Organic vs. Sustainable

In recent classes, we have discussed the impact of globalization on food availability in the US. Though foods have largely retained their cultural significance, they are increasingly viewed as commodities. Labels stating “organic” or “naturally grown” imply that the product was grown free of chemical treatment, locally, or with minimal impact on the environment. However, Americans’ growing obsession with organic goods and food’s commodification has changed the definition of “organic” and “naturally grown.”

In California and Mexico, rapid increases in organic farming aimed at meeting the culinary demands of Americans have led to severe stresses on area aquifers. Complex and intense systems of irrigation have gradually depleted the ground’s ability to retain and transmit water. In addition, water table levels drop significantly due to overutilization.

Trader Joe's Organic Products

Moreover, “naturally grown” is not synonymous with “sustainable.” Transporting foods grown in California, the Baja region, or mainland Mexico daily requires a lot of energy. Michael Bomford, a sustainable agriculture scientist at Kentucky State University, argues “organic agriculture used to be sustainable agriculture, but now that is not always the case.” The environmental impact on transporting large quantities of food over long distances every day, coupled with the adverse effects on water tables and aquifers, have led to a growing divergence between organic farming methods and sustainable farming methods.