I am not one of those rushing to write an obituary for organics. Since the recession, sales of organic food have slowed a bit, but so what? Restaurants have had fewer customers too, some have shut, and thousands are in financial difficulty, but no-one seriously takes this as a sign the UK will soon stop eating out entirely.
When money is tight, people can’t always afford to do everything they would like, but that doesn’t mean they have abandoned all their cherished principles, goals and aspirations.
Unlike mainland Europe, where good food is considered the democratic entitlement of each and every citizen, in Britain the pursuit of higher-quality food and a more progressive food system is commonly dismissed by ‘real world’ cynics anxious to defend our bankrupt food system as a lifestyle obsession of the neurotic rich.
In the case of organics, such stereotyping is crassly unfair and feeds a reactionary agenda. Remember that, until the 1950s, all the food we ate was organic. Our dysfunctional industrialised food and agri-chemical system, now seen as mainstream, is but a Johnny-come-lately blip.
Like many people, I try to buy as much organic food as I can, but I don’t make a fetish of it. If beef, for instance, is grass-fed, then I’m delighted to eat it, even if it doesn’t have organic certification. But researching my new book, What To Eat, has strengthened my desire to eat organic. When trawling through government statistics, even I was shocked to find that conventionally grown grapes, for example, commonly contain residues of around 11 different pesticides. One Chilean sample, notified through the EU’s Rapid Alert system, clocked up residues of no less than 25.
It’s not just avoiding pesticides that makes organics attractive. Organic farming standards are the best guarantee of high animal welfare, organic food contains no dodgy additives and livestock hasn’t been fed GM soya grown on cleared forest land.
Status quo defenders love to gloat when organic sales falter, but shouldn’t get carried away with their own rhetoric. Food issues like these really do matter to many people, and that awareness is here to stay.