventional producers might consider converting to or adding
organic production, fierce demand for organics is outpacing the growth
of organic farming and production.
demand is out of sync with organic farming production. Organic milk, for
instance, is under-produced by up to 100 percent, according the Business
Week article. That means that as much as twice the quantity of currently
produced organic milk is needed to satisfy increasing consumer demand.
The same reasons for which Stonyfield Farm, as mentioned by Business
Week’s article, has been forced to “source globally.”
But there are other reasons forcing the organic industry to go abroad
that the article doesn’t consider: the displacement of resources for the
purpose of growing and raising crops and animals that take away from
more efficient forms of food. For instance, our excessive consumption of
meat has a far greater impact on the environment and the availability of
Raising beef cattle for commercial consumption of meat is appallingly
wasteful and inefficient. Cows raised for meat occupy acreages of land
that could otherwise be used for some form of organic farming. The grain
grown for animal feed displaces grain that could be grown organically
for either organic livestock or even human consumption. According to the book,
for a New America," by John Robbins, It takes 16 pounds of grain to
produce one pound of meat. 16 pounds of grains could provide a meal to
at least 100 people, whereas one pound of meat feeds two or
three. Also, more than half of the water
consumed in the U.S. is used for irrigation of land used for growing
livestock food. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of
meat -- 100 times more water than it takes to produce a pound of
Raising livestock for meat production depletes the environment
and displaces organic production. For example, the dairy industry has a
combine total of nine million dairy cows in the U.S. but only 150,000 of
them are organic, according to Business Week Magazine. It is not a
surprising inequality of conventional dairy cows versus organic dairy
cows, but it is an accurate representation of the disconnection between
new consumer trends and lack of availability of raw materials.
Another reason for organic producers in the U.S. outsourcing globally
for raw materials or ingredients, is the dominance of conventional
agriculture. The irony is that the organic dairy industry enjoys a higher profit margin
than its conventional counterpart. The incentive is there for dairy and other farms to
What consumers may not realize, however, is how long it
takes to establish organic credentials. For example, the process of
converting a farm from conventional to organic takes a minimum of three
years. Meanwhile, demand for organic foods is increasing at double-digit
percentages every year. The lag between demand and supply creates
shortages, which leads to higher prices (and higher profits for those
farms that have already gone organic).
The downside of the shortage of organic milk, for instance, is that
certain stores that sell organic at discounted prices stop carrying some
organic products. One chain grocery store in the United States,
called "Trader Joe’s," used to carry several kinds of organic cheeses at
reasonable prices, but they stopped selling most of them months ago. Ask
them why and they’ll tell you that they don’t have the organic milk to
produce the cheese with. (It's no coincidence that Wal-Mart started
selling organic milk recently.) Organic milk consumption is growing 25
percent per year. Suppliers just can't keep up with demand.
Another observation made by the Business Week Magazine’s article is that
organic companies are “scrambling” to have ingredients produced abroad
in other countries like China and Brazil, where standards may be hard to
enforce. But it should have also pointed out that conventional food
producers have been doing worse for years and with little or no
restrictions in the production itself and with little or no concern for the farm
workers or the environment. We don’t have to go abroad to see the
substandard conditions of growing conventional food or the harmful
toxics farm-workers are constantly exposed to. And while organic
producers are part of “big business,” they’re not as big or as harmful
as the conventional industry.
It is consumer behavior and demand that ultimately can influence
agribusiness to convert to organic farming. At the same time, only
consumer shopping power can force organic companies big and small to
actually adhere to the organic ideals -- not just cash in on the organic
If we can get big businesses to practice ethical and earth-friendly
organic farming, the world will be a much better place. It can only
happen, though, if consumers demand it. As responsible consumers, we
need to shop with the same ethical values that we expect from our
suppliers. Ideally, we should be well informed about what we
buy, how it was grown and where it came from. Organically produced food
must show in the labels where items were manufactured and what the
ingredients are. Seek to support local small farms by eating what’s in
season or locally grown, grocery stores often place signs on produce
telling exactly where it was grown. When shopping, make choices that
support not only your moral values but also the companies that operate
with the strong ethical standards.
In the process of practicing ethical consumption, we nourish an industry
in its infancy to grow within the ethical and moral boundaries necessary
to protect human health, preserve our ecosystems and promote sustainable
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I picked up a newsletter from a Giant Eagle grocery store a long time
ago and have misplaced it. It was about mixing partial protein
carbohydrates that complement each other in order to get a complete
protein from them. It stated that some foods had a number of amino acids
but not enough to make a complete protein; that you could complement one
with another food that had the missing amino acids and you would have a
complete protein. Foods that were on that page were wheat, corn, rice
I am almost sure that it said you could mix rice and beans to get a
complete protein but do not remember the other combinations that it
listed. There were three combinations that were described. I was hoping
you could help me find some information on the internet that would fill
in the missing puzzle pieces for me.
Thank you for your assistance with this search.
A: Dear Elizabeth, thank you
for the great question. Plant foods are great sources of complete
protein when eaten in combination. The complementing items don’t have to
be eaten during the same meal, only the same day.
It's a myth that meat is the best source of protein. Plant-based foods
can provide plenty of protein without the cholesterol and saturated fat,
which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain forms of
Meat should not be the primary source of protein in anyone's diet. Meat
eaters need limit their intake of meat and add more plant-based meals to
their eating plan in order to decrease health risks, boost immunity
system and better manage body weight.
Eating a combination of one item from two or more different food groups
listed below provide complete protein. For example, peanut butter on
whole-wheat bread provides complete protein. So do beans-and-rice,
beans-and-corn and a salad with nuts or beans on it.
About 10 to 20 percent of your total daily calorie consumption should
come from protein, about 20 to 30 percent from fat and about 50 to 60
percent from complex carbohydrates.
Seeds & Nuts
Other nuts and
What this chart demonstrates
also is that you don't need the chart. Protein combining isn't
difficult. If you simply eat a varied vegetarian diet, it would be hard
to NOT combine protein.
WORDS OF WISDOM
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
"Tis easy enough to be pleasant
when life flows along like a song, but the man worthwhile is the one who
will smile when everything goes dead wrong."
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Nuts About Nuts
Walnuts are popular
year-round, but even more so around the holidays because fall 'tis the
season: The harvesting of walnuts begins as early as September. Every
year, one billion and a quarter pounds are produced worldwide.
Walnuts are rich in protein and fiber and can be eaten plain as a snack,
in salads, as toppings on main dishes or soups, in sauces and dips and,
of course, desserts. These powerhouses are rich in omega 3 fatty acids
and other nutrients.
study by Spanish scientists found that walnuts have more
protective properties against heart disease than olive oil.
The study was partly funded by the California Walnut Commission, which
two years ago submitted a request to the FDA for permission to claim
that walnuts help protect against heart disease. The FDA has approved a
which states that “supportive but not conclusive research shows that
eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day as part of a low-saturated-fat and
low cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake, may
reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.”
The American College of Cardiology also had the research reviewed by a
professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, Dr. Robert A.
Vogel. His findings state that “this demonstrates that the protective
fat from walnuts actually undoes some of the detrimental effects of
high-saturated-fat diet, whereas a neutral fat, such as olive oil, does
not have as much protective ability.”
Dr. Vogel also says that the healthy-heart benefits of the famous "Mediterranean diet"
may have more to do with nuts than olive oil. He says more research is needed to clearly determine if the
protective nutrients found in walnuts are affected by roasting or
Nuts, in general, are highly affected by temperature, light and heat.
They go rancid easily if not stored properly. Although research isn't
conclusive yet, it's likely that cooking nuts reduces their nutritional
content. Walnuts in particular taste good just raw and plain, and can
improve the flavor of your favorite whole-grain cold or hot cereal.
Poultry Antibiotics Put
Humans At Risk
A new study funded by the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the first to find a direct
correlation between the handling and consumption of poultry treated with
antibiotics and the presence of antibiotic resistance genes in humans.
Previous studies found resistant bacteria in poultry but none that could
show a direct association. This
latest research specifically investigated the use of
virginiamycin, a growth-promotion antibiotic. This causes a
threat to humans who in the process of handling and eating the
tainted poultry become carriers of the resistance genes, making them
potentially unresponsive to very serious infections, which are ever more
the cause of infections in hospitals. Quinupristi-dalforpistin, an
antibiotic closely related to virgianimycin, is used to treat patients
suffering from antibiotic-resistant infections who may not respond to it
if they carry the virgianimycin resistance genes.
In other words, the antibiotics given to the chicken people eat can make
the antibiotics prescribed by doctors fail to work.
It’s common knowledge that animals raised for commercial meat are
treated with drugs and hormones to promote growth. But that animals are
given antibiotics to make them get bigger without any regard to the
health risks to consumers is outrageous.
If you think drinking decaf means you're not drinking caffeine, think
again. Decaffeinated coffee is
caffeine-free, according to a study by University of Florida
scientists. The research found that almost all brands of decaf coffee
contain some amount of caffeine.
To keep up with vegetarian, organic and health-related research
news on a daily basis, check out my
Vegetarian Organic Life
VEGETARIAN ORGANIC RECIPE OF THE WEEK
Heavenly Soup with Beans,
Whole Grain Pasta and Veggies (vegan)
Click on the picture for a closer look!
This delicious and comforting soup is not only good for the soul but it
will boost your immunity and help you fight cold symptoms. Kids will
love it too, especially if served topped with parmesan cheese (vegan
alternative or real) and whole grain bread croutons. It’s loaded with
antioxidants and vitamins. It’s also high in protein, fiber and complex
carbohydrates. Good for you at any time of the year!
Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 40 minutes
1 tablespoon safflower or canola oil
6 fresh garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
10 fresh plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded (or one 28-oz whole peeled
4 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil (or 2 tablespoons dried basil)
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
2 stalks celery, diced
½ cup fresh corn kernels (substitute with frozen)
¾ cup frozen soybeans or edamames (substitute with peas)
3 cups cooked kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or cannellini beans or
other canned beans)
1 cup uncooked whole grain rigatoni pasta (spelt or whole wheat)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Reduced fat Veggy Parmesan cheese alternative or real parmesan cheese
Whole grain crostini or croutons (optional topping)
1. In a large pot, heat safflower or canola oil over low heat. Add
garlic and half of the chopped onions sautéing for 5 minutes. Meanwhile,
in a food processor or blender, puree tomatoes with remaining onions,
basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary and 1 cup of vegetable broth.
2. Add processed mixture, remaining vegetable broth and celery to
sautéed onion and garlic and simmer for 15 minutes over medium heat,
lightly covered with lid. Add corn, edamames, kidney beans, pasta and
olive oil simmering for 20 more minutes over medium heat uncovered.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste, turn off heat and serve. Sprinkle
servings with alternative parmesan cheese and top with croutons or
Cook’s tip: To peel and seed tomatoes immerse them in boiling water for
about a minute then transfer tomatoes onto a colander placing under cool
running water for 30 seconds. Peel skin away, cut in half and remove
seeds and core.
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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.
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