When my oldest daughter was a teenager (she is now 27), the chatter was about how organic wasn't "good enough," that the government regulations were too lax and didn't take into account things like the humane treatment of animals, social justice, and health concerns. Some farmers began to think of themselves as "beyond organic" (an imprecise term that is generally considered a melding of the concepts of organic, local, and sustainable), and somewhere a marketer was probably dreaming up organic Twinkies. But at last, I thought, healthy discussions were taking place, conversations and debates that could lead to better regulations and broadened definitions of organic. All of this, I thought, would support the expanding market for organic food.
When my middle child was a grade-schooler (she is now 11), the local-food movement hit like a giant faddist food craze. The good news was that farmers' markets popped up all over the place, revitalizing local farm food communities. The bad news was that consumers soon became confused, as the movement became an either-or proposition: One was either "Local" or "Organic," 100 percent locavore or random grazer. Most of the local-vs-organic debate revolved around the use of fossil fuels to transport food. But this was a distraction from the more substantial and controversial aspect of the issue: using fossil fuels to create artificial chemicals that sustain nonorganic methods of food production.
I work in two worlds—the world of environmentalists and the world of health experts—and I realized that these two worlds were not communicating with each other. In the health world, where I sit on the advisory board of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai, headed by Philip Landrigan, M.D., there is mounting concern over the impact of chemicals, especially agricultural chemicals, on our health and especially that of our children. Yet this did not feature in any of the discussions about our food choices or the expanding environmental crisis.
Is it any wonder that many Americans gave up trying to figure it all out? Our focus on what really matters most—the health and safety of our children, our families, and the future viability of life on this planet—was lost completely. That's when I started to get really worried, and angry, too, and decided that I needed to write my recently published book.
My youngest child was an infant (she is now 3) when the economy tanked, and sure enough, the press began to chatter about the expensive elitism of organic food, saying people were struggling to afford food, period. But since you are reading Organic Gardening online, you already suspect—or are already of the firm opinion—that organic is the sane lifestyle option, and that our survival may well depend on it. And, like me, you're ready to turn this conviction into action. My kids are glad I did, and yours will be too. That's my Organic Manifesto.
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