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-3484 online DOI: 10.1080/07409711003708561
The American Omnivore’s Dilemma: Who Constructs “Organic” Food?
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
In the process of starting a farmers market I have been confronted with many differing ideas about organic and sustainable food, from sources as varied as farmers and regulatory agencies to consumers and market volunteers. Each person seems to have a completely different working concept of organic food, how it is grown and what it means for personal and public health. Furthermore, the word “organic,” as popularly constituted, has absorbed many meanings which aren’t strictly related to the process of creating organic goods or even the regulatory characterizations of the wordas-label. This is a ﬁrst attempt to grapple with my experiences arising from the establishment of the farmers market working with farmers, farm advocacy groups, local regulators, and consumers and my observations of the often-contradictory perspectives of the various groups interested in the production and consumption of organic foods. Additionally, I provide a brief summary of some of the areas of food practice and belief surrounding organic food use that may provide anthropologists with fertile areas for further research. In 2007 I started a not-for proﬁt producer-only farmers market in a suburban town outside of Philadelphia; twelve local farmers provide vegetables and fruits, eggs, cheese, and a wide variety of meats, breads, and even soap. The purpose of the market is to provide locally grown fresh foods, to encourage vegetable intake, and to support the livelihoods of local farmers. On the ﬁrst day of the market a woman loudly berated me for not having organic food for sale. I looked at her in some confusion and explained that two of our four fruit and vegetable producers were strictly organic (and one certiﬁed), one practiced IPM (Integrated Pest Management), and only one
Address correspondence to Janet Chrzan, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, 323 Museum, 3260 South St., Philadelphia, PA, 19104-6938, USA. E-mail: email@example.com 81
was conventional; all meat and dairy was pastured and raised humanely. She then told me she thought the market was a fraud and that she would never come back. I asked her to tell me what she wanted to see in a farmers market—what were her standards for organic? She looked at me in confusion for a moment and stomped off. I thought I’d never see her again, but the next week she was standing in line to buy from the only conventional vendor in the market; she has returned every week, always buying her conventional, non-organic yet locally grown produce. I use this event as a starting point to explore discourses about food production and consumption in light of what is erroneously called the ‘organic movement’ and to highlight areas of cultural misunderstanding about food production that could provide rich material for future anthropological ﬁeldwork. The distance between understandings about food production of producers, regulators, and consumers is profound, and public dialogue is not correcting these lacunae. This article is the result of several years of participant-observation among farmers market patrons and vendors, conversations with participants at sustainable and organic farming conferences, and active interaction on nation-wide listservs of farmers market, sustainable farming, and food policy advocacy groups. In addition, a number of interviews with key activists occurred and of those, three primary informants were chosen for use. In order to encourage future research on these topics among anthropologists, I elucidate the primary stakeholders in this so-called movement and examine where areas of understanding, discourse and practice agree and where they are in opposition. Consumers, farmers, government and non-governmental organizations, certiﬁcation agencies, and food manufacturers are invested in the promotion of the concept of “organic food” but each group deﬁnes the word “organic” differently, which results in a lack of understanding between groups as well as an inability to create culturally meaningful systems of regulation and authentication for organic foods.
Consumers seem to be the easiest group to typify, although there is much confusion among them in knowledge and conceptualizations of organic. Among shoppers at the farmers market, the concept of “organic” is poorly understood except by a small minority of committed food and farming advocates. Most people I talk with do not understand the process of organic growing, nor do they understand what organic means as a regulatory mechanism. When queried they are usually unable to deﬁne “organic” except as something vague that “doesn’t have chemicals” or “is better for you.” They do believe, however, that they “should” buy organic, but often for very unrealistic reasons. Mothers tell me they buy organic “because my children
The American Omnivore’s Dilemma
have allergies” or “because I’m trying to make sure my family is healthy.” I also sense, through comments made about the appropriateness of shopping behaviors, that mothers are competing to demonstrate caring behaviors through the serving of organics—that to be a good (middle-class, suburban?) mother is to shop at Whole Foods or the farmers market rather than at the local conventional supermarket. Research demonstrates that the “lifestyle” consumer and educated organics consumer are very different entities; the latter is likely to belong to a food advocacy group, is more knowledgeable about organic processes and possesses a sense of agency in relation to food choice—while the former may or may not buy organic and local or sustainable based on convenience, price, and some often-vague concept of what the word “organic” means to them (Yiridoe et al., 2005; Demeritt, 2006; Reed and Holt, 2006). According to the Hartman Group, approximately 66% of U.S. consumers buy organic products at least occasionally, with 21% forming a core advocacy group. A further 21% are mid-level buyers, with 13% deﬁned as periphery (Demeritt, 2005). Core buyers understand the certiﬁcation process and that the organic label represents a process from farm to table. Midlevel buyers associate organics with product quality, whereas the periphery confuse the term with ideas such as natural, associate organics with alleviation of risk, and question the value and authenticity of the certiﬁcation process (Demeritt 2005(a and b), 2006; Lockie et al. 2006). In the wake of recent food scares caused by lack of USDA regulatory oversight peripheral buyers increasingly associate “organic” with safety and cleanliness, much as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval reassured the 1950s housewife. The Hartman Group has found that “organic” now means many things to many differing groups of people:
Our most recent research reveals that as consumer involvement with organics has grown, we encounter an ever-expanding body of interpretations, understanding and practice all focusing around the notion of “organic.” Currently we’re ﬁnding that many consumers rely on organic as shorthand for a variety of attributes, including “better tasting,” “healthier,” “more real,” “less processed,” “fresh” or “local.” Others rely on organic products as a means of addressing a multitude of food allergies and fears, rational or otherwise. Still others equate organic with notions such as ‘sustainable.’ (Demeritt 2007).
Academic research conﬁrms these framing categories; the average consumer thinks of organic as healthy, tasty, and better for their bodies and the world as well as free of risk factors (Robinson and Smith 2003; Chang and Zepeda 2005; Prigent-Simonin and H´ rault-Fournier 2005; Donald and Blay-Palmer e 2005; Lea and Worsley 2005; Yiridoe et al. 2005; Roe 2006).
Christopher Fullerton (Director, Consumer Division Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) and Jessica Greenblatt Seeley (Deputy Executive Director, Food Routes Network) both describe consumer behavior as dominated by a concern with “making the right choice.” Fullerton states that people are concerned with choosing the right foods for themselves and especially for their children. They usually have little knowledge of the larger issues of farming process, environmental impacts, or holistic theoretics but are interested in “doing the right thing” and organics allows them an easy and identiﬁable way to do so (see Chang and Zepeda 2005, for a similar ﬁnding with Australian consumers). This observation is in accord with conversations participated in and overheard at the farmers market; many consumers equate “organic” with a measure of safety but are not precisely sure what “organic” means, although the materiality of the dichotomously framed “organic vs. conventional” categories are meaningful because they conﬂate with moral contrasts such as “good or bad” and “healthy or unhealthy.” It is, for many shoppers, simply a shorthand label that allows for a truncated yet reassuring system for channeling food choice. In summary, most consumers at the farmers market usually view ‘organic’ as a thing, not a process or idea. A food is seen as dichotomously organic or conventional but why the food is organic is not precisely understood. Certiﬁcation is valued because it resolutely deﬁnes the product, but not a single queried customer could explain the certiﬁcation process or what, exactly, certiﬁcation means. While the more sophisticated ‘core’ consumers do understand the processual elements of organic food production, they make up a relatively small percentage of the overall food and organic food market.
For farmers, organic is a process. Farmers cannot answer if something is “organic” except by explaining how their processes adhere to farming activity on a spectrum from “industrial” to “small scale biodynamic.” This spectrum and the processes attached to particular practices are delineated by certiﬁcation categories and the preferred methods of the farmer. In contrast to the dichotomies perceived by consumers, farmers recognized nuanced shades of practice in relation to farming philosophy, soil needs, crop types and available and/or preferred market niche. Perhaps most importantly, small-scale Pennsylvania farmers recognize that organic farming is not simply the withholding of speciﬁc chemicals and those biotic choices create sociological, ecological, and economical differences for farming families and communities. Jessica Greenblatt Seeley, the Deputy Executive Director of Food Routes (a farm-to-consumer advocacy group) and a member of a Pennsylvania
The American Omnivore’s Dilemma
farming family, asserts that many farmers in Pennsylvania shift to organic production because it allows them to adopt a family farming model and increase farm receipts. Transitioning to organic production with direct and short-chain local sales allows farmers to integrate family workers and to use mixed-production models, often incorporating direct sales and other forms of economic diversiﬁcation (personal communication, October 2007). As the farmers in Leslie Duram’s study Good Growing: Why Organic Farming Works explain, organic CSAs and short-chain sales models allow for higher realized and received prices but also require more labor: “We are up to a buck a pound with the CSA, give or take, and a lot of vegetables go out of here for twenty or thirty cents a pound wholesale” (Duram 2005: 102). The organic farmers I work with indicate that their farms simply would not be economically viable without organic production and the selling channels (direct, short-chain, local, and premium) it allows. Mike Nelson, the farm manager of a midsized (400 acres) IPM New Jersey vegetable, fruit, and honey farm shifted to IPM and direct sales when farm prices became too low to operate without loss. Each year, he adds more farmers markets; his model allows for farm survival in an area where land values have skyrocketed. Similarly, Lisa and Ike Kirschner raise organic fruit trees, vegetables, and manufacture value-added products for direct sales speciﬁcally so they can maintain an agricultural life, home-school their son, and produce superior food products. Though they practice organic principles, they are not certiﬁed because the cost is high in relation to the size of their farm and because they have created a strong direct sales market without certiﬁcation. For these farmers, choosing to farm is a lifestyle and vocation and they see organic (or partly organic) farming as a means to maintain an agricultural life while nurturing land, family and community. Small scale organic and IPM farmers consider their farming practices to be very different—and far more holistically organic—than the large farms that supply the bulk of the national “certiﬁed organic” market. Much of the organic food purchased by Americans is produced on farms that are subsidiary productions of even larger conventional farms. As Guthman (2004), Pollan (2006) and Fromartz (2006) chronicle, large farms might choose to segregate a portion of their ﬁelds to produce an organic crop in order to boost overall receipts without adopting organic practices for the majority of their acreage. Because much of the farmland used for large operations is rented, there is little impetus to practice the holistic organic farming principles that conserve soil quality and biotic interdependencies (Guthman 2004). As a result, the farmers in Pennsylvania more typically perceive that real differences between farming practices are tied to scale, since large farms are unable to farm as intensively—or as sustainably—as can smaller producers. Furthermore, since certiﬁcation is not necessary to build a strong consumer market in a direct sales environment, farmers deﬁne their farming style by descriptions of process rather than by certiﬁcation.
In summary, farmers perceive organic production to be a process and a continuum rather than a dichotomously deﬁned object determined by a certiﬁcation process. For this reason they see little need for certiﬁcation, especially if their farms are small and their direct-sale chains robust. Farmers are also critically aware that customers usually don’t understand growing processes and are confused by explanations about farming. Farmers become disheartened when, after explaining farming philosophy and practice and listing the precise economic and scaling reasons why a particular farm isn’t certiﬁed, a customer responds with a comment such as “so you aren’t really organic, are you?” For this reason a better understanding of the cultural gap between object and process in organic food production would be an admirable project for anthropologists.
NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS (NGOs)
Most NGOs view organic food as both a process and an object because their involvement is linked to both the processes of production and regulation and to the various certiﬁcation steps that create the “thing” that is distributed, marketed and eventually purchased. Because their sphere of action spans the entire production process, many non-governmental organizations are involved in advocacy and education in organics. They range from consumer-oriented entities such as the Organic Consumers Association, Local Harvest, and Organic Exchange to farmers associations such as the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Northeast Organic Farming Association, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Organic Farming Research Foundation. Bridging organizations include trade associations such as the Organic Trade Association, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, the Organic Center, and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements as well as a large number of farm-to-school and farm-to-institution advocacy groups. Farmer-oriented groups such as Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) offer educational programs, producer networking opportunities and direct supply chain support in the building of farm to consumer structures through “Buy Fresh Buy Local” branding campaigns. Trade association entities such as the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the International Organic Accreditation Service and Organic Processing Magazine are business-to-business organizations that promote trade in and distribution of organic products; as might be imagined, their goals are often seen to be somewhat antagonistic by the consumer organizations. As Marion Nestle outlines in What to Eat, the Organic Trade Association is not a group of ‘back to the land’ farmers but is dominated by companies such as General Mills, which is understandable given that growth in sales in organics has been constant at 20% per year for several years (Nestle 2006:37). In part, the tension between
The American Omnivore’s Dilemma
organizations is tied to the differing interpretations of the nature of organics; members of groups, such as PASA, that embrace a more process-oriented approach view the actions and goals of trade associations that promote largescale sales via dichotomizing certiﬁcation labeling with suspicion—in part, I would venture to hypothesize, because the consumer-sales focused language and strategies of the latter diverge from the conception of organics as a process. These organizations provide primary educational services to consumers, farmers, traders and grocers of organic foods. Some of them have enormous power to mobilize citizen-consumer action and others shape the structure of distribution networks and retail opportunities. While the consumer groups promote awareness, education, and distribution of preferred products and defend organic standards against industry tampering, organizations like PASA work to build direct sales and business-to-business markets for farmers, and OTA and IOAS focus on inﬂuencing government agencies to alter national standards in order to guarantee certiﬁcation and presumed increased proﬁts for their industries. What is remarkable about this particular food sector is the level of consumer advocacy; buyers of organic products are passionate about their commitment to defending standards and supporting a fair and just organics marketplace. Probably no other grocery sector has the same level of committed supporters with real power in pocketbook politics. The range of advocacy goals is extensive and, at times, contradictory. The Organic Consumers Association has been able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of consumers to write letters in support of speciﬁc standards and provides information updates on perceived threats to guidelines posed by proposed National Organic Standards Board changes to labeling laws. A consistent message from consumer groups is that the certiﬁcation process is corrupted because food companies are pressuring the NOSB to relax standards to allow more food products to be labeled organic. Because of these messages, increasing numbers of concerned organic and sustainable food shoppers doubt the reliability and authority of the NOSB labeling process, and are switching from the purchase of certiﬁed products to direct, short-chain and face-to-face food-buying networks. In other words, industry pressure to relax certiﬁcation standards compels engaged consumers to learn more farming, food production, and distribution, and thus to begin to view organic food purchases with a set of value metrics that actively promotes a process-oriented understanding that privileges short-chain, presumably transparent, distribution networks. Many customers at the farmers market tell me that they have switched from buying certiﬁed organic foods at Whole Foods to locally farmed non-certiﬁed products, because “I know I can trust these farmers.” Since there is widespread belief that the organic certiﬁcation regulations have been watered down, faith in the legitimacy and authenticity of the USDA certiﬁcation process has been damaged, further propelling consumers into alternate the short-chain and direct market. As a
result, a better understanding of how the public discourse of advocate NGOs has affected consumer awareness of food certiﬁcation and farming practices would be a good project for anthropologists.
Most consumers do not understand the certiﬁcation process. They often assume that farms are ‘inspected by the government’ although they rarely know what those inspections mandate nor do they understand that much of the certiﬁcation process is non-governmental and independent. Indeed, one of the problems with the certiﬁcation process is that it is independent and must be paid for; this alone keeps many small-scale farmers from being certiﬁed. Although many state or national governments and farming organizations have organics guidelines, a uniform code is necessary if national and international trade is to be encouraged. While a number of earlier organizations existed in Europe and the United States, it wasn’t until 1972 that IFOAM (the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) formed to bring consistency to guidelines by providing accreditation to promote consumer trust and trade cooperation. As trade in organics has grown, independent governments have moved to regulate standards independently of overarching global trade associations, which has lead to breakdowns in consistency of standards as well as trade disagreements between nations. The international certiﬁcation symbol most likely to be familiar to consumers is that of Quality Assurance International (QAI), which certiﬁes food products for sale in the USA. Domestic certiﬁcation companies usually belong to the Accredited Certiﬁers Association which fosters education and standards development with producers, processors, and governmental agencies. According to Jessica Greenblatt Seeley, a former employee of Pennsylvania Certiﬁed Organic, third-party certiﬁers work independently of the government to provide the inspections and paperwork that allow a farm to use the USDA-regulated terms “Organic” or “Organically Produced.” It is the presence of these intermediary entities that create a bind for small producers because the certiﬁcation process requires an annual fee, often based on gross sales, and many smaller farms either can’t afford or perceive that they can’t afford certiﬁcation. While this may limit their capacity to sell to grocery chains, many of the smaller producers feel that direct sales promote a face-to-face authenticity that surmounts the certiﬁcation procedure. Certiﬁcation agencies work with producers and regulators to craft reasonable and workable guidelines for organic production and processing. To them, organic food is both an object and a process; they are intermediaries between producers and consumers and wield considerable capacity to affect positive and negative practices within certiﬁcation. There has been particular
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interest in the certiﬁcation of foreign-grown food after recent food scares involving spinach and Chinese pet foods alerted many consumers to holes in the inspection and quality assurance pathways. Another concern is that cost of certiﬁcation creates a roadblock to economic security for small-scale farmers in the developed and developing world. According to Sasha Courville of ISEAL Alliance (Courville 2006), this has prompted IFOAM to suggest that grower cooperatives could be certiﬁed in place of individual farmers; by using a sampling strategy and relying on group self-governance certiﬁcation, costs for individual farmers could be lowered to allow for penetration into global markets. This provides another rich ﬁeld for anthropological research, since so many practitioners are already in situ in agricultural areas. Exploration of the perceived risks and beneﬁts as well as analysis of the barriers to cooperative certiﬁcation could assist small farmers around the world and better elucidate how the global organics market can best be regulated for quality and to promote consumer trust.
As stated in the previous section, national and regional governments have crafted independent standards for organic certiﬁcation. Here in the United States, the Organic Foods Production Act was introduced as part of the 1990 Farm Bill and mandated the creation of a ﬁfteen member National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) that provides recommendations to the National Organic Program Standards (Winter and Davis 2006). The National Organics Program regulates organics certiﬁcation, processing and labeling. A concern of many in farming and food businesses is lack of consumer knowledge about labeling requirements and meanings. While information about labeling exists on the USDA website and is available in many other places, few consumers take the time to understand the organic labeling process. This is an area in which increased funding for educational outreach may help to re-legitimate the USDA’s role in the certiﬁcation process in the minds of consumers. Given that many consumers drawn to organics are seeking a safer food supply because of recent regulatory failures, a better understanding of the role of third-party certiﬁcation agencies in inspection and labeling may improve public perception of USDA competence as well as deﬁne areas where regulatory processes are insufﬁcient. One of the more interesting elements in the governmental support of organics is ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, which is part of the National Center for Appropriate Technology and funded by the USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service. ATTRA provides educational services to farmers and information for short-chain, direct, and business-to-business development of the organics marketplace. Funding ATTRA at a higher level would help to ease the suspicion that
consumers harbor toward the USDA and its organic regulatory structures, allow for addition education of farmers and consumers, and assure a better regulatory environment though enhanced compliance in production and processing. Other controversies exist within the USDA’s organic program. There is tension among the various consumer groups about the makeup of the board and fear that NOSB members would privilege food industry desires rather than consumer preferences in crafting recommendations. The USDA frequently recommends changes to the codes disapproved by the Organic Consumers Association, such as proposals to include non-organic processing chemicals in processed food items. Predictably, the consumer groups write letters to the USDA protesting such actions and the USDA and NOSB respond by approving the recommendations. There is a strong belief among committed organic consumers that the government has incrementally weakened the original standards, thereby causing distrust of the certiﬁcation process and of governmental capacity to safeguard organics in general (Amaditz 1997; Giannakas 2002). Anecdotal evidence from farmers’ market shoppers indicates that some U.S. consumers also believe that European organic standards are strong and trustworthy (I’ve repeatedly been told to look for the European certiﬁcation stickers at fancy food shops, since “European organics are really organic”). This indicates that it might be beneﬁcial for the NOSB and food manufacturers to move toward concordance with European standards in order to boost trade, if doing so is possible. Anthropologists could ﬁnd fertile areas of exploration in an examination of how differing groups of organic producers, processors and users perceive and utilize governmental programs such as NOSB, NCAT and ATTRA. In particular, a robust examination of governmental practices may be of real service to the food industry as a whole, since it is unclear whether the United States government view organics as a process or an object; for instance, the actions of the NOSB cause many consumers to accuse the government of acting in the interest of large food conglomerates to lessen the requirements of certiﬁcation and thus indicates that the government envisions organic food as an object subject understandable through dichotomizing labeling. On the other hand, the presence of ATTRA indicates that support for organic farming as a process is also a part of governmental understanding. Clarifying the governmental understanding of organics may help producers and consumers as well as government agencies bridge the gaps between their conceptual models of the role of organic food in the larger food system, as well as encourage the development of workable and less-contested certiﬁcation standards. The United States needs a trusted certiﬁcation program in order to build organic market share within the nation as well as provide opportunities for farmers and food processors to sell US food products abroad. Identifying where and how mistrust has developed will aid farmers as well as eaters and improve farm revenues.
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THE FOOD INDUSTRY
The food industry has moved heavily into organic food distribution, although it prefers to externalize the risks of farming and retail by focusing primarily on processing and distribution. Because the food industry encounters organic food items after certiﬁcation and must distribute and market in order to drive consumer sales, it is reasonable to argue that it conceptualizes organics as a thing deﬁned by dichotomized certiﬁcation categories. While space does not permit a thorough discussion of the food industry’s effect on organic production and sales, sufﬁce to say that independent organic food producers and grocery chains are heavily courted by food industry giants in order to increase sales receipts and provide higher-end product line development opportunities. According to Philip Howard of Michigan State University (personal communication, October 2007), consolidation has occurred on two levels: organic food companies have been purchased by larger food companies and small food chains have been absorbed by larger conventional and/or organic chains. Consolidation has a number of outcomes, including the development of national brands and a virtual lock-down of distribution networks. The latter development is contributing to a decrease in organic food startups as smaller and independent producers are denied grocery shelf space. However, consolidation is also leading to a revival of grass-roots marketing venues such as regional co-ops, CSAs, buying clubs and farmers markets which provide small-scale venues for producers seeking to establish themselves in particular market niches. Given the rise of the local and short-chain market, the future control of organic food sources by large-scale companies is debatable. However, they will most likely respond by further moving into distribution of value-added organics products, if they ﬁnd such items sell. We may very well witness a continued growth in the local market for unprocessed whole foods with the concomitant development of national chains in value-added processed organic foods.
The organic food market is currently in ﬂux, with standards, practices, markets, and consumers shifting rapidly. While there has been an enormous increase in demand for organic food there has also been a parallel diminishment in consumer faith in organic labeling and certiﬁcation processes. Many food systems analysts and activists speak of the need to increase consumer awareness and education about organics standards and processes; Phil Howard asserts that consumers need to be aware of the weakening of organics regulations as well as the need to support smaller producers who are in danger of losing market share due to industry control by larger food
producers. Jessica Greenblatt Seeley sees a need for more education for farmers as well as consumers, and points to a critical need for increased support of ATTRA to teach new and transitioning organic farmers. Chris Fullerton argues for more consumer awareness of certiﬁcation processes and for more citizen and consumer input in creating and enforcing standards. All these suggestions point to a critical need for awareness, education, and a strengthening of community and citizen control over development of standards and organic enforcement practices. It also calls for a better understanding of how each protagonist in the organic food system views what is being produced; the division between object and process is stark and needs to be elucidated better in order to reach agreements that will increase the safety of the domestic food production system as well as the perceived authenticity of the organic food certiﬁcation process. It is not surprising that the lack of trust in the certiﬁcation process has led to a diminishment in consumer faith in certiﬁed organics among midlevel and core consumers. Indeed, consumer behavior presages a collapse of the standardized organics market as savvy consumers increasingly turn to direct and short-chain markets for food purchases (Holt 2005; Demeritt 2007; Howard and Allen 2006; Molyneaux 2008). As consumers become disenchanted with organic practices due to a perceived dilution of standards, they become more aware of the “processes” of organic production leading them to abandon the construct of “organic food as a object” in favor of a more contextualized and comprehensive frame of “organic food as process” (personal communication with farmers market customers 2007–2009; Giannakos 2002; Moore 2006). Interaction with farmers and small-scale producers intensiﬁes this shift in knowledge and understanding, causing even greater demand for local and directly sourced foods. The battle over the value and meaning of certiﬁcation has been lost, according to many consumers (Howard and Allen 2006; Moore 2006), and they have chosen to shift purchasing decisions, leading to the exponential rise of the “locavore” movement. To return to the puzzling actions of the organics advocate who purchased from a local conventional farmer at my farmers market, her behavior can be understood in the framing shifts that have occurred in the perceived authenticity of the organic food market. In the minds of many concerned consumers, organic food is no longer the standard for food safety and environmentally sound food production methods. It is a short-chain, face-to-face market that provides “real,” “authentic,” and “safe” foods via a direct connection with the farmers; the state and federal organic regulatory process is often considered to be ineffective and inauthentic. Consumers are shifting to regional and (presumably) more transparent food sourcing options in hopes of increasing food safety, decreasing food miles and carbon footprint, and rebuilding the health and viability of local farming economies. Many food advocates now envision the food system embracing a localized sustainable paradigm rather than an organic model.
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For anthropologists, these shifts in consumer belief and behavior provide fertile ﬁelds for research. The concepts and beliefs articulated by organic food users are contradictory and tied to systems of morality and citizenship; use and action is contested by each group and even within groups. The absence of consistency is linked to confusion in public discourse about regulation and consumption and to widespread consumer lack of understanding about processes. There is a wide gap between organic food as thing and organic food as process which renders even face-to-face explanatory discussions between farmers, regulators and consumers difﬁcult and contested. The resultant confusion causes fears about food and the safety of the overall food system and damages trade relationships. Identifying the cultural lacunae and mapping the belief systems of each stakeholder group would be a an excellent anthropological project that could lead to far better food and farming education for United States consumers, farmers, regulators and food processors, as well as a more transparent and safe national food supply.
Many organizations discussed in this article have excellent Web sites. For further information about each group, the URLs are provided: Accredited Certiﬁers Association (ACA: http://accreditedcertiﬁers.org) International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (http://www. ifoam.org/) International Organic Accreditation Service and (http://www.ioas.org/) Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture (www.ag.iastate.edu/centers/ leopold) Local Harvest (www.localharvest.org) Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (http://www.mosesorga nic.org/) National Organics Program (http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/indexIE.htm) National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (http://www.attra.org/) Northeast Organic Farming Association (http://www.nofa.org) Organic Center (http://www.organic-center.org/) Organic Consumers Association (http://www.organicconsumers.org/) Organic Exchange (www.organicexchange.org) Organic Farming Research Foundation (http://ofrf.org/index.html) Organic Processing Magazine (http://www.organicprocessing.com) Organic Trade Association (http://www.ota.com) Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (http://www.pasafarm ing.org/) Pennsylvania Certiﬁed Organic (http://www.paorganic.org) Quality Assurance International (QAI: http://www.qai-inc.com)
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