While somewhat of an obscure farming method, even though it’s been around for decades, biodynamic, not to be confused with organic, has been slowly creeping into vineyards, orchards, and farmer’s markets.
There is no question that the demand for organic food has been on the rise. The proof is in its availability. You can now find organic edibles in many local markets. Organic is mainstream. Even in rural China, organic specialty foods have made an appearance. But is organic worth the purchase? There is no shortage of opinions on both sides of that question. The answer may be, “it depends,” and also whether we care about ecosystem sustainability, nutrition, flavor, long-term biodiversity, residual synthetic chemicals in our bloodstreams, yadda, yadda, yadda.
As we were chomping down on rare cooked, organic, 1.5-inch thick grass-fed sirloin steaks during a small family gathering recently, discussing the relative value of animals (humans included), the topic of organic crops came up. Nephew JD, who works as a produce broker, coordinating business between large grocery retailers (such as Whole Foods) and dozens (or hundreds) of small SE Pennsylvania farms, enlightened us about the smoke-and-mirrors of organic. Perhaps because I’m a tail-end product of the hippy generation, I’ve been somewhat trust-worthing-ly naive about the “certified organic” label. Throughout the 80’s/90’s organic foods gain popularity as a valid alternative food source. The standards in those days, I’m told (by Waldorf University agriculture students), for Certified Organic were stricter. During the last two decades, with lobbying from the food industry, compliance for organic certification have been relaxed considerably. As JD pointed out, organic food can be sprayed with pesticide and still be certified organic. The pesticide may not be (as) synthetic as conventional farming, but it’s a pesticide nonetheless. Additionally, organic has different standards internationally. An organic tomato from Mexico is different from an organic tomato from the USA.
Still, the point is we tend to think organically grown is healthier. In many cases though, if it is, it could be marginal. JD assured us though, that while the label isn’t what it seems, we were still not throwing our money away by buying organic.
To be fair, he explained, conventional farmers must go through a multi-year process, purging the soil of synthetic fertilizer to achieve organic certification. Once they do though, their reward is a higher price yield. Still, organic has become marketing at its finest.
Biodynamic to the rescue. Maybe.
A few years ago GV and I went to a wine tasting close to home in NYC where one of the California vineyard owners proudly and passionately served us samples of his biodynamic wines. “They are alive,” he said. One test, he said, was to loosely cork an unfinished bottle without the need to vacuum it. After a couple of days, unlike traditional wine, it would be as vibrant and flavorful as the day it was opened. He was right.
In NYC’s Union Square farmer’s market, a few local farms now label their products certified biodynamic. Apparently, this is a stricter level of certification where no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides are used. Moreover, biodynamic farms must be regenerative, not degenerative. In other words, there must be little to no reliance on imported (to the farm) products. The idea is a holistic, ethical approach to farming and raising food, where systems are considered interconnected, the ecosystem balanced and diversified.
Are there critics of organic and biodynamic foods? Sure. There are plenty of studies showing doubt about various benefits of both, but none looking at long-term effects of pesticides or the subtleties of food language. No studies are looking at the molecular makeup of what is produced and how it affects us over a lifetime. We are finding out that what we put in our mouths passes chemical information to our cells from what they contain. So if a plant or animal was raised with pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics, then those coded messages are passed along in what we eat. It’s subtle, it’s deep, and more than likely, beyond most of our conversations. It’s beyond the guy writing this post.
I bought fish last night labeled organic because it sounded healthier, although it’s more likely I was caught in a hocus pocus marketing ploy. [Hint: organic fish ≠ wild caught]. However, I remain hopeful that certified organic still means the absence of hormones, antibiotics, and GMO ingredients (GMO being another worm, er.., rat hole).
As in last week’s post, our decision to eat conventional, local, natural, organic, biodynamic, or growing our own, boils down not only to how we grew up and what we’ve learned along the way, but also to a healthy dose of our own self-constructed (sometimes quirky?) logic, combined with a dash of gullibility, with a pinch of trust. For now though, when I see an organic or biodynamic label, I’m a certified sucker.