I don’t like the terminology for distinguishing organic from conventionally grown food. The word organic has gained the association of newness, faddishness, and luxury. As someone who often (but not always) chooses to buy organic produce, I’m sometimes asked to defend or explain a choice that people see as out of the norm, accessible only to the elite who can afford it, and possibly misinformed. Friends are quick to point out that food labeled organic is not necessarily organic in fact, as if this possibility of mislabeling were sufficient reason for me to instead choose food that is guaranteed to not be organic. And now there is a Stanford meta-study which suggests that the benefits of organic food are overblown because, it turns out, organic food is not always richer in vitamins – as if it were a lust for vitamins that compelled the majority of organic buying decisions. (See Mark Bittman’s response to the study in the New York Times.)

Getting back to terminology, I’d point out that for the first epoch of human civilization, all food was organic. In a historical sense, organic is the conventional way to grow food. Synthetic pesticides and food additives are figments of the 20th and 21st centuries, and as such they are highly _un_conventional, you could say avant-garde. We make a mistake by now referring to avant-garde practices as conventional and situating the truly conventional practices as radical and newfangled. Even grocers that specialize in organic produce make this mistake and offer “conventionally grown” as the alternative to organic.

I would like to go the supermarket and have a choice between conventionally grown food (meaning organic food!) and food nouveau (where anything goes). ■

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