July 18, 2006

Happy Chickens

There’s this hype about eating organic.

“Organic” is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary in Answers.com as:

1. Of, marked by, or involving the use of fertilizers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin: organic vegetables; an organic farm.
2. Raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals: organic chicken; organic cattle farming.

I’d say I’m fortunate because I was raised on organic food. Back in the day, my parents grew fruits and vegetables in our backyard. We had a pond teeming with tilapia. We also had a small poultry so we raised our own chickens. I gathered our breakfast eggs by hand. Our chickens were raised on cracked corn and milled grain; our vegetables were fertilized with our chicken’s droppings. It was just how things were.

Of course, on a larger scale, the world needed to feed a multitude of people, so backyard farming wasn’t enough. Mad scientists had to create hormones and DNA strains that make livestock grow faster, bigger, and resistant to disease. They had to develop artificial environments that make fruits and vegetables give more... uhm... fruits and vegetables. They even resorted to genetic reengineering to grow transgenic papaya, potato clones, and headless chickens (sorry, that last one is an urban legend).

Everything went well, and everyone got fed (okay, almost everyone), until another group of mad scientists said all of these growth hormones, funky fertilizers, and pesky pesticides that help grow our food are making us all act weird. Not to mention that these genetically altered environments are upsetting our ecological balance, among other things.

So, we’re back to backyard, all-natural farming. Talk about retro. But now we pay premium for it. Why? Because in organic farms, free-roaming cows and cage-free chickens require more real estate, and eggs that have to be hand-gathered from nests scattered in the open range require more personnel. How about the need to hire more caregivers who must talk to vegetables to motivate them to grow big and prolific?

In short, after science and the economy had their way, now only the elite can eat organic. Elite because they can afford to buy from organic supermarkets, or elite because they can afford caretakers to grow their own produce and raise their own livestock in their own backyard. There’s irony there somewhere.

In any case, I must agree that organic/natural products do taste better than the alternative. I know. I used to water my father’s all-natural vegetable garden and feed my mother’s happy chickens.

Want more information about genetically altered foods and the organic food industry?

Arguments for and against genetically altered produce.

Genetically Altered Food: Myths and Realities

Is Whole Foods Wholesome? The dark secrets of the organic-food movement.

Here’s an article about a whole new crop of goodies:

Eat Your Hybrid Veggies

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