academicappetite

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on February 15, 2012

Fantasy: Organic farming is all hippies and peace signs and happy rainbows.

Reality: Everybody just wants to make a buck.

In her book, Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California, Julie Guthman shares the history and trends that have led to what organic farming means today. Although some farmers and families really do endorse and believe in the moral values of organic farming, she sheds light on the fact that “virtually all farms are organized as capitalist enterprises.” This means that even the farmers that care about environmental, health, and animal-friendliness are probably equally concerned about the money they save by being organic.

Although the book is kind of a downer in that respect, it does provide a lot of information about the organic movement as a whole (which I found to be really interesting). For instance, the organic food movement has its foundations in Southern California. This is because starting in the 1870s, sick people went there because it was so sunny and nice and they could be healthier in Southern California. These “health seekers” brought the need for the niche market of health food stores! Huh…who knew?!

Other events throughout history have created surges in demand for healthy organic food. During the 1980s, yuppies (young urban professionals) brought a demand for organic food at high-end restaurants. Baby Boomers were having children of their own and paid particular attention to health studies that were becoming more common at the time. And in general, consumers wanted to have a more intimate interaction with their food and the growers of it. Logically, organic produce was the answer to all of these concerns.

At its core, organic farming is an industry that is particularly responsive to market demand. Food consumption is riddled with symbolic meaning. Therefore, industries that participate in it at all are shaped by the cultural values about food and also help to influence them.

(Side note that relates to my opening point: Because food consumption is so symbolic, I think it is particularly interesting that the economic value is really at the heart of the organic food industry. Yes, there might be ethically beneficial  outcomes, but the industry itself is fueled by capitalist gain. Isn’t this quite reflective of our culture? Everything has a price. Even the “purely” ethical stuff.)

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