Saturday, July 29, 2006

religion and food

I just got home from lunch.

Part of my street has been cordoned off today for a celebration. A volleyball net stretches from one side of the street to the other like the clotheslines I picture once filling this neighborhood. A drum kit and keyboard sits under a small white canopy beside a building with big plastic letters that look like they belong above the door of a Chinese restaurant. They spell St Mary's Orthodox Church.

People havent gathered here yet but a standing speaker calls to the neighborhood:
We will shout to the north and the south, sing to the east and the west, Jesus is savior to all Lord of heaven and earth. Its a bright, bursting song, and it floods me with joy.

I am not a religious person, but I am still capable of having religious experiences. Listening to a chorus of a thousand voices sing of faith and devotion moves me. Witnessing a selfless act of love to a neighbor, or the turning of the other cheek by one who has been wronged, fills me with agape.

How is it possible then that these same people preaching of love can turn around with angry, self-righteous faces and kill their fellow man in the name of God? By what stretch of logic can they justify such crimes against their Father's own children, their own brothers and sisters?

War in the name of God, any God, is a concept I am simply unable to digest.

On another note, this article was in today's New York Times.
Its a matter that Ive been passionate about since 1994-5, when the labeling of genetically modified organisms became a hot topic of debate.

The beauty of a democracy is that anyone can pretty much do whatever he or she likes.
If someone wants to produce a bigger, prettier tomato with double the shelf life of a regular tomato by injecting it with fish genes, by all means do it.
If someone wants to grow organic, ugly tomatoes with nutrients and flavor, more power to them.
But for the FDA, a government agency formed for the education and protection of the people of this nation, to not only fail to demand the clear and accurate labeling of food products but to actually comply in clouding and hindering the disclosure of such information is a misuse of power and a failure of the system.
In a democracy, we are supposed to have free choice.
We choose our elected officials, our places of higher education, our Internet providers and services (though that may not be the case for long), based on a wealth of information made available to us.
Why we should not be able to choose our food the same way is a mystery.

July 29, 2006
Basic Instincts

What Does Organic Really Mean?

I HAVE paid extra for a fair number of organic products, believing that they are healthier for me, my family and the environment.

And now it turns out that in some cases I should have saved my hard-earned money.

Sure, some items that are called organic are probably worth the extra cost because they are produced according to strict standards. But the labels on quite a few of them are not worth an extra cent, according to a study of organic food by Consumer Reports, a publication of the nonprofit Consumers Union.

An uninformed consumer can end up paying 50 to 100 percent more for products that are no healthier and a lot harder on the wallet. Recently, for example, I paid a higher price for organic salmon. Consumer Reports says there are no standards establishing which seafood really deserves the organic label. It is misleading, said Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist and policy analyst with Consumers Union.

In most states, wild or farmed fish can be labeled organic even though there is no guarantee that it is free from mercury or other industrial chemicals like PCBs, Ms. Rangan said. (A consumer Web site maintained by the Monterey Aquarium Foundation has more information about which fish are safe to eat at

Labeling has been a matter of dispute in the organic food sector. In 2002, the Department of Agriculture established standards that foods must meet to be called organic, but last year an amendment was passed to allow 38 synthetic ingredients including baking powder, pectin, ascorbic acid and carbon dioxide in some organic products.

Some lobbyists and industry trade groups are fighting this measure. I was appalled to learn that many other organic-sounding, eco-friendly terms like free-range, cage free or pasture fed in many cases mean very little. A so-called free-range chicken may only spend a few minutes a day outside, at best.

Cage-free may mean the animal is out of the cage or it may mean nothing at all, Ms. Rangan said.

And forget natural.

Consumers may think it means the same as organic, but theres no significant policing of the term natural, said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, an advocacy group. Its typically a marketing term.

These issues are not trivial. Nearly two-thirds of consumers bought organic products in 2005, up from 50 percent in 2004; organic food is one of the fastest growing segments of the multibillion-dollar food industry increasing by about 20 percent a year. Clearly, many people are willing to pay more, but they need to know what they are paying for.

In addition to skipping the organically labeled seafood, you can forget organic cosmetics, unless most of the ingredients say certified organic, Ms. Rangan said. Otherwise, we advise consumers not to pay the humongous premiums we tend to see in that category.

Paying more for organic packaged foods like bread, cereal, pasta, chips, canned goods also may not be worth the extra money. The more food is processed, the more its original nutrients are stripped away. You might as well buy a mainstream brand and save some money.

Some conventionally grown produce has so little pesticide residue that it does not make sense to pay more for the organic varieties. These include: broccoli, asparagus, onions, corn, avocados, papayas and peas. Also, if you can peel the item, you may not need to buy organic.

WHICH foods are worth the higher price? According to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organic research organization, the so-called dirty dozen apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach and strawberries tend to have a high pesticide residue, even when washed. These are worth buying organic, as is baby food, which tends to be made from condensed fruits and vegetables.

Likewise, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products that carry an organic label are free of pesticides, synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics. If a manufacturer does not use the term organic, but says the product is hormone free or does not contain antibiotics, those claims are somewhat meaningful, Ms. Rangan said.

Many of these standards are in flux. If you would like to make sure your organic dollars are delivering on their promise, you can keep an eye on the Environmental Working Groups site at or sites maintained by Consumers Union: and

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“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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