Naturally you want to eat food. It is a necessity and a commodity so imperative that your survival depends on it. Without food the human race would cease to exist. We have created an industry around the creation of dishes, foods, and experiences related to food. After all, we have come a long way from the foods our neanderthal ancestors ate. We have so many options now a days it almost seems impossible for there to be places around the world where hunger still exists. However, most people in the US today don’t know where their food comes from. This can be a problem because foods may or may not be grown or made well, or with natural ingredients that could possibly lead to health issues. But this paper will take it one step further and talk about organics, and the sociology around them, are they really worth it? This paper will take a comparative look at the benefits and disadvantages of organic foods and how it all deals with sociology specifically in the US.
So what is the true definition of an organic food? According to the USDA, the United States Department of Agriculture, “USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives,” (Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means., 2012).This goes to show that since the dawn of the industrial revolution when more and more cities were being built which meant more families were growing, food as a commodity became even more crucial to not only one’s diet but also the economy. Food has always been an important commodity around the world since the time people discovered flavor, and the need to eat to survive. But specifically in the US around the time of the settlement in the new world, and the boom of the industrial revolution, people have needed more amounts of food.
This means that there needed to be more farms, with more livestock and more crops to keep up with the growing numbers of populations. As time went on and cities were being developed and populated, grocery stores were put in place to meet the need for food in growing populations. At some point it became so mainstream to just buy food that was available at a grocery store. Options weren’t questioned because there was a lack of communication and knowledge through platforms such as social media and the internet, because those platforms weren’t yet created, and news traveled much slower. Also, seeing as there was a rise in the demand for foods, but lack of knowledge and questioning of ingredients, big named stores started to wipe out smaller run markets or family run businesses. In order to keep up with the demand of how much food was being consumed, companies started to make those compromises in the ingredients list. Chemicals would be added for preservation and shelf life, colors and dyes would be added to be more appealing, and unnecessary amounts of sugar would be added to trick the brain into wanting more. Now much of this has to do with marketing and neurobiology in that companies have found ways to manipulate products to make consumer’s brains need more sugar or crave certain things, but this paper is more about how the people were influenced in that they were being led to just have certain options when it came to the grocery store, and the societal acceptances and norms of buying certain foods. But overtime, research has been done to show the effects of certain pesticides used on foods, artificial colors and dyes, and additives on the human body. This garnered in the age of the organics.
With more and more people being aware of the possible health issues due to the current foods on the market, the demand for more quality natural foods ushered in the time for farmers to have agricultural standards that would certify their foods as organic. This meant more and more foods would go under inspection and be put through tests to see the quality of the ingredients. Still much of this information is withheld from the consumer. Overtime with such a high demand for organic foods, stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and Fresh Market would pop up in plazas not too far from a Walmart, or Publix. People were given more options, they had the say in which stores to buy eggs from, or to get, or not to get diary free milk. The choice was made up by the consumer, not by the supplier which would mean limited options on shelves. With that being said, customers started to buy products that had fewer additives, dyes or chemicals added to increase shelf life. Health and the idea of living past one’s 50s became a novel idea that all wanted to achieve. This had a lot to do with food which converted a lot of people to eating organic foods.
With this huge uproar in organic goods, farmers and stores had to become more and more picky as to what went into and still goes into the foods being made. But how many people really buy organic foods and how many actually know the benefits. Or is the organic food fad just that, a fad? Let’s take a look at two differing arguments, the first is that organic foods are beneficial for health and have become widely accepted in the cultural and societal aspect of food norms. The second is that food considered “organic” is just a label used by marketing companies to make more money on practices that farmers should already have in place, along with the disadvantages and little societal normality they hold. This is somewhat of a controversial topic because so many regulations and government policies are in place that it makes it hard to know where the boundary of the government and where the boundary of the consumer is.
Let’s take a look at the first argument, being that organic foods are good to buy, with health benefits and societal acceptance. Now to break down the sub portions of this point. Organic foods as mentioned before started to pop up in super markets because consumers were becoming more and more aware of the quality of the foods they were eating and the possible health benefits. Based on a Time magazine article on the benefits of organic foods, according to a study done by British Journal of Nutrition in 2016, “When it comes to meat and milk, organic products can have about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated healthy fat, than conventionally produced products,” (MacMillan, A., & Naftulin, J., 2017). There are benefits of the use of organic products seeing as there are fewer traces of pesticides and chemicals found in the actual food. Organic food also doesn’t have as much toxic carcinogenic chemicals in the soil due to run off or other mixing of pesticides with acid rain or other combinations of chemicals. This goes to show that the more organic foods consumed the fewer amounts of chemicals will be found in one’s body. That could go to decrease the amount of risk of certain diseases like cancer.
Let’s take a look at what organic food means from different sociological perspectives. From the structural-functionalism theory, being a look into the macro side of sociology and how things work based on large institutions, the idea of using organics works very well within that of a grocery store. The grocery store serves as an institution that plays a role in the society of the area, specifically in the US. Even more so in Florida the grocery stores that are around certain communities play a huge role in the types of foods available to consumers. Within the realm of organics, with this theory it goes to show that from a macro standpoint, having another healthier option of food, organics, gives consumers the ability to create a societal acceptance of eating better foods stemming from that of the institution being the grocery store. From the perspective of the conflict theory that deals with a macro standpoint, and the competition for resources specifically between the poor and the rich, organic foods allows there to be more amounts of food to go around. The demand levels for the foods would balance out based on what the rich and poor can afford.
Finally from the symbolic interactionist perspective, that takes a look through the micro lens, using organics would be looked at through face to face interactions. What this means is that the interaction between consumers about organic foods would be what is observed. If a woman in a grocery store looks at an organic apple and a man talks to her about the benefits and she then decides to buy the apple, this would be a symbolic interaction dealing with organic foods. The more and more positive symbolic interactions had between people or consumers about organic foods, would increase the amount of organic foods sold therefore indicate that people are willing to put forth the money for organics if they believe there are enough benefits and it is societally or culturally accepted in their region.
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