So the other day I heard a statement from a colleague, “organic is a loaded term.”  It was an interesting perspective from someone who works in the agriculture industry. He said that just because it is labeled as ‘organic’ doesn’t necessarilymean it’s a better choice. It made me wonder more.

Has the word organic been lost in translation? What truly defines something to be organic? When I think of the word ‘organic’ other words such as naked, raw, real and natural come to my mind. Personally, I would define organic as something that is not full of chemicals or preservatives from an artificial process. Like a fresh peach picked from the orchard and served directly to a consumer.

BUT if I think about it, the word organic has truly become such a mainstream and overly used term. There are so many products that claim to be organic and these products are market-driven to be better for you and the environment. For example, organic soap and shampoos have key marketing words in their labels and advertisements, such as: Natural, Nourishing, Eco-Friendly, Hand-Crafted, Fair Trade, etc. Yup, I would buy it, if I didn’t know any better.

So, is it all a marketing ploy and a green myth? Not entirely, but it is something to look at closer. I found an article on WebMD, “6 Myths About Organic Food” and it says that not all organics are created equal. Here is a quote from the article and my favorite myth buster:

“Myth #5: You’re Supporting Small Farms or Eco-Companies: General Mills owns the Cascadian Farms brand, Kraft owns Back to Nature and Boca Burger, and Kellogg’s owns Morningstar Farms, to name a few conglomerates basking in organics’ glow (and dough). And with such high demand (in the past year, the market for organic milk outstripped the supply by 10 percent), these giant companies are importing organic ingredients as cheaply as possible – often from other countries. Whole Foods sold roughly $1 billion in produce last year; only about 16 percent was locally grown. So with all the CO2 spent in transport, some organics have questionable eco-virtures” (WedMD 2011)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines organic as: (1) of, relating to, or derived from living organisms <organic evolution> (2) : of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides <organic farming> <organic produce>. Basically this definition does not mention anything about being raw or naked or eco-friendly.

One day, I was excited to find that Walmart advertised produce from South Carolina, but one of my students busted my bubble and said it’s another marketing trick and it can be called ‘local washing.’  She sent me a link to an article from 2009: The Dirty Tricks Behind Local-Washing and basically it says that the local, organic movement is driving what people buy and defines the choices they make in purchasing, so corporations are taking advantage of the ‘local’ opportunity. Everything becomes organic and local – whether the ingredients come from Mexico or not.

So do I continue to shop at the grocery stores? Yes, but compliment that shopping with a visit to a Farmer’s Market or a roadside produce stand. Get to know the local farmers in your area and learn about their products and listen to some stories. That experience would be more valuable then buying an unknown label, plus you get to know the person you are really supporting.

the author

Originally from Virginia, Jennifer C. Sellers is passionate about sustainability and conservation in South Carolina and throughout the world. She earned her BA in English from Coastal Carolina University and her MAS in Environmental Policy and Management from the University of Denver. She is a university sustainability coordinator that implements programs and teaches people about going green and being sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @MyGreenGlasses

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  1. Pingback: My Green Glasses » “Certified South Carolina” food may not be 100 percent from South Carolina 3 Aug, 2011

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