Fair trade

Could you limit your food and bev choices to all organic or all fair trade? Or both? What would be left on your plate and (eek!) in your wallet?

Two men (one a Seattle-based reporter and one a U.K.-based nonprofit organizer) recently took on food-related challenges to answer those very questions and bring attention to the (un)availability of organic and fair-trade options.

Michael Stusser’s month-long organic binge started as a Supersize Me-style experiment; in the process, he lost three pounds and gained a healthy knowledge of what organic means and how the system works (hint: organic isn’t always the best option). Stusser also learned what we’ve long lamented — organic ain’t cheap. His family’s food budget increased by almost 60 percent over the course of the month.

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Ben Clowney (great name!) has undertaken a different challenge: fair-trade food for two weeks. He began Monday as part of Fairtrade Fortnight, and so far he’s eaten some fair-trade waffles and some sort of nut curry.

As Stusser notes in one of the more amusing passages in his "Organicize Me" piece, this sort of food challenge can be quite awkward in social settings:

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"Is this all organic?" I ask my lovely wife, as we sit over a fine-looking meal of pasta puttanesca. "Pretty much," she replies. "The pasta’s organic whole wheat from Trader Joe’s, the olive oil is definitely organic, along with the basil and olives. But I’m not sure about the red-pepper flakes. I know it’s all natural, but I’m not so sure it’s organic."

Not sure? We’re not sure if we have sewage sludge or traces of mercury in our meal? Not sure if the children are ingesting endosulfan, a relative of DDT? Not sure if our nervous systems are being compromised? Not sure? "Well, be sure from now on," I say, pushing my plate to the side and focusing on the organic salad before me. "You know," I add, "67 million birds are killed each year from pesticides that are sprayed on the fields. I hope you’re OK with that."

If looks could kill.

Visiting other people’s houses is going to be a problem, too. I’ve always hated nebbishes with "food issues": lactose-intolerant, vegan, alcoholic, shellfish-sensitive, peanut-allergic pains in the ass. "Is there cheese in that? I can’t do dairy; it gives me gas." Now I’d be one of them. "Uh, Cheri, I know you slaved for hours over this fantastic jambalaya, but I’m gonna need to see the receipts for all the ingredients. I’m on a bit of a health binge, and I don’t think you care as much about what goes into your body as I do. It’s not you, Cheri. It’s me. Go ahead and enjoy your pesticide-laden feast. I’ll just sit over here with my chickpea yogurt."

Ah, if only organic, fair-trade grub were the party food of choice.