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Browdy de Hernandez writes: "Human beings cannot be 'against nature' without being 'against ourselves.' We are a part of the natural world just like every other life form on this planet. Our fantasy that we can use our technological prowess to completely divorce ourselves from our material, physical reality is just that - a fantasy. We eat by the grace of nature, not by the grace of Monsanto."

Organic foods are natures healthy alternative. (photo: Kid's Life)
Organic foods are natures healthy alternative. (photo: Kid's Life)

We Eat by the Grace of Nature, Not by the Grace of Monsanto

By Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, CommonDreams

09 September 12


rganic, schmorganic," fumes New York Times columnist Roger Cohen sarcastically in an article entitled "The Organic Fable."

He bases his sweeping dismissal of the organic foods movement on a new Stanford University study claiming that "fruits and vegetables labeled organic are, on average, no more nutritious than their cheaper conventional counterparts."

Cohen does grant that "organic farming is probably better for the environment because less soil, flora and fauna are contaminated by chemicals... So this is food that is better ecologically even if it is not better nutritionally."

But he goes on to smear the organic movement as an elitist, pseudoscientific indulgence shot through with hype.

"To feed a planet of 9 billion people," he says, "we are going to need high yields not low yields; we are going to need genetically modified crops; we are going to need pesticides and fertilizers and other elements of the industrialized food processes that have led mankind to be better fed and live longer than at any time in history.

"I’d rather be against nature and have more people better fed. I’d rather be serious about the world’s needs. And I trust the monitoring agencies that ensure pesticides are used at safe levels - a trust the Stanford study found to be justified."

Cohen ends by calling the organic movement "a fable of the pampered parts of the planet - romantic and comforting."

But the truth is that his own, science-driven Industrial Agriculture mythology is far more delusional.

Let me count the ways that his take on the organic foods movement is off the mark:

Organic food may not be more "nutritious," but it is healthier because it is not saturated with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and preservatives, not to mention antibiotics, growth hormones and who knows what other chemicals.

There are obvious "health advantages" in this, since we know-though Cohen doesn’t mention-that synthetic chemicals and poor health, from asthma to cancer, go hand in hand.

Organic food is only elitist if it comes from Whole Foods-the one source Cohen mentions. I grow organic vegetables in my backyard, and they save me money every summer. We don’t need the corporatization of organic foods, we need local cooperatives (like the CSAs in my region) to provide affordable organic produce that doesn’t require expensive and wasteful transport thousands of miles from field to table.

About feeding 9 billion people: first of all, we should be working hard to curb population growth, for all kinds of good reasons. We know we’ve gone beyond the carrying capacity of our planet, and we shouldn’t be deluding ourselves that we can techno-fix our way out of the problem. Industrial agriculture is a big part of the problem. It will never be part of the solution. Agriculture must be relocalized and brought back into harmony with the natural, organic cycles of the planet. If this doesn’t happen, and soon, all the GMO seed and fertilizers in the world won’t help us survive the climate cataclysm that awaits.

Mankind is better fed and longer lived now than any time in history? Here Cohen reveals his own elitist, Whole-Foods myopia. Surely he must know that some billion people go to bed hungry every night, with no relief in sight? Mortality statistics are also skewed heavily in favor of wealthy countries. So yes, those of us in the industrialized nations are-again, depending on our class standing-living longer and eating better than in the past, but only at the cost of tremendous draining of resources from other parts of the world, and at increasing costs in terms of our own health.

Just as HIV/AIDS is the scourge of the less developed world, cancer, asthma, heart disease and diabetes are the bane of the developed world, and all are related to the toxic chemicals we ingest, along with too much highly processed, sugary, fatty foods.

For someone who is calling the organic movement "romantic," Cohen seems to have an almost childlike confidence in authority figures. He says he trusts "the monitoring agencies that ensure pesticides are used at safe levels - a trust the Stanford study found to be justified." And I suppose he also still believes in Santa Claus? We cannot trust that the "safe levels" established by the EPA or FDA are in fact safe, given the fact that we in an environment where thousands of chemicals enter the market without sufficient testing, presumed innocent unless proven guilty-but to win the case against them, first people must get sick and die.

Cohen’s concluding zinger, "I’d rather be against nature and have more people better fed," displays his own breathtaking blind spot as regards the human relation to the natural world.

Human beings cannot be "against nature" without being "against ourselves." We are a part of the natural world just like every other life form on this planet. Our fantasy that we can use our technological prowess to completely divorce ourselves from our material, physical reality is just that-a fantasy. We eat by the grace of nature, not by the grace of Monsanto.

For the entire history of homo sapiens, we have always eaten organic. It’s only been in the last 50-odd years, post World War II, that wartime chemicals and technologies have found new uses in agriculture.

The result has been the rapid and wholesale devastation of vast swaths of our planet-biodiversity giving way to monoculture, killer weeds and pesticide-resistant superbugs going wild, the weakening and sickening of every strand of the ecological web of our planet.

The relevant fable to invoke might be the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. We might be able to grow a fantastically huge beanstalk if we fed it with enough chemical fertilizers, and we might even be able to climb it and bring back a goose that lays golden eggs.

But in the end, that beanstalk will prove to be more dangerous to us than it’s worth-we’ll have to chop it down, and go back to the slow but solid organic way of life that has sustained us unfailingly for thousands of years. your social media marketing partner


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+46 # cyberbrook 2012-09-09 12:21
YES on CA Prop 37!

Don't let the Monsanto monster beat us down!

Please help out to support Prop 37 in California, which would require the labeling of GMOs. If we can't ban these potentially dangerous engineered products, we can at least give consumers the right to know.

This will have a major impact across the country and possibly around the world.

Join us:

spread the word through social media and elsewhere; donate $; volunteer from anywhere by phone banking; vote; write letters to the editors; call talk shows; talk to friends and neighbors; make posters; distribute fliers; wear a button; etc. Do whatever you can.

YES on Prop 37!
+24 # Erdajean 2012-09-09 18:29
Precisely. Whatever we can do to ward off "Shorter Living Through Chemistry," we MUST do it. Where on earth did we (rather, THEY) ever get the idea that we can divorce ourselves from the marrow of our bones? That a diet rich in petro-wastes and synthetic wood chips is a luscious, healthy future -- with no regard or respect for the natural world?
The dumbest thing is the notion that we who prefer our "country vegetables" grown in REAL DIRT are doing that for higher nutrients. Well, partly, maybe -- but most of us would just rather not be poisoned by corn and peas and applesauce, trained in Monsanto's lab to make their own killer pesticides, and feed them
to us. Picky, picky.
+17 # dovelane1 2012-09-09 18:52
Seems like this Cohen person doesn't get out of his office much.

Please, e-mail this article to everyone you know who eats food, and would read it. We need to get this message out to as many people as possible.

Also, start thinking about the ways everyone can get more involved in gardening. For many people who have gotten into the habit of assuming their food will come to them easily, there is going to be a rude awakening in the near future, especially if the droughts continue as they are expected to.
+13 # tswhiskers 2012-09-09 14:36
I wish i could afford organic food, esp. grass-fed meat but I can't and must rely on the local grocery store. I agree that we are probably better fed than in the past considering that most people in the past ate very monotonous diets (e.g. Irish peasants in the 19th cent. ate only potatoes) and were much more affected by the vagaries of weather than now. But I am concerned that the food industry is destroying today's food supply thru chemical adulteration by GMO's and fertilizers, thru the overuse of antibiotics in beef, by using more sugar and other additives to improve taste at the expense of nutrition. Yes, I oppose the sale of unlabeled GMO foods, but so far I've seen no real indication that anyone is fighting the sale of GMO produce or processed food. My fear now is that produce and "pure" foods such as various kinds of flour and whole grains may suffer adulteration too. I've been told that the FDA has allowed the presence of edible plastics in commercially made cake frostings and fillings. If all this is true, real food in this country is fast becoming a joke. So is there an affordable and nutritious diet available in this country? I'm concerned that in the near future there may not be such a thing.
+43 # seakat 2012-09-09 16:45
Healthcare is more expensive than organic food.
+2 # Lolanne 2012-09-10 09:54
Quoting seakat:
Healthcare is more expensive than organic food.

That is very true, seakat, but until the cost of organic foods comes down I am in the same situation as tswhiskers. I live on a relatively small fixed income and have an adult son living with me currently, helping to support him while he rebuilds his life after being "downsized." My income is stretched as far as it can possibly stretch, and I simply cannot afford the price of organic foods. Even farmers' market prices where I live are very high -- and they are not organic farmers.

I used to always have a small vegetable garden but now my aging back does not not allow me to do the work that involves. I do avoid processed foods as much as possible, so I do a lot of cooking using fresh vegetables, washed as thoroughly as possible, and meats. Even that is prohibitively expensive at today's prices.

I completely agree with the writer of this article; she said it well and truly. But a lot of us simply have extremely limited choices in what we eat.
+27 # Barbara K 2012-09-09 15:16
Monsanto is a monster of our time. They make lots of money by feeding us poisoned food. We get ill from the poisoned food we are forced to eat, more and more. We need to grow our own food as much as possible and we need to send Monsanto to jail. Poisoning us with their crap should be against the law. Farmers grew great, healthy food for many generations before the Monsanto Monsters came along. If the food is not marked GMO-FREE, don't buy it if at all possible. I know that as it spreads it is getting harder to avoid. There should be laws in every state to stop this onslaught of poisons. The hideous thing is that is is all profit driven. Profit driven to make us ill.
+21 # Doggone 2012-09-09 15:44
Monsanto is a LIE! They are contaminating the whole world. Jennifer speaks truth and it is our own health we risk by ignoring the truth that we are a part of nature and when we mess with what is working for profit and greed (MONSANTO) our planet and our bodies will tell the truth.

Grow a garden, trade for organic produce, then freeze it, can it, dry it, this is what was done at the turn of the 20th century. It is work but is so rewarding when you know where your food comes from. It is true that we can't do it all ourselves but we have to start somewhere. Learn to bake bread, eat low on the food chain, beans and rice etc. It isn't that hard to figure out how to avoid the crap that is packaged with color and zing, to catch the eye - don't be fooled. The simpler one eats the healthier they are.

+21 # WolfTotem 2012-09-09 16:11
Who paid Roger Cohen for his naive scientistic hype distilled from more hype - the misleading banner headlines used to present a limited collation of the scientific literature?

Only the other day I mentioned in another thread how, in the 1980s, I met someone who'd resigned from a multinational dealing in chemicals and pharmaceuticals after accidentally receiving a top-level memo to the effect that the firm couldn't lose. If their pesticides caused cancers, the pharmaceuticals division would sell even more of its highly expensive chemotherapy drugs! Yippee - chemo-schmemo!!!

As for GMO, the major problem's not even research and the (still elusive) development of safe, properly controlled products, but the giant monopolistic corporations that control GMO and are using it to gain a stranglehold on world food production. A nightmare scenario.

I've been watching the development of hitech agriculture and creeping corporate control of food production since the '60s but pesticide development goes back to wartime poison gas research. What some (expensive)inpu ts do to farmers and the rural population is one of the most horrible parts of the story.
+23 # lisamoskow 2012-09-09 16:19
This was my response to the Stanford "study" as programmed on NPR:
Your organic versus conventional program is very irritating The fact that Stanford did the study means nothing since Stanford is a private school supported by large corporations who specialize in fleecing the public. Most of us do not need a scientific study to tell us that we don’t choose to ingest chemicals and pesticides into our bodies. We certainly don’t want to ingest Roundup Ready every time we eat corn or soy or
canola and so on. Monsanto is spending millions to stop the labeling of GMO foods. They don’t need to sponsor a specific Stanford study—all
they need to do to achieve their nefarious ends is contribute enough to
an institution to ensure that scientists self-censor themselves. I am
disgusted when I see “science” used to undermine basic common sense.
We all know that foods are not equal in flavor and nutritive value.
Some “conventional” foods are okay, but have not gone through the
hoops of organic labeling—if this “study” used those foods (like foods
from many private gardens), then there could easily be no difference between them and certified organic foods. We also know that cattle are dying from GMO diets and that lacing crops genetically with pesticides just creates stronger pests and the need for more pesticides.
We also know that we are suffering from a widespread health crisis inthis country.
+15 # cordleycoit 2012-09-09 16:25
Cohen sounds like just another shill. Every year certain foods get high lighted because they do something more than fill the belly. Then the debunker come to piss on the veggies and say "I smell urine." Monsanto gives them a back hander and we slide deeper in to ignorance. I would not join Mr. Cohen in a burger, fries and big drink, he's doing suicide by fork. eat locally the food is excellent.
+15 # debbynicely 2012-09-09 17:05
This is an excellent article. The NYTimes dedicated a considerable section of letters to explaining why eating organic is important for our health. The more our soils are depleted, the more this is so. And if you want to avoid cancer, stay away from industrial food of all sorts!
-13 # Smokey 2012-09-09 17:37
Cohen is the kid who shouts at the naked emperor, "You ain't wearing no clothes."
And, actually, he's surprisingly kind in many of his comments.... The organic foods movement - which is now a multibillion dollar effort with its own big corporations - has always been long on hype, elitism, and romanticism... Which is fine, if you enjoy that sort of thing, and Cohen knows the good points.... BIG PROBLEMS: The world's population continues to grow, and it's increasingly urban, and there are some big problems in the environment AND in economic justice. Give Romney a chance and he'll kill "food stamps." The yuppies want to talk about food but they have little to say about poverty and unemployment and the exploitation of farm workers... So we get bizarre chats about food that are mostly bourgeois bohemian stuff... "Let them eat (organic) cake" may be the yuppie motto.
Enjoy the chatter if you can pay for Whole Foods. Grow a few carrots. Don't tell us that the yuppies have "solved the hunger problem."
+8 # dovelane1 2012-09-09 19:09
The "real" problem is the socialization that takes place in the American culture. The "bigger is better," "you can have it all," "you've come a long way baby," messages that support the addictive tendencies of a nation whose basic media message is "consume everything you can."

On top of that, we have the corporations in power who don't just want to make a profit, they want to make a killing, and that is exactly what they are doing.

The main problem I see is denial, which is the main attribute of any addct. People are socialized into their addictive tendencies, and then they wonder why things get so crazy.

Of course, it's everyone else's problem, so they never have to change their priorities, or make better decisions. GIGO - Garbage In, Garbage Out.

We, the people, will get better everything when we become more aware of what is going, and we start demanding different priorities.

Until then, as long as the money keeps rolling in, and there are few or no financial consequences to corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill, why should they change? Why should they give up any power they have over their ability to control people's choices.

As I mentioned above, e-mail this article to everyone you know who eats food, and might read this. The info has to get out.
+17 # pamelawy 2012-09-09 17:41
What this article fails to mention is that the co-author of the so called "study" is in bed with big tobacco's anti-science propaganda and that Stanford Univ. is deeply in bed with Cargill. See Once again, big corporations are counting on our stupidity.
+11 # cafetomo 2012-09-09 17:48
Never mind the crops and their attendant pests becoming roundup ready. We'll need to be too, if we expect to populate more than the burgeoning oncology wards. Cancer treatment is already the next growth industry in health care. But since cancer drugs have become such profit centers for hospitals and Pharma, these industries conveniently become yet another place to extract profit from the populace at large. Look how hard manufacturers worked to keep Aspartame in our food. Last I checked, methyl alcohol was a poison. For my money, the next growth industry will be in hospice.
+11 # tahoevalleylines 2012-09-09 17:55
Nearly 100 years ago Agnes C. Laut wrote about famine in her seminal book on rail transportation. Her book was themed on railways in context of the period, but she made a very important observation: Famine cannot be possible with inexpensive transport available.

Discussions putting corporate interests in conflict with organic or local-scaled agriculture is missing something of late: we must prepare for transport energy restrictions on distribution of victuals, foodstuffs.

Aviation then trucking will be adversely affected by a prolonged period of motor fuel supply problems, maybe very soon if worst-case scenarios as narrated by conflict analyses released by CSIS and other strategic think tanks. CSIS strategist Tony Cordesman writes position papers to assist strategic planners in government and private sector decision makers.

If agricultural interests consider distribution in their purview, then by all means transport fuel must figure largely in their calculations. Moving from Cordesman's papers to a more real-time examination, one looks at DEBKAfile newsfeed from the Middle East.

Arguments between organic farming proponents and corporate food production shall be put aside at warp speed, after announcement of Federal Executive Emergency Orders for motor fuel allocation. The issue then becomes how soon can America rehab dormant rail lines.
+9 # Doll 2012-09-09 18:59
There is no need to worry about overpopulation.

When animals are fed Monsanto crops, many of their offspring die in the second generation and by the third generation they become sterile.

This is gallows humor.
+11 # Debra Hope 2012-09-09 19:07
The sad thing is that food is being used as a weapon around the world. My dad, an old timey farmer all his life, used to say, "If they'd just turn us loose and pay us a decent price for our product, the American farmer could feed the world." Instead, we have Dept of Ag payments to farmers NOT to grow crops, we punish our enemies by withholding food, we've got millions of bushels squirreled away to keep prices stable, crop failure is insured by the government, and China and India are buying up every kernel of grain they can get their hands on, at record prices, just to keep their people alive. It's a sad situation, but my two brothers are laughing all the way to the bank.
+10 # Street Level 2012-09-09 19:24
This is such B.S. GMO's will not solve world hunger. What about the 40% of food we throw away in this country alone? The oceans are fished out as everyone is out there competing for the same dollar that is based on production.
Prices go up when the public conserves and this is just ass-backwards.
I've been tabling for Prop 37 and the gambit of the public that I talk to want to know what's in their food and have a choice. A guy from Nestle told me that Nestle emailed all their employees telling them to vote against this but he was going to vote yes anyway because he wants labeling and the corporations have taken the lie too far.
Cohen has obviously never been to an organic farm much less gotten dirt under his nails. Glamorous and Elitist? Give me a break. I can't think of a more dedicated group of people who give a damn to bring us the best food available.
People like Cohen needs to get his head out of his ass and his hands in the dirt.
If he thinks so much of agencies, he should buy a house and raise his family on Treasure Island where the radiation is 400x above safe levels and has been deemed as safe for decades by agencies.
+7 # angelfish 2012-09-09 19:37
WHO gives Monsanto the Power to Poison us? The public is ill-informed and the Psycho-phants in Washington are too busy lining up for their "cut". WHEN will we, once again, have men and women in Congress who actually CARE about Americans AND America? Register to vote, help Friends, family, and Acquaintances to do the same, GET appropriate I.D. for your State and GET to the Polls on Election Day and never, EVER vote ReTHUGlican !
+3 # noitall 2012-09-10 16:02
"WHO gives Monsanto the Power to Poison us?" All of our "leaders" who have sold their soul to the corporate hacks. If we got rid of them all, we would have a much smaller government (but the ones that would remain would do one heck of a job compared to the looting that is going on now!) Encourage your friends to vote!
+9 # Helen 2012-09-09 20:28
Roger Cohen's silly article, and the Stanford study itself, will not affect me or the growing numbers of people who eat organically grown food whenever possible. We never claimed organic to be more nutritious. We just want our bodies, our soil and our environment to forego the pesticide and herbicide residues, the hormones, the additives and the antibiotic-resi stant bacteria that Monsanto and their friends are inflicting upon us.
+2 # noitall 2012-09-10 15:59
I've read that organic vegetables are up to 30% more nutritious, go figure. If not, its good for my own sense of well-being.
+4 # pdjmoo 2012-09-09 20:34
Look, let's face it, the biotech industry tied in with the Gates Foundation (their trojan horse)give huge dollars to the likes of Stanford and other academic institutions making it difficult to know what vested interests are behind "science"studie s these days. With #Prop37 coming up in California to label all gmo's this is not surprising. The Biotech Cartel has rolled out their disinformation pr campaign in full force.

Stanford Scientists Shockingly Reckless on Health Risk And Organics

+5 # J.B. 2012-09-09 21:21
The Stanford "study" was not so much a study but a cherry picking of existing studies that did not all have the same controls, and was so typical of a predictable outcome. Maybe Stanford should look at some of the studies that are showing the results of endocrine disruptors which are showing up in our diets with such heavy burdens that even our feral mice and rat populations are becoming obese by eating our 'leavings'.
+2 # Anarchist 23 2012-09-09 22:49
[ So is there an affordable and nutritious diet available in this country? I'm concerned that in the near future there may not be such a thing.

If you are willing to work at it, you can eat a nutritious and affordable diet. Grow a garden-even one of lettuce-an easy crop-and parsley-then make things with rice, beans, squash, onions. Make your own hummus-80% protein-with chickpeas-still affordable even organic ones! buy seeds and sprout them. It is a lot of work but you can make up dishes in large batches and freeze and save for later. This is what I do and I learned a lot of other things from my neighbor, a man who lives on $2,000.00 per year.
+2 # Adoregon 2012-09-09 23:49
The salient sentences in this article are:

"About feeding 9 billion people: first of all, we should be working hard to curb population growth, for all kinds of good reasons. We know we’ve gone beyond the carrying capacity of our planet, and we shouldn’t be deluding ourselves that we can techno-fix our way out of the problem."

Controlling the population of our species is the most effective behavior modification in which each of us can directly participate. As matter can neither be created nor destroyed we must stop converting so much matter into humans and their artifacts.

The question of survival for us and for so many other species (collateral damage)hinges upon our ability to control our atavistic impulses.

With fewer people, the species can concentrate on quality rather than maximum production at a terrible cost to all life.
+3 # Electricrailwaygod 2012-09-10 02:48
WHAT AN IDIOT! NINE milliard people? REALLY? This comment "I’d rather be against nature and have MORE PEOPLE better fed..." Is the epitome of stupidity! We really DON'T need two more milliard (billion) people on this finite and fragile planet! ...And to be 'against nature'!? How about living IN ACCORD of Mother Nature for a change! Seven milliard people is ALREADY way too many carbon-based bi-ped self replicating units! With these CARBON based units (From STAR TREK:The Voyage Home) isn't 7'000'000'000 ENOUGH people? TOO MANY! Have you ever heard of FAMILY PLANNING? Cut down on all this baby cranking activity?

Most of this nonsense leading to the overpopulation of this planet comes from the Abrahamic School (western) religion! "Be fruitful and multiply" was a part of THE STORY OF CREATION (GENISIS). It is NOT MEANT as a modern guideline to go out and f*** every God damn two legged carbon based units in sight and continue to BREED!

That Story of Creation was written over some SIX MILLENNIA ago, when there were far fewer people on Planet Earth! NO!!! The Human Race is NOT on the verge of Extinction! FAR FROM it!

PLEASE begin to use some COMMON SENSE!

Thank you!
+2 # noitall 2012-09-10 15:54
If Monsanto had confidence in it's products, Monsanto would be spending millions boasting the presence of GMOs rather than spending millions of dollars trying to hide it from consumers. The fact is, if we knew of the presence of GMOs in our food, I for one, would pick the product without. I don't appreciate being duped into buying something that becomes a part of my body chemistry.
+2 # corals33 2012-09-10 21:02
to feed this planet we need less greed, less free trade, less predation by richer countries on poor ones, less food stockpiling, less corruption not curbing (culling) populations.
0 # independentmind 2012-09-13 11:42
Although I agree with the author's sentiments, and think that it is imperative that we have labeling of GMO's and I also agree with much of her thinking, there are a few facts that are incorrect and detract from her arguments because of that.

Our population is currently closer to 6 billion and is expected to reach a peak of 9 billion in 2050, before leveling out or declining. Please refer to Hans Rosling's TED talks on population. Nobody knows what the carrying capacity of earth is, so making that kind of statement does not make sense. What we do know, is that there is very uneven distribution of food across the planet, as is the the distribution of all resources.

Monsanto's claim that their GMO products lead to higher yields is only true in the short term, in the long term the reverse may be true. Tampering with the foods in this way often has unintended consequences and because our knowledge of genetics is rather incomplete, these consequences are not always known. Independent LONG TERM research would be able to help, but is unlikely, so it is better to use the old slow selective breeding for specific environmental conditions approach to producing more food.

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