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Every Body Loves Organic

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Author: the Inkslinger

There’s been a quiet controversy simmering for a bunch of years now about whether or not organic food is nutritionally better for us than conventional food. We know it’s healthier than conventional food where contaminants are concerned. There’s no debate, for example, about whether or not people eating organic food have to worry about weird hormones in their cheese or pesticide residues on their peaches. They don’t. But what about what’s inside organic foods? What about the vitamins and minerals and the other things that make food healthy in the first place? Is there more of the good stuff in organic food?

A bunch of studies have hinted that, yes, there is. But these research efforts generally haven’t been very big or they’ve only looked at certain nutrients or they’ve had some other issue that allowed Big Agricultural to always say, ‘Yeah, but…” and cast enough doubt on the evidence to maintain the status quo.

That may not last much longer. A new study in England, a big, comprehensive, hard-to-refute new study, has found that organic food is not only healthier for you, it’s much healthier for you.

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“Today Show” Organic Product Segment Is So Yesterday

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Author: the Inkslinger

Special thanks to friend and customer Jack, who alerted us last night to a segment on yesterday’s Today Show about organic foods. As Jack noted in his e-mail to us, the 6-minute piece contained plenty of debatable points. I watched it last night and agree. I’d add that it also just about completely missed the boat on many of the most important aspects of organic food. In general, the segment felt more like sloppy fluffy filler than a serious news report seeking to actually inform the public.

But here’s the kicker… Jack writes:

“At the end, the reporter referred to a 7th Gen package on the counter and said, "Do we really need organic toilet paper?" followed by laughs in the studio.

You can watch the segment here. (The Seventh mention comes in the last few seconds.) Afterwards, if you feel so inspired, you can head over to the discussion thread for this segment on the MSNBC forums and drop off your opinions. Jack’s spot-on comment there drew a big round of virtual applause here in Vermont:

“Ha Ha Ha - Funny joke at the end about "organic" toilet paper. The toilet paper on the counter, Seventh Generation, is not Organic. This shows how ignorant most people, including those that are supposed to actually study and report on these issues, are regarding natural and organic products. The issues discussed in the story are important, but are not the only ones germane to natural products. For example, many toilet papers come from virgin trees harvested from the Boreal Forest/Circle which is one of the largest carbon sinks in the world. Without these trees, no amount of toilet paper in the world will clean up the do-do we'll be in as a planet. Nice "reporting" Today.”
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Natural & Organic Is Not Always the Best Choice

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Let's be honest: Aside from the fact that "natural" is a nice idea, it's a term that can nonetheless be applied to anything from nuclear energy to cigarettes. And "organic", while now representing a wonderful system that finally has clear regulatory guidelines, is still not a “whole” idea and an end unto itself.

Why? Because an organic soda filled with lots of organic sugar is still bad for your health just as an organic burrito loaded with organic salt is giving your body things it doesn't need.

So who comes along to reinvent things and create a new paradigm we consumers can use to find food that's really good for us? Not your friendly natural food store – but Hannaford, a large grocery store chain here in the Northeast. They’ve just launched their Guiding Star program, which rates 27,000 of the food products the company sells on their health and nutritional values. The system gives no stars to the least healthy products on Hannaford shelves and three stars to the best. Of the 27,000 products that were plugged into Hannaford’s formula, 77 percent received no stars. This system, while far from perfect, is a huge step forward in looking at healthy eating from a more holistic point of view.

Why do we need it? Because labels and claims like “fair trade,” “not-tested on animals,” “non-toxic,” “low-fat,” and “heart healthy,” to name just a few, don’t tell the whole story nor do they incorporate the whole impact the product bearing them can have on your health. There’s more on the program in the New York Times, but for now all I can say is way to go Hannaford!

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Is Organic a Myth?

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No, but…

Business Week’s cover story on The Organic Myth continues to stir up a debate that first appeared in the mainstream press when Michael Pollan (an excellent writer who went to the same grade school as I did at the same time!) wrote a terrific book, and an excellent article, and provoked a debate of sorts in the New York Times.

He was among the first to challenge the impact of Wal-Mart’s entry into the organic food market and ask whether it’s better to buy local than organic and what benefits organic food really brings to the table when it’s being shipped half way around the world.

Business Week reveals more information about the industry that I, for one, find troubling. “Sometime soon a portion of the milk used to make that organic yogurt may be taken from a chemical-free cow in New Zealand, powdered, and then shipped to the U.S. True, Stony field still cleaves to its organic heritage. For Chairman and CEO Gary Hirschberg, though, shipping milk powder 9,000 miles across the planet is the price you pay to conquer the supermarket dairy aisle. ‘It would be great to get all of our food within a 10-mile radius of our house,’ he says. ‘But once you're in organic, you have to source globally.’"

This debate is complex but important. The Business Week cover story is a sad statement about the media’s need to get attention to sell magazines. Organic, for all the challenges it faces is no myth. In fact, the USDA certification program is a rare regulatory success at a time when the current White House administration is dismantling decades of hugely important environmental legislation.

My advice? Buy locally grown food when ever possible, and when local isn’t available buy organic, but ask where it came from first!

There’s more at Grist.

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Sweet Clover Market

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This week I met with Ellen Fox and Heather Belcher at their place Sweet Clover Market, a start up local-organic-natural market in Essex, Vermont. Ellen sent us (Seventh Generation) a letter back in January inquiring about a loan to help get the market off the ground.

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