Huh.

April 13th, 2009

I subscribe to the Delancey Place mailing list, which sends excerpts of various literary works to my Inbox every weekday. Sometimes the excerpts are particularly interesting. Here’s one:

In today’s excerpt–organic, as it is used on food labels, while it still means chemical-pesticide-free, doesn’t mean quite what it used to. And then there’s the so-called free range chicken:

“Shopping at Whole Foods is a literary experience. That’s not to take anything away from the food, which is generally of high quality, much of it ‘certified organic’ or ‘humanely raised’ or ‘free range.’ But right there, that’s the point: It’s the evocative prose as much as anything else that makes this food really special. …

“With the growth of organics and mounting concerns about the wholesomeness of industrial food, … it is Whole Foods that consistently offers the most cutting-edge grocery ‘lit.’ On a recent visit I filled my shopping cart with eggs ‘from cage-free vegetarian hens,’ milk from cows that live ‘free from unnecessary fear and distress,’ wild salmon caught by Native Americans in Yakutat, Alaska (population 833), and heirloom tomatoes from Capay Farm (S4.99 a pound), ‘one of the early pioneers of the organic movement.’ The organic broiler I picked up even had a name: Rosie, who turned out to be a ‘sustainably farmed’ ‘free-range chicken’ from Petaluma Poultry. …

“The organic movement, as it was once called, has come a remarkably long way in the last thirty years, to the point where it now looks considerably less like a movement than a big business. Lining the walls above the sumptuously stocked produce section in my Whole Foods are full-color photographs of local organic farmers accompanied by text blocks setting forth their farming philosophies. A handful of these farms still sell their produce to Whole Foods, but most are long gone from the produce bins, if not yet the walls. That’s because Whole Foods in recent years has adopted the grocery industry’s standard regional distribution system, which makes supporting small farms impractical. Tremendous warehouses buy produce for dozens of stores at a time, which forces them to deal exclusively with [huge] farms. …

“The question is, … just how well does [today’s organic] hold up under close reading and journalistic scrutiny? [Not that well]. At least that’s what I discovered when I traced a few of the items in my Whole Foods cart back to the farms where they were grown. I learned, for example, that some (certainly not all) organic milk comes from factory farms, where thousands of Holsteins that never encounter a blade of grass spend their days confined to a fenced ‘dry lot,’ eating (certified organic) grain and tethered to milking machines three times a day. …

“I also visited Rosie the organic chicken at her farm in Petaluma, which turns out to be more animal factory than farm. She lives in a shed with twenty thousand other Rosies, who, aside from their certified organic feed, live lives little different from that of any other industrial chicken. Ah, but what about the ‘free-range’ lifestyle promised on the label? True, there’s a little door in the shed leading out to a narrow grassy yard. But the free-range story seems a bit of a stretch when you discover that the door remains firmly shut until the birds are at least five or six weeks old–for fear they’ll catch something outside–and the chickens are slaughtered only two weeks later.”

Michael Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, Penguin, Copyright 2006 by Michael Pollan, pp. 134-140.

(I really don’t have strong feelings one way or the other; I just thought this was interesting.)


2 Responses to “Huh.”

  1. Kelly on April 14, 2009 2:11 pm

    Does it mean I’m a complete Michael Pollan groupie if I knew within the first 2 sentences what book this was from? Because I did.

    (When I end a sentence with a preposition, does it make your head explode?)

  2. fishiefishies on April 14, 2009 5:30 pm

    Maybe not a groupie, but perhaps a follower, or maybe even a devotee? 🙂

    And nope, ending a sentence with a preposition is JUST FINE in English. Not ending sentences with prepositions creates all sorts of non-put-up-with-able nonsense. (The rule is one that we borrowed from Latin, but it doesn’t fit our language. Nor does the proscription against split infinitives [Economist take note!].)

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