Monday, May 26, 2008

Opinions -- Organic Fast Food

The commercialization of organic foods continues its steady march, made apparent by developing businesses centered around 'quick-casual' organic dining -- in other words, fast food with an organic label. I just read this article on several chain restaurants: O'Naturals, Organic To Go and EVOS. The first two offer a menu that looks a lot like Panera Bread's: sandwiches, pizza, wraps, salads, even asian noodles; EVOS is more like a traditional fast food menu, with burgers, wraps and 'Airfries,' french fries that have been air baked instead of deep fried. All restaurants claim to use organic products, and feature classic 'supermarket pastoral' (thanks to Michael Pollan, who else, for this term) marketing, wherein the menu is described as eco-friendly, down-to earth and, most importantly, good for you.

It's true, 'organic' has long-since become a buzzword, and this is merely the logical progression of our newest dietary trend. Still, I find it embarrassing and a little sad to see this new generation of fast food chains coming into prominence. I was hoping that along with America's newfound appreciation for pesticide-free produce, there would come a revolution in the way we think about cooking and eating. Instead, we seem to expect that fixing one small aspect of our diets or our lives is sufficient for a better daily existence, refusing to look at the overall picture of diet, environment and economy.

Organic fast food will encourage the current unsustainable organic farming practices (large scale industrialized farms practicing input subsitution and shipping organic produce long distances) already in place, continuing to damage the earth and jeopardize our future food supply; it will also give people a false sense of 'doing the right thing' as they eat grass-fed burgers and eco-friendly salads. It also allows us to continue unhealthy habits in terms of how we eat, engendering the sense that it is okay to eat on the run and pay little attention to what goes into your meal (as long as it says Organic, it's okay, right?). No matter what's on your plate, if you eat too fast and too much, you're still going to suffer unpleasant consequences, and the environmental repercussions for eating an unsustainable diet should not be ignored.

I do admit that if I were trapped in an airport terminal, I'd probably visit any of these restaurants if it meant I could avoid eating at McDonalds. At least for now there will be a few better options. But let's not forget this is a 'band-aid' mentality -- it will not fix America's ongoing dietary issues, or improve the structure of our national food system.

On a more upbeat note, at least people are beginning to look at food as a whole. We are more aware of the overall quality of the food we eat, not just the nutritional details. We want foods that are pesticide free and responsibly grown, not just low-calorie, low-carb and low-fat. I wonder if we could follow this progression towards a set of even more sincere eating establishments, where locally obtained produce is the norm and each location is unique, family-run and singularly delicious. That's a nice dream. Still, I'm not sure whether or not organic fast food is a small step in the right direction, or a big false start.

1 comment:

  1. Natalie thank you for this post. The article you referenced is interesting, but your comments really get more to the truth of the matter. With "organic" becoming more and more profitable, commerically viable, and industrial Large corporations getting in on the act are working hard to lobby the goverenment for changes in what defines organic. The meaning of the word organic in farming has already been greatly deminished from its original large scope referance to fully sustainable growing methods that honor earths natural sytems to a word that means simply the absense of certain government specified chemical inputs. Certainlly more demand for orgainic means less chemicals in our soils, water systems, wild life populations and own bodies. On the other hand mass produced transcontinental shippments of nutriet defficiant produce mixed with industrial noodles is a far cry from what we need to be looking for when we think organic.