I buy the stuff every week; I’m what you’d call a loyal customer.
Even so, I’m not completely sold on PC Organics.
When Loblaws (Real Canadian Superstore in Whitehorse) introduced its President’s Choice “Organics” line in 2000, it meant that I could buy pesticide-free fruits and vegetables year round, not to mention canned goods, like green beans with only two instead of 10 ingredients: “Organic green beans” and “water.”
The competitive pricing of PC Organics, a result of Loblaws’ ability to mass-market, and the convenience of shopping at one big-box store instead of both the big-box and the health food store, also attracted me.
The new PC line seemed too good to be true.
I overcame my initial skepticism of PC Organics by reading its labels and finding that the products lived up to their name, although I do still shake my head that such a loaded term as “organics” can be patented, and thus owned, by a multinational.
I became comfortable with the new PC label.
So comfortable, in fact, that I started buying anything and everything Organics and stopped reading their ingredients.
I added to my list of Organics favourites whole-wheat flour and yoghurt, and eventually foods that I would never have bought before, such as Organics’ Animal Cookies and Crunchy Corn cereal (corn puffs).
When I finally did check out the cookie label — only to find out what addictive ingredient was making me inhale an entire box in one sitting — I understood the PC Organics scam. (Actually, what I thought to myself was, “You’re an idiot!”)
What I was inhaling was sugar and fat, organic sugar and fat, but sugar and fat nonetheless.
Those cute little animal cookies had little or no redeeming qualities. And the Crunchy Corn didn’t fare much better.
I should have remained loyal to the health food stores; they never would have duped me by disguising junk food as health food.
But why did I expect Loblaws would follow the ideals of the organic movement?
It’s a multinational chain that imports from wherever is cheapest in the world, whereas organic farms have traditionally been small, family businesses that sell locally — and which have grown up in reaction to the profit-driven machine that is industrialized agriculture.
I really wanted to believe that the more acreage devoted to organic farming, the better.
But it turns out things are not so simple.
It’s not just that the niche market of organic farming is suffering because of large-scale supermarket involvement.
Critics rightly charge that a large-scale organic monocrop is no better than a field sprayed with noxious chemicals when crop seed diversity is sacrificed and when massive amounts of fossil fuels are used for long-distance shipping.
It is estimated that 85 per cent of organic foods in Canada are imported, mainly from Mexico, Europe and the United States.
Some small organic farmers have actually suggested that the fossil fuels expended during transport should be factored in to the organic certification process.
But I don’t think Loblaws or other organic giants will ever agree to that.
Nearly half of all organic purchases in 2000 were made in mass-market outlets such as the Loblaws stores, according to the Agriculture and Agri-Food report on the organic markets in Canada and the US.
And that trend is growing.
PC Organics boasts today 300 certified organic products, including infant formula, up from the 25 products it introduced at its launch in 2000.
More and more mainstream players have hopped on the organic bandwagon. In fact, more than 40 per cent of the packaged organic food products on our supermarket shelves is being produced by some of the biggest companies in the world, including Kellogg, Kraft and M&M/Mars.
Selected Wal-Mart stores now sell a line of organic cotton bath and baby items.
And the bio-engineering monolith Monsanto has purchased Seminis, a giant in its own right with control over much of the world’s organic seed varieties.
Organic farmers are so discouraged by the overtaking of the organic industry by the big boxes and mega-seed companies that they believe they must think up a new word to describe what they are growing.
It’s a shame that the PC Organics and other mass-marketed organic food lines have turned out to be such a sinister scam in so many ways, because they have done some good.
Their presence in Canadian supermarkets has increased awareness of organic foods and made them more popular, especially among the poorest sectors of the population, which don’t tend to shop in specialty stores, and would be unwilling or unable to pay specialty store prices anyway.
It will be hard to educate us all again when a new, more authentic version of “organic” reclaims its unique place in the agriculture industry.
I hope the organic growers choose something simple — for people like me, who are easily swindled by good-looking cookies with a good name.