Reading List: Organic, Inc.

by Patricia Eddy on June 13, 2009

Over the past few months, I’ve been on the hunt for informative food related reading. I can now say that I’ve got at least six books on the “to read” list (and that doesn’t count the fiction I want to read).

I’ve just finished Organic, Inc., and I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the book.

Organic, Inc. covers the origins, growing methods, marketing methods, health information, regulation of, and desire for Organic food. I really enjoyed this diversity of information. Much like The Omnivore’s Dilemma (and Food, Inc.), Organic, Inc. did its job and helped me think about what I was eating and why.

The downside of Organic, Inc. for me was that much of the information I already knew. Of course, this is not the book’s fault, but reading Organic, Inc. after the Omnivore’s Dilemma was somewhat anticlimactic.

It was fitting that I read this book during the start of strawberry season. The book covers strawberries in detail. In particular, I was interested to read about how non-organic strawberries, in particular ones grown in California, have been engineered for the greatest color and shelf life at the expense of taste. You can see the evidence of this by just going to the grocery store. Pick up a pint of grocery store strawberries from California and then pick up a pint of strawberries from your local farmers market. Just take a look at the differences.

One area that I had not really delved into before was the regulation of the organic industry. Organic, Inc. covers much of the history of these regulations. I was alternately impressed and horrified by the roller coaster these regulations took. Since this book was published in 2006, I don’t feel overly comfortable covering the specifics of these regulations without further research. I am certain that many of the regulations have changed. Still, the book offers an eye opening look into the politics of organic food.

Overall, I recommend Organic, Inc. If you’ve already read the Omnivore’s Dilemma, some of the information will be repetitive. However, I enjoyed the author’s style and I do believe that the book contains some excellent information. Beyond my recommendation though, the book helped clarify some thoughts I’ve been meaning to put into words for a while now. Really, it all came down to one phrase in the book¬†¬†that stood out to me in particular.

“The realities of food manufacturing requires many of these synthetic materials in order to produce food expected by consumers” (p.210).

I’ll repeat part of that: food expected by consumers.

We’ve worked ourselves into quite a predicament. We (and I’m speaking of the royal we here), now expect oranges year round, asparagus in January, and bananas no matter whether we live in Florida or Finland. This is a problem that we’ve made for ourselves and we need to unmake it. We had a short Twitter discussion with the Gluten Free Girl tonight. She blogs about how growing up she had fish in the form of fish sticks and frozen shrimp. We discussed fresh, local salmon and how those winter months without salmon and halibut just help us appreciate it all the more when the fishing season opens and we can get fresh, local fish from the fishermen we know personally. This is the attitude we need to foster about all of our food.

Don’t expect asparagus in January. Teach your children that strawberries are a summer treat and that apples are truly best in September and October. Learn that salads can be eaten from spring through fall, but winter is the time for carrots, and turnips, and kale. Appreciate every fruit and vegetable as it passes through its season and pine away for it just a bit when it is gone. Make every meal count and do your best to cook local.

Next on my reading list: Everything I Want to do is Illegal.

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