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Organic is ... organic

Whenever I tell people about what I do for a living, I seem to get the same question again and again: What exactly is “organic”? It used to be I would give a general overview of the requirements, including no pesticides for fruits and vegetables, and no hormones or antibiotics for meat. Sometimes I’d get into what I knew about the conversion process, certifying agencies...

Now, I just tell people to think about what the word “organic” means, and they’ve got the basic idea.

That’s boiling things way down, of course, especially given the proliferation of organic products over the years. But it gets to the essence of the ideal. People, I think, are convinced that “organic” as a standard is more complicated than it really is — something that only foodies and that crunchy relative who went to Woodstock would take the time to understand. A recently released report that came across my desk validates this point: According to marketing agency BBMG’s Conscious Consumer Report, nearly half of all shoppers have a strongly favorable response to eco claims like locally grown, biodegradable and cruelty free, while only 26% voiced approval of the USDA’s organic label.

Do they know that organic encompasses a lot of these same eco claims that consumers supposedly prefer? That it’s, essentially, devoted to simpler forms of production and agriculture? I don’t think they do. Organic is mysterious. Organic, with its official seal and marketplace buildup, hints at way more than meets the eye.

Which is true, in a way. Certifying food and getting it to the store shelf is always complex equation. But in the end, organic is just….organic.