Tag Archives: Corporate Farming

Taste, nutrients decline as size of crops grows

I wanted to write about this last week, when I first read about it, but it somehow got pushed into my story queue.

A report issued this week examined several recent studies by food scientists, nutritionists, growers and plant breeders. It found clear evidence that as the produce we eat gets larger, its vitamins, minerals and beneficial chemical compounds significantly diminish, as do taste and aroma.

Growing bigger tomatoes and ears of corn leads to a bigger yield for the producer, but the trade-off is the lower nutritional value.


Donald Davis, a senior researcher at the University of Texas, did some of the most illuminating research into the disappearing nutrients.

He compared Agriculture Department figures on nutrient content for 43 common fruits and vegetables.

Davis says historical data spanning 50 to 70 years show apparent declines of 5 percent to 40 percent or more in minerals, vitamins and proteins in groups of foods, especially vegetables.

Part of me is not really shocked that this is occurring. However, it is kind of a big deal that there is now mounting scientific evidence to support something that many of us have suspected for years (just ask the Washington Apple industry).

The next time someone points at that there is no nutritional benefit to eating organic, I’ll point them to these studies.

An Organic Observation

Out of all of the questions and observations surrounding the organic food industry, I feel that the primary lesson that we should all take out of its success is this – At it’s core, The success of the organic industry has to do with consumer’s distrust of the conventional industrial food model than for any other reason.

That distrust may be overt, inherent, or subdued, but it’s still there none the less. If a person buys organic because they think it’s more nutritious, more environmentally sustainable, tastes better than food provided by Agri-business, or any variation of a “better alternative” argument, all lend credence to the above observation.

Think about that for a moment…most everyone who has helped maked organic food a 51 BILLION dollar industry, did so because they thought that this alternative was better than the conventional model.

Whether correct or incorrect, I believe it is safe to say that purveyors of the conventional model have a problem on their hands. And I’m not necessarily sure that it’s a problem that can be solved by direct means. In fact, the cheapest (and some would argue, most effective) means that the conventional purveyors have is not in delivering a better product, but rather in affecting the reputation of the organic model for the worse.

Just some thoughts.

tags technorati : Food Organics Organic Food

Family vs. Corporate farming

Jack forwarded me another NYTimes op-ed piece (LI: accidental PW: hedonist)about food, and it’s definitely one that should be read to get a good idea on the nuances of the “organic vs. local” debates that have been going on of late.

Written by Nina Planck, author of “The Farmers’ Market Cookbook“, she touches upon a thought that I’ve been pondering myself over the past few months:

The organic standards – which ban synthetic fertilizer, antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, genetically engineered ingredients and irradiation – are good for farming, the environment and health. The organic seal is vitally important in shops, where the consumer is several steps removed from the farmer. “Organic” is a legal guarantee that food meets certain standards.

That’s why it is a shame that the Organic Trade Association – a food-industry group whose members include such giants as Kraft, Dean Foods and General Mills, which own national organic brands – is seeking to dilute the organic standards.

The Organic movement has taken off in large part as a response to the tasteless products and horrible environmental practices that a fair amount of the corporate farms have delivered to consumers. As there is finite space within the food market, when organic foods sales grow 20 percent a year, the big boys are going to take notice. More importantly, they’re going to want a piece of the action and use whatever political capital they have to insert themselves into a market that was designed to keep them out.

In response to this, we’ve noticed over the past few years a change from the “organic versus corporate” argument to a discusiion that includes the “local versus organic” one as well.

This is not a small accomplishment.

Because the core essence of the “local” debate, is not organic standards, but rather a rejection of agri-business as a national enterprise. The central tenet of “Local farms” is that you know who grew your corn, tomatoes or wheat. This is a philosophy that the Monsanto’s and ConAgra’s of the world simply cannot compete against, as their business model, by definition, removes any interaction between consumer and grower.

It will be interesting to see how this discussion plays out over the next few years. It took 25 years for the phrase “organic foods” to become part of the everyday lexicon. I expect it will be a much shorter period of time before the “local food” movement gets the same momentum.

Check out the op-ed. It’s a good one.

Technorati Tags: Food and Drink, Organic Food, Buy Local

Tomatoes: Corporate Farming Victim?

If ever you want to see what happens to food when corporate entities take over its mass production for mass consumption, one need not look further than the red fruit that most people mistake for a vegetable.

Those in the food industry generally know that tomatoes are a questionable lot. What we’re purchasing now in the produce section of our (American) grocery stores is a far, far cry from the tomatoes of our youth. I can recall tomatoes sitting on our window-sills, green in color. We waited patiently over the course of one to three days until my mother deemed them ripe. And then we’d make sauce, or have tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches, or simply sliced them up and eat them with a spoonful of sugar on top.

I remember my neighbor, Mr. Ghiaccartti, paying me in tomatoes from his garden for the simple task of walking his dog.

These tomatoes had taste. It didn’t matter if they were perfectly round, or carried an almost cartoonish red color. They were fresh, they were sometimes ugly, they were sometimes yellow or orange, and they were far better than the stuff that we’re forced to swallow today.

So what went wrong?

It seems that I wasn’t the only one who liked tomatoes. There was a huge demand for the fruit, not only in season, but in off season as well. So the corporate farms and scientists looked for ways to make the tomato available year round. Ethylene ripening certainly played a part. Commercial food growers, immediately after picking, stack the tomatoes on pallets in a large room, and for the next three days, ethylene is piped in. The ethylene triggers the creation of enzymes, which break down cell walls and turn starches into sugar. The tomatoes begin softening and turning red. The problem with all for this is that unripe tomatoes are often structurally unstable internally. When one cuts into a tomato and all the viscous juice falls out, this viscous juice was taste potential – parts of the tomato that, if left on the vine, would have become solid and added more sugar to the fruit.

Other problems?

- Growers pick tomatoes, not based on taste, but on structural stability during packing and shipping. And often those tomatoes which ship easier, don’t have the same taste as those which bruise easily.

- They are packed chilled, often below 55 degrees F. A tomato produces a flavor enzyme as it ripens. As soon as the temperature goes below 55 degrees, the enzyme stops producing flavor — permanently. And yet tomatoes are often shipped at 37 degrees.

So what the major problem with tomatoes is that they are picked, packaged and shipped before the tomato has been given the opportunity to reach it’s full taste potential.

Think this isn’t a problem? Consider the fact that in an episode of “Good Eats”, Alton Brown recommended using canned tomatoes when making tomato sauce. Why? Because the tomatoes picked for canning *have* been allowed to reach their full taste potential.

How silly has this looks vs taste argument gotten? Procacci, Gargiulo, Santa Sweets have combined to develop what they call an “UglyRipe”â„¢ tomato. This tomato is open-pollinated and has been preserved and kept true to its purest form. They’re not hybrid tomatoes which are grown for commercial purposes ( which tend to lose both flavor and color after several generations of breeding).

From all reports, the tomatoes taste marvelous. And over the past few years, it has been exempt from various Florida Marketing rules as they were an experimental crop (They are grown in Florida). But then the committee cracked down. Two winters ago, the Florida Tomato Committee ordered UglyRipe to comply with their rules, forcing the Uglyripe producers to discard 40,000 pounds a day. The reason the Florida Tomato Committee demanded that they stop producing these tomatoes?

The Uglyripe tomatoes are too ugly.

The Florida Tomato Committee panel made up of major growers in the state’s $500 million tomato industry, ruled that the UglyRipe could not be sold outside Florida because it did not meet the standards of perfection the marketing rule required.

And this is where we are today. We have arrived to a point where a tomato has been created with taste in mind, can be quelled by an over zealous marketing board. All evidence indicates that the marketplace would have supported this tomato, but because it didn’t look perfect, its future is in doubt. Do we really want to have a marketplace where regulatory agencies discourage innovation in taste?

Many thanks to Metafilter for the inspiration for this post.