Organic. Natural. Free range. No GMO. Hormone free. Pesticide free.
When we started this blog in May, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what all those terms meant. I could zoom through my supermarket, picking this organic apple over that one because it was from Washington instead of Vermont (and therefore closer), and going for pesticide-free strawberries over organic based on a dollar's difference but cheerfully ordering spendy Western Grasslands beef and Niman bacon at the butcher counter.
Then I started to do a little research. I learned that "free range" as defined by the USDA is more of an option than a right: poultry producers can open a tiny door in a giant shed for five minutes a day then slap that label on all 30,000 broiler chickens — regardless of whether they ever go outside. That all chicken and pork must be hormone-free by law. That labeling of foods containing GMOs is voluntary, and almost no one does it. (Those links, by the way, go to a glossary of frequently blogged terms, acronyms, and labels that we've just published.)
What I want to know is this: Why do we even need a "pesticide free" label? Shouldn't the growers using pesticides have to label their products as covered in these potential carcinogens? The absence of them should be the default position. Why do farmers who are doing things right — rotating crops so as not to wear out the soil, growing a mix of things for better pest resistance, grazing their animals in pasture, using those animals' manure as fertilizer instead of petroleum-based derivatives — why are the good guys the ones that have to pay through the nose for a label?
I'm being rhetorical, of course. But I'm also tired of having to refer to the meat I prefer to eat as "happy" meat, for lack of a better term. I think Tyson should have to label its chicken "Debeaked" and "Raised in crowded, unsanitary conditions…yum!" Beef from Harris Ranch should say "Pumped up with Hormones!" and "Heavily Dosed with Antibiotics!"
Yeah, I know ... when (factory) pigs fly.
So in the meantime, we need a name for the kind of food we're talking about. "Organic" doesn't cut it anymore, not in a world where soon you'll be able to find certified organic Cocoa Puffs, where feedlot beef can be certified organic, and where most of the once-small organic labels are owned by big agribusiness. (See this crazy chart of who owns what.) We Ethicureans came up with our catchy-but-clunky acronym S/O/L/E food to refer to sustainable, organic, local, and ethical edibles — basically, anything you would have been able to eat 200 years ago. (Not that we're against all processed food and would never eat a Peppermint Patty or McDonald's fries. But we do think America might be better off with fewer such calories being pushed by million-dollar ad campaigns.) However, if you have to spell and explain a name, it probably doesn't work.
There's "slow food," of course, which has its own movement. Nina Planck likes "real food." Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry call it "grub" in their new book. And the term "beyond organic" is gaining in popularity, used to signify how producers so exceed the USDA's requirements they needn't bother with certification. We kind of like "post organic," to refer to the next phase — but as with "postmodernism," you only get the meaning if you actually understood the original movement in the first place.
"Just food"? "True eats"? "Naked food"? Give us your ideas.