J500 Media and the Environment

Knock Knock… It’s the Grim Reaper for Organics!? Pt. 1 by jkongs

Organic Produce at a Wal-Mart.

Credit: bdunnette at flickr.com

I like Oreos. I grew up eating them dunked in milk, making wishes and predictions about my secret crushes as I twisted them in half, eating them in peanut butter after watching Lindsay Lohan do it in The Parent Trap – ah, those years as an impressionable teen. Now, my much older, mature self tries to eat organic foods (meaning I go at least a few weeks between performing Oreo prophesies about potential relationship prospects).

In a recent perusal of the shelves at the grocery store, I noticed a new face of Oreos – besides the colored Easter variety. I saw a fantastic culmination of my love of cream filling sandwiched between two branded chocolate cookies and my attempts to eat organically: the organic Oreo. (In my head this experience was accompanied with celestial lights and singing, but I might be making that up).

Not only are many common snack foods adding a pesticide-free variety to their product lines, but big players like Wal-Mart are bringing organic products en masse to their stores’ shelves. Organic is going mainstream, spreading from its humble beginnings in one-room natural food co-ops to the expansive shelves of national supermarket chains. The terms “organic” and “healthy” now go hand-in-hand, and the increasing demand for organics is pushing farmers to their limits. Just in 2006, demand for organic milk exceeded supply by nearly 10% – there just weren’t enough udders to fill the bucket so to speak.

Wal-Mart, with its sheer size and purchasing power, can put pressure on suppliers to switch to organic practices. Many small organic farms now produce on a commercial scale. Earthbound Farms, once a family-operated fruit stand, now has 28,000 acres planted with 100 types of fruits and vegetables. You can now buy their packaged salad greens at grocery stores across the country.

The term “organic” and “expensive” often go together, too, implying that eating healthily means paying a premium. (It also means buying the Oreos with a weird “natural” finish on the bag.) Wal-Mart, known for its low prices, has the potential to make organic foods more affordable – meaning you don’t have to frequent Whole Foods or the Merc to buy a variety of pesticide-free foods.

I wonder if one of my Oreos can foresee the future of organics (since they have failed in accurately predicting my love life): Could Wal-Mart, a price-gouging free market bully, suck the breath of life out of the organic movement?

Stay tuned for Part Two – I have to run a best out of three Oreo trials, to ensure accuracy of course.

–Jennifer Kongs


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