Ellie Levenson: These organo-fascists are no friends to the poor

'Sorry, we had a new beetle and couldn't kill it with pesticide so we've delivered a holey lettuce instead'


As if there weren't enough to contend with when guests come for dinner and think nothing of asking you to prepare a meal that has no dairy, no wheat and no nuts, oh and by the way I'm a vegetarian and not so keen on the texture of soup. Now people have started to think it's perfectly acceptable to make demands on their hosts for organic provisions too, as if providing food, any food, and witty interesting chit chat isn't enough. I fear that National Organic Week, which in case you didn't know is this week, will only make this worse.

I mean, blimey, I thought I was pulling out all the stops when the burgers I bought for a recent barbecue came from an upmarket supermarket rather than the special offer packs from the cheaper ones that have, in my mind at least, BSE written all over them (though, of course, the Sudan I red food dye crisis earlier this year, when food was recalled from all major supermarket chains, shows that actually you're eating the same impurities wherever you buy your grub).

Now it seems that even buying organic isn't enough to please some people. The organo-fascists have found something else to moan about. They don't like the fact that organic foods are being mass produced by big companies. For example, Go Organic, and its healthy range of soups and pasta sauces, is wholly owned by Unilever, the company that also owns Bovril, Birds Eye and Ben and Jerry's; while Green & Black's chocolate was bought in May by Cadbury Schweppes, maker of Dairy Milk, Dr Pepper and Seven Up.

In one sense, I understand where the moaners are coming from. When you buy organic you tend to expect small-scale farming and environmentally friendly practices that you don't tend to find in such large companies. Britons have faced enough food crises in recent memory to be wary of what we eat and who produces it. We are probably right not to trust the big manufacturers who made our cows into cannibals and who stuff our chickens with antibiotics and our Worcester sauce with carcinogenic dyes.

However, just because there have been a few well publicised disasters, doesn't mean that all modern farming methods are bad. Yes, of course, we need to have safety precautions and a system of checks to ensure that our food does not damage us, but we should also understand that one bad pesticide does not mean that all chemicals are bad. Governments must ensure that trials of chemicals and pesticides are transparent and thorough, and we must return the favour by not letting our mistrust of chemicals get out of control to a point where we refuse to see that any goodness can come of their use at all.

But if we do believe that organic is better, then we surely want it to be available to everyone. This is not possible if organic food is only produced on a small scale, as the current shortage of organic milk, after a 30 per cent growth in the UK's organic milk market, shows. That is, it's not possible unless we destroy our cities and instead all become small-scale farmers tending our own plots of land and bartering a turnip for a potato at market each week.

The outrage over big companies producing organic products is just another example of the rich getting upset when things are made affordable for poor people. Yes, filling the tummies of a handful of families in north London is all well and good, but delivering boxes of organic fruit and veg to all the families on sprawling housing estates is far less feasible, which is why it needs to be mass produced and cheaply available on supermarket shelves.

Many of the people I know who insist on organic food say they don't mind paying more money for their unidentifiable leaves with holes in them, ("Sorry, we had a new kind of beetle this week and couldn't kill it with pesticide so we've delivered you a holey lettuce instead" says the accompanying note on recycled paper). They don't mind paying more because it pays the farmers a living wage and adds to their holier-than-thou attitude. I also believe we should pay more for everything if it means giving people proper wages, but I hope they remember to use that line when hiring their cleaners and au pairs too.

It's like a situation I found myself in at a conference earlier this year where I met a representative of the Green Party. Upon talking to him about his politics I couldn't quite understand why he wasn't a member of the Labour Party instead. But the Green said that no, he couldn't possibly be, because he didn't like the attitude of the mainstream parties to globalisation. All of this would have made perfect sense if the conference hadn't been in Bulgaria. His attendance there was a result of the very globalisation that he said he doesn't like. What he actually meant was that he didn't like the kind of globalisation that benefits poor people - you know, the type where we can mass produce life-saving medicine or help with food relief in times of famine.

It's the same for those complaining about the mass production of organic food. They want the organic methods that benefit them, but don't want the masses to benefit. If Green & Black's is made by Cadbury (one of the first social enterprises) then there is a chance that obese little Britney at the Sure Start programme will be eating the same chocolate bar as Sebastian has in his lunch box at preparatory school. Today's organic consumers may want to keep production small and its availability exclusive, but that would be having their organic cake and eating it. And that is not morally justifiable.

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