- Paperback: 334 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; First edition (March 5, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156032422
- ISBN-13: 978-0156032421
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,755,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew First Edition
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"Fromartz does an excellent job of investigating consumer behavior and the trends that have permanently changed the food landscape."―SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
"Revealing . . . Fromartz gives us a handy tool for educating ourselves."―FAST COMPANY MAGAZINE
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Organic food has become a juggernaut in an otherwise sluggish food industry, growing at 20 percent a year as products like organic ketchup and corn chips vie for shelf space with conventional comestibles. But what is organic food? Is it really better for you? Where did it come from, and why are so many of us buying it?
Business writer Samuel Fromartz set out to get the story behind this surprising success after he noticed that his own food choices were changing with the times. In Organic, Inc., Fromartz traces organic food back to its anti-industrial origins more than a century ago. Then he follows it forward again, casting a spotlight on the innovators who created an alternative way of producing food that took root and grew beyond their wildest expectations. In the process he captures how the industry came to risk betraying the very ideals that drove its success in a classically complex case of free-market triumph.
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Mr. Fromartz provides a brief history of organic farming as an alternative to a deeply flawed agro-industrial production system. We learn that organic methods were developed for ideologically diverse reasons but tends to produce nutritionally superior foods when compared with conventional farming practices. Although yields are usually smaller, the author discusses how organic strawberry farms in California are an example of how organics can outperform when allowing for decreases in energy and fertilizer input.
Mr. Fromartz profiles some of the small organic farmers whose deference to health, environment and community were shaped by the 1960s counterculture. A small but vital network of farmers, distributors and retailers supported a fledgling movement that defined itself by remaining outside the conventional food system. The author describes how such farmers often devised creative marketing strategies by catering to specialty restaurants or selling their produce directly to the public at farmer's markets. As health and safety concerns about pesticides and rBGH growth hormones caught the public's attention, organic farming has become more widespread, emerging as an increasingly important survival strategy for more and more beleagured family farmers.
Mr. Fromartz traces the rise in popularity of pre-packaged salads and refrigerated soy milk to discuss how mass market success has created divisions within the organic community. The development of large-scale organic enterprises has intensified competition and shut down smaller, less efficient producers. Regulation has become a contentious issue, with small farmers seeking to hold large farmers accountable to maintaining high standards. As supermarkets such as Safeway and Wal-Mart have begun to add organic sections to their stores, issues of local production, fair wages and sustainability are heightened. Yet, the author is upbeat in his assessment that small farmers can continue to find their niche by satisfying the needs of the more sophisticated organic consumer.
I recommend this highly readable and informative book to everyone.
I am always a fan of books written by journalists, who often know better than others the importance of interviewing real people and capturing all sides to a story. I thought, however, that Fromartz's writing style could have used more of an edge. The book read like a 275-page newspaper article, was dry at times as a result, and failed to create the urge to "read one more page."
That said, I would recommend Fromartz's book to anyone who is interesting in the past and present issues about the organic food industry.
He notes that sales of organic food shot up 20% per year since 1990, and "The trend wasn't lost on mainstream industry, which reacted by creating organic food aisles (or ghettos) in their stores or by buying up organic food companies for market share." (Pg. xvii) He also points out that "Establishment nutritionists" (who were often funded by food companies) claimed that the whole-grain, whole-food dogma was "nothing more than fiction," until the 1980s, "when the industry realized it might actually be profitable." (Pg. 23) "Health, or the appearance of it... has often been a selling point in the mass market." (Pg. 144)
He observes that small-scale local farmers don't produce enough volume to make purchases worthwhile for large chains (Pg. 70), yet farmers' markets are NOT a "main outlet" for organic produce; Natural-food stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and food-service suppliers were "a more vital market." (Pg. 87) He admits that "labor is crucial to produce farming---organic or conventional---which is why migrant workers are hired throughout the industry." But he added, "If you were going to hire migrants, there were ways to do it right." (Pg. 104)
Progressing from their original stereotype as "a bunch of hippies from Santa Cruz" (Pg. 131), the organic food industry is now "littered with founders who built companies, then cashed out to mainstream food giants." (Pg. 185)
This is a personal, but well-written and highly interesting look at the organic food industry.