Umbra asserts that “organic food is more expensive because it costs more to produce.” This is a dangerous generalization that is not supported by many scientific studies. The data argue that costs are generally comparable, only organics have a greater labor input while industrials have a greater capital input — and this is true without factoring in the cost of environmental damage done by most industrial farming methods. For some crops, organics have shown better performance — greater yields and profit. I imagine it may qualitatively seem that organic farming is more costly because it is a lot of work, but that is not supported by available data. Yes, short-term costs can be higher while the land is being rehabilitated, but after a few years the soil is healthy and costs drop, making organics equally or more profitable in the long term.
It would be nice if Umbra, of all people, didn’t say things that prop up that old, unfounded argument that organic farming is not a viable alternative to industrial agriculture.
I have to take some umbrage at Umbra’s answer to the question about organic food prices. She failed to point out that buying from farmers’ markets and farmers who direct-market their produce, meat, eggs, etc., is a way to get a better price since the middleman is left out. Buying direct from the farmer, even if it is not strictly organic, is the best way to know how your food is produced, and a good way to help the local economy. Plus your food will be fresher and will have saved on fossil-fuel consumption, as the typical meal travels 1,500 miles to reach your plate.
Summer Shade, Ky.
I have found that if you want to eat organic more cheaply you must be willing to prepare food from scratch. The less processed the food, the less expensive it becomes. Also, see if you cannot take advantage of discount pricing that is available through local natural/organic food stores or co-ops. If you buy in quantity and are willing to put more work into food prep, organic eating can be nearly as inexpensive as conventional diets.
Editor’s note: You can find lots more discussion on the costs of organic food in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
Re: Chews Wisely
Fromartz places these two trends in opposition to each other, as if local and organic were somehow mutually exclusive. But this is not really the case, at least not in most regions. Depending on where you live, there’s usually an abundance of locally grown organic produce, even throughout the winter. All in all, given this, his very trendy argument of local vs. organic is mostly one of false tension.
Editor’s note: See more reader comments on the question of whether to buy local and/or organic food in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
Thanks for the story on Jeffrey Luers. Great to see his viewpoints covered by your newsletter.
I’m not pleased with your choice of interviewee, Jeffrey Luers. I have hesitated to give certain friends and family a pitch for Grist because they tend to be defensive about environmental issues and have fallen too far to the right. And they’re ones who could be “saved” in terms of environmental issues. Giving Luers a sympathetic ear — and a voice — does not do our cause net good, and is exactly the kind of thing I’d rather not ask those environmental agnostics to receive in their mailboxes.
Editor’s note: You’ll find loads more reader commentary on jailed eco-saboteur Jeff Luers in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
How can California have the “strictest ocean fish-farming regulations in the nation” when Alaska is the only state with an outright ban on ocean farming? We passed this legislation back in 1990 to protect our wild salmon stocks from disease and interbreeding and are now very concerned about proposals for fish farms in federal waters outside the state’s three-mile limit.
Concerning numerous articles in Grist over the last couple of years supporting wind power: I appreciate that Grist takes an opinionated stand on various issues, but this one is one that has a lot of environmentalists coming down on different sides of the dilemma. The tone of many of your pieces seems to be that environmentalists are all for wind power. It’s not that simple.
Many of us are just as concerned about viewsheds, historic preservation, noise pollution, harm to birds, bats, and sea creatures, and, simply put, harm to people who live near the turbines in exchange for the supposed benefit of energy consumers who do not. The environmental-justice movement is in part about the siting of large facilities in certain places. Shouldn’t these concerns be contemplated by those who argue for wind power? I think that Grist‘s readers deserve to get at least a little of the other sides of this issue.
I don’t have an estate on Nantucket Sound and I do pay hearty energy bills for my inland home on Cape Cod. I also think the Cape Cod wind farm idea stinks. If you examine it carefully, you will see that it provides more of a windfall for the developers than for the everyday electric-bill payer. It is one of the few times that I agree with our governor. I also think you should give Ted Kennedy a break. I think if his estate sat on the other side of Cape Cod, he would still be against the wind farm.
I want to thank Nathan for writing this. As someone who has been involved in starting up nonprofit organizations, I think that having the very people who may be the best source of new ideas and energy for your organization standing on a street corner essentially begging for change is borderline insanity. It shows an incredible lack of savvy on the part of environmental groups to send out students who are incredibly engaged on their own campuses out to arm-twist people who already get it. Why not have them really get to work on these issues instead of asking me to send the PIRGs a check each month? I’ve stopped and had conversations with these kids more than once and I can tell they’re really engaged, but I walk away with the feeling that they want to get more from it.
I think the real leaders that the canvass organizers are trying to find and cultivate aren’t the folks at the door but the folks they recruit, train, and manage to canvass at the door. The skills they learn from a summer of asking “rich liberals” for money only make it easier for them to go back to their communities, campuses, etc., and do really great work at educating and mobilizing folks in the environmental movement. Nothing is more challenging than asking a stranger to provide money to fund your cause. If you can hack it, you can do almost anything.
It’s too bad that Mr. Wyeth missed the training that canvass directors do for their canvassers during the summer: how to run a press conference, organize a phone bank, lobby your members of congress, run letter-writing campaigns, get your letters to the editor published by your local paper, etc. I was once a canvasser and a canvass director and I realized that the true beauty of what I did was to find a way to get “environmentally friendly” people trained and, at the same time, paid to learn how to make a difference in their community.
Editor’s note: You can find many more opinions on canvassing in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.
We’re glad you highlighted this story and this particular struggle. However, we’ve been fighting that essentially meaningless 0.019 percent statistic for some time, and were sorry to see you reprint it. Here’s our take on the story, and the statistic in particular.
Before we get too worried about how CSR [corporate social responsibility] is leaving the poor behind while it saves the environment and society, let’s remember how limited CSR will be at achieving anything other than profit maximization.
Corporations are accountable to shareholders: the people who own them, the people whose investments and whose property they constitute. They are not accountable to the environment, society, the poor, or anyone else. And if corporate directors tried acting like they were, then they could get sued by their shareholders, as did Henry Ford.
Much as I (and many others) wish that large corporations were more broadly accountable, they just aren’t. If we want change, we can’t wait for corporations to deliver. We either have to change the structure of business corporations, or replace them with public-interest organizations, like cooperatives and publicly owned enterprises.
Re: Eau de Bulb
It’s worth mentioning residential LED lights. They use only a watt or two, compared to CFLs’ 12 to 18 watts. The light they produce is far superior to any CFL or incandescent. They are dimmable and can go outside. Best of all, they contain zero mercury or heavy metals. They are expensive, but considering they basically last forever (100,000 hours), it’s a low capital cost.
New York, N.Y.
What Umbra failed to mention is that using fans saves a helluva lot of energy over using air-conditioning. Stressing over which fan to use is ridiculous. There was a recent article in Grist about the futility of arguing over local vs. organic foods. Same deal with the fans.
I have a few objections to Umbra’s composting advice. First, you are using “invasive” to mean aggressive. Truly invasive plants should never be composted, especially in an untended spot in a corner — they will escape and take over the natural habitat. They must be burned or thrown away. Second, I felt you should have clarified “food” better. Veggie scraps and fruit peelings are no problem with pests, even in the middle of the city or suburbs, if you put a little grass or leaves over them or have an enclosed composter. I have done this in both the city and suburbs of Boston for many years, with no rats or raccoons.
Re: Deck Mate
I’m wondering why you didn’t suggest, or even mention, the recycled-materials decking that’s available. I have seen it used on private decks and even on national-park boardwalks that traverse bogs and other wet environments.
Re: In a Nutshell
Cashew nuts are very heavily sprayed in southern India. About 15 years ago there was a big scandal in Kerala, with crippled kids, blind folks, and all sorts of neurological diseases, all from the cashew plantations.
Re: In a Nutshell
Looks like almonds are a better choice than other nuts.
San Francisco, Calif.
What a shame that you gave credibility to Drew Weiner of Reef Protection International. How can he possibly support home aquariums?
I can imagine how many idiots buy these poor fish and neglect to care for them properly. So, I guess we should all go out and buy all sorts of wild creatures, so that our children can “learn.” What are we trying to teach them — that animals are to be kept in captivity? Children can watch TV shows and read books to learn about wild animals. We’re best off to just leave the animals alone!
Re: Al Revere
Gore for president!
Mary Beth Janssen
Re: Al Revere
No more Gore.
Name not provided
Editor’s note: You can find all sorts of reactions to our interview with Al Gore in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.