When I first saw this link in my newsfeed this morning (via Butter Believer), I knew I had to share it. The video is a response to a Time Magazine article by famed TV- personality Dr. Oz, somebody many Americans would consider an expert on health issues. In that article, he advocated for the benefits of frozen (and canned) vegetables at a normal grocery store and against the “number of glossy cookbooks, TV cooking shows, food snobs and long-winded restaurant menus” telling people to go out to the farmers’ market and pick the more expensive, fresh food. According to him, “organic food is great, it’s just not very democratic. As a food lover, I enjoy truffle oil, European cheeses and heirloom tomatoes as much as the next person. But as a doctor, I know that patients don’t always have the time, energy or budget to shop for artisanal ingredients and whip them into a meal.“
Now, I have nothing against advancing an opinion to broaden your perspective and abandon an all-or-nothing approach. Yes, eating supermarket veggies is better than no veggies at all. Yes, frozen vegetables are often better than their rap. That is a point I appreciate about the article’s advice. And yes, not everyone can afford to eat all organic for everything. But, as Coral in the above video points out, it is such a broad misinterpretation to pit organic foods as a food snob movement and to argue that there is no reason to buy it that it irks me to hear that coming from somebody with an academic title.
Honestly, reducing the organic vs. conventional debate to the nutrient question has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time – any study that heralds the acclaimed result that “nutritionally speaking, there is little difference between the farmer’s-market bounty and the humble brick from the freezer case” draws a blank stare from me since it completely misses the ecological point of changing production methods. Besides the fact that pest residues are significantly reduced, the notion that organic tomatoes are, nutritionally speaking, different from conventional tomatoes is a misunderstanding of the public that no serious organic farmer would stand behind. The point it, it is also a tomato – but one that has had much less of an environmental impact, that has grown in harmony with nature instead of fighting against it. That should be reason enough to consider buying it. That not everybody can do that, always, is okay – but it is not okay to deny those tangible benefits in a public debate. (Whether the current definition of organic is still in line with the original idea is another question for another blogpost – I will let you read this essay for some food for thought).
The same argument is true for organic, grassfed or animal-welfare – approved meat. I don’t care if the protein structure in the meat is almost the same; what else could you produce from a calf than a cow? But what stands behind the production process, the whole way of producing your food, is of just as much – or even more – importance as the end product. When Dr. Oz takes note of that fact, but then sweeps it aside (the exact quote is “there’s no question that free-range chickens and grass-fed, pasture-dwelling cows lead happier–if not appreciably longer–lives than animals raised on factory farms. They are also kept free of hormones and antibiotics and are less likely to carry communicable bacteria like E. coli, which are common on crowded feedlots. If these things are important to you and you have the money to spend, then by all means opt for pricier organic meats.“), he is again painting care for food safety, public health and animal welfare as concerns that only wealthy food snobs can have, whereas it should be a concern of all of us, meat-eater or not – maybe one should rather buy one piece of high-standard meat than two pieces of conventional quality?
Finally, as Coral, I take offense in his assertion that people caring deeply about food are too picky for their own good. According to Oz, “throughout the developed world, we are at a point in our evolution at which famine, which essentially governed the rise and fall of civilizations throughout history, is no longer an acute threat. And we know more about the connection between food and health than ever before–down to the molecular level, actually.
This has provided us the curious luxury of being fussy, even snooty, about what we eat, considering some foods, well, below our station. That’s silly. Food isn’t about cachet. It’s about nourishment, pleasure and the profound well-being that comes from the way meals draw us together.”
I would rather say that the curious luxury of our times is that we expect a never-ending supply of food, often at a fraction of its real cost, without any consideration of where it comes from, despite the fact that we know more about it – including about its impact on human and ecological health. Trying to counteract this development, to me, isn’t silly at all.
I’ll let you listen to Coral for more arguments why Dr. Oz’ article is flawed. I hope she will get an answer!
P.S. The Tufts study on canned vs. fresh food that both Dr. Oz and Coral refer to is summarized here. I think that their approach of factoring in “food preparation time” at a minimum wage rate is one of the indicators where our societal approach to food has seriously gone wrong. The consideration of cooking as a waste of time that you could spend doing more productive things has led to the advent of ready-made meals and the loss of an understanding of food that is regrettable – why don’t we instead consider cooking a time of (family) gatherings, relaxation and reflection at the end of the day?