Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Anal retentive organics

Organic? Are you sure?It's back to school time and with that comes cooperation with other parents in a group environment. At Emma's preschool there is a demand by one of the parents to only provide organic foods for snack time. We've known this family for several years and every year it's the same, although this year the pressure on the rest of the parents is more intense. From the school:

We are also striving to make organic choices for our snacks. Snack items such as dairy and meats (for non-vegetarian families) have specifically been requested to be organic, so if you are able to buy organic foods please sign up for those.

On one hand, I applaud the fact that they are moving to providing only organic snack items. But, some of the parents are completely freaking out about providing snacks now. For some it's a cost issue, but for many, they just don't generally buy organics so they don't know what to get.

One thing that I think gets lost in the shuffle is the whole concept of organic as being the only healthy choice. Organic food items coming from China and South America do not follow the same stringent (albeit watered-down in recent years) rules as produce and food products manufactured and/or sold in the U.S.

So, while it may appear to be "organic", how does that compare to a local producer who follows Oregon Tilth organic practices yet doesn't or can't afford to become certified organic? Some producers may even choose to not be certified on principle yet follow stringent organic and permaculture farming techniques.

The important thing is to take into consideration all factors when choosing your food, particularly for our little ones. Buying organic food from Walmart or the like does not necessarily guarantee that you are getting a better product when compared to something seemingly conventional.

You can also look for labels such as Certified Ecologically Sound, Food Alliance Certified, or local (state) certifications for sustainably grown food. So, there's one more reason to shop at farmers markets or at stores where you get to know the grower and find out more about how your food is produced.


Bird Wicks said...

I've come to a point where I either shop at grower's markets or produce stands so I can talk to the grower direct or buying as many Oregon Tilth certified foods as possible. I just don't trust the USDA and some of the other certification people out there!

Anderson Family said...

This is why everyone needs to just bring for themselves. We all have our peeves or allergies and it's just not right to inflict them on everyone else. We don't do HFCS, but it isn't right for use to say, no way to everyone else, so we just do our own thing. Then you have the dairy & nut allergies. Pretty soon there' nothing left that meets all of the requirements.

Anonymous said...

This is a hairy situation. If the school wants to be so strict I think that everyone should just provide for their own child too.

I also understand that standards are different everywhere. Many farmers try to the best by their farms and their produce. For instance much of Australian cattle could qualify for organic status but it costs to much. If you want to be very sure either raise your own food or as Bird says shop where you can talk to the person on the land.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you could give us some details of how organic certification is carried out in South America. Is it really regulated differently?

Robin Shreeves said...

Is this a pubic school or a private school? Or is it a preschool?

I think that any parent who insists that his/her child only eat a certain thing should have to provide it - even if that meant sending in an individual snack every day.

Parents who know nothing about organics or can't afford organics probably are flustered right now.

If I were a teacher/administrator in that school I'd probably send a note home saying something like:

"Healthy food is important for your child's education because blah, blah, blah.

Because of this, we're encouraging parents to consider organics when preparing snacks for the class.

Here is a list of easy organic snacks that won't empty out your wallet:


If you can't provide organics, here is a list of other, healthy snacks that are good for the children


There is so much more to feeding a family healthy, nutritious whole foods than just grabbing the poly bag of pre-cut organic carrots.

I understand the parent is trying to good for her kid and the rest of the kids in the class, but she needs to further educate herself.

There's a huge learning curve with this stuff.

Leslie said...

Amen to Robin's comment! My daughter's preschool has such complex rules for bringing snack (which we all are assigned two days/month) that it's like ordering off a multi-column menu! I would love it if they gave some really clear guidance like she suggested.

Anonymous said...

you just reminded me - it's farm share day! Local food going strong in New England for a few more weeks.
When I purchase snack food items, I focus more on ingredients on the label. Pretzels will never be as healthy as peaches, but I can't bring peaches for 30 kids to school (Can't afford it!), so I look for real food ingredients - without too long of a label.

jewishfarmer said...

One thought - could parents organize a field trip to the local farmer's market, and subsidize snack purchases *BY THE KIDS* there? This might help educate kids and parents about local vs. industrial organic, and actually have educational value for the kids, rather than "make them nuts" value for the parents ;-).


Alexandra said...

Organic is wonderful and I buy organic and/or local as often as possible, but I have also been vegan for six years and slowly educated myself until I got to this point. Even know I would not press my choices on anyone else.

Maybe, instead of requiring organic snacks at school, they could ask parents to only send unprocessed, whole food, snacks because that might be a step toward health that is a bit more accessible for everyone and is still healthy for the children and helpful in combating childhood obesity. I also imagine that for parents with financial issues it would be easier on the wallet to buy fresh fruit, grains, beans, than to by fruit snacks, cookies, and Doritos. Those are my crunchy thoughts.

JessTrev said...

Wow, this is such an interesting post. My kid goes to a public school, and while I would prefer that she not get Otter Pops *every day* I generally let whatever happens outside my purview just, well, happen. Altho I philosophically agree w/the meat and dairy organic over produce/grains - fat binds to toxins + research on bennies of fruits and veggies are done w/conventional produce I, like Robin and others, would never dream of imposing that (often costly and complicated as you point out vis a vis farmers mkts and certification) burden on other parents. I look at it this way. I'm not preparing snack that day! Woo hoo! Thanks for the help. My kid will be fine with limited exposure to just about anything. Well, not downer cow, but...

EJ said...

Which grains and beans in snack format (easy to eat, easy to prepare prepare, will be eaten by kids) are cheaper and less work than fruit snacks, cookies, and Doritos?

If we can figure this out we're almost home free on this issue.

Green Bean said...

I agree that organic is not the end all, be all for food. But I think that organics is an entry point for many into greening the food system.

If the entire planet switched to organic agriculture, we'd sequester40% of our carbon emissions. But, as Andrew Kimbrell said at Slow Food Nation, organic is the foundation. We need to move beyond that - to a food system that is humane, promotes biodiversity, is local, and is socially just.

I don't necessarily think it is a bad thing for a school, when snack is communal, to ask people to provide organic snacks, or snacks without HFCS, or to pack waste free lunches. Help (in terms of pamphlets, emails, a presentation) would be in order so people learn where to buy that stuff and why it is important. I would think that buying food from local farmers who look you in the face and tell you that they don't use pesticides or commercial fertilizers would constitute organic. Organic doesn't need to be the only starting point. Eliminating HFCS, asking for more whole foods, why not?

Why do we all have to sit quietly while communal snacks of goldfish crackers and donuts are handed out? Last week at soccer, I saw parents handing out donuts and cupcakes for snack. I agree that the starting point might be healthier foods but you have to start somewhere and if these people want to step up and ask for organic, well, that is a starting place.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness. I think it's out of line to pressure parents to bring organic -- if only because what if you normally do organic, but the *one day* you have snack you are slammed and can't make a special trip or prepare bean dip? Or you don't want to be the parent who always brings [insert yucky food here]? Or you believe less packaging or more local or healthier is more important than individually packaged, but organic, sweets? Parenting is becoming so very pressured. (At our school, we are no longer having standard school photos, but a special photographer -- the photos are gorgeous, but cost $20 for a 4x6 print as a fund-raiser.) Take care of your own change, educate your children, and the change will keep spreading without its being a policy.

Anonymous said...

My daughter attends a fairly crunchy kindergarten and the parents and administration are more interested in the content of the snack than the content of the foods in the snack. Personally, I follow the same rules for bringing a snack as I do for my own child. If I don't buy things with hfcs for my family, then I make those same choices in the snack (usually while wincing at the cost). But I don't concern myself with what other people bring for snack. If 80% of what my family eats fits my personal rules for healthy eating, then I'm happy.

I'd like to think there's a desire to educate behind the all organics request, but it puts a lot of pressure on families that don't normally think about those things. And you can certainly put together a snack that is completely organic, but low in nutrition. A snack doesn't need a pedigree, it just needs to carry the kids to the next meal with a reasonable dose of nutrition.

Anonymous said...

I am *so glad* my kid is in a place that doesn't emphasize parental labor. I don't know what we're going to do when he goes to real school, if they have all these extra demands - there are evenings we barely manage to feed ourselves, much less make snack for 60 little eaters, all with various dietary restrictions.

I have a coworker who will pass up local producec if it's been sprayed at all, even IPM minimal spray, in favor of organic produce from New Zealand or Chile. If organic is the only yardstick for "healthy" your kids may end up eating a lot of cookies made with dehydrated cane juice instead of sugar.

Anderson Family said...

Robin's idea is great. You need to give people options if they are new to it. I think all preschools should have options so that they don't get the donuts & cupcakes. The worst is if you prefer your child not to eat those things and they're being doled out and you say no, how bad does your kid feel now? Not to mention, how can they parents so mindlessly fill their kids full of crap?

Anonymous said...

I think focusing too much on organic is a negative thing, though it is a lazy, easy thing to throw your money at. What is better? Some organic Chilean plums? Or some plums from your uncertified backyard tree? Organic pinto beans from China? (like what Trader Joe's used to sell before people complained) Or beans grown in a fertile valley near your home? There is also the whole issue of organic dairy producers such as Horizon that can still be unkind to their cows.

I'll buy organic if it is local or localish (California or Oregon), but otherwise, it might not even out to be worth it.

Anonymous said...

To echo what Cheap Like Me had to say... it seems ridiculous to pressure parents to bring a particular kind of food. Yes, eating organic/whole foods/high nutrition/low HFCS is going to be healthier than eating poptarts. Yes we should be teaching our kids to expand their palates beyond mac-n-cheese and hopefully to do so in a healthy manner. But this strikes me as yet another avenue for ratcheting up the parenting game in a really counter-productive way. There are plenty of good healthy options that aren't necessarily organic and imposing such requirements on what parents are "supposed" to bring for snack seems to amount to dictating to other parents about how they should parent Just Like You.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget about the local growers who say their produce is "grown without pesticides." I've seen that with sev'l local farms in my area that don't want to pay the cost of becoming certified organic and have been around for a long time growing organically.

My son goes to a Waldorf preschool and the teacher prepares the snack everyday. It's always a cooked grain and usually a non-allergenic one but it's a small group of kids and the teacher knows who has what food allergy if any. One day a week they make rolls and help prepare it (which they all love to do) and then get to eat it with homemade honey butter at snack time. If anyone is allergic, she makes substitutions for that kid.

At Waldorf schools, they recommend to parents in the registration materials to only pack nutritious lunches for their kids and keep it low sugar. I know at a different Waldorf camp my son went to this summer, they gave a list of suggestions for packing a good lunch. They said organic would be "preferred" but did stress whole foods over processed. At that camp they did a fruit salad one day a week where each kid brought in some fruit for it and there they did say it had to be organic for the shared snack. I was glad about that because lots of summer fruits are extremely high on the list for pesticides - peaches and apples are the top two on the EWG's Dirty Dozen list.

I think if my son was in a huge class eating HFCS and pesticide foods for snack everyday, both of which we don't do, I would rather pack his own snack and lunch and have no problem doing that just so we don't impose on other parents who may not think it's as important as I do.

Although, once you read up a bit on how those additives affect kids so much, it's not really that big a deal to buy cleaner foods and they are not more expensive esp. if you buy those items when on sale. I did a post a few months ago about a study that was done and was published in the Lancet on how food additives directly caused hyperactivity:

Anonymous said...

BYOS - Bring Your Own Snack sounds like the way to go.
If you want to bring in a special "birthday snack" maybe something like muffins instead of cupcakes - or pencils or stickers and the birthday preschooler gets to wear a special crown for the day.

Robj98168 said...

But They don't make organic twinkies :( Although I hear that Newmans Own "oreo's" are pretty good :)

Gretchen said...

Thanks for the info. I had no idea that "certified organic" meant different things depending on its country of origin. Good to know for the future.

I don't even buy organic anything, but now I know in case I ever have to buy organic in the future.

And on a side note, I am so SICK of "snack time". At my kid's school, we were given a list of, like 4 choices of things to bring at the beginning of the year (pretzels, graham crackers, animal crackers, or cheez-its). The teacher kept these on hand and gave them out throughout the year for snack, along with water to drink. It was SO nice and I think SO much more appropriate.

GoSustaino said...

Great post! I've been reading your blog for a while and find your topics interesting. Speaking of organic food, schools and diseases...check out the speech from TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Basically, Matt Brittman discusses what's wrong with what we eat.

Check it out:


Anonymous said...

I'm watching this week's finance sector mirroring the beginnings of the Great Depression, and I'm just not finding it in me to feel some passionate crusade about whether or not a kid's snack at school is "organic".

I fear that with the winter's heating costs predicted to rise 30-70% above last years, and for the winter to be longer and colder; combined with the floundering economy, and the failure of so many key companies; that we're going to be seeing people going hungry.

Not just "I want a snack" hungry. But a gnawing in the belly, Oliver Twist sort of hungry.

Makes concern over "organic snacks" look pretty darn trivial.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Anonymous - Good grief, of course. There are a million other topics that make the organic snack issue look trivial.

Fresh and Feisty said...

Organic food items coming from China and South America do not follow the same stringent (albeit watered-down in recent years) rules as produce and food products manufactured and/or sold in the U.S. Just to be clear, produce from other countries both organic and conventional do not have different rules. They are "supposed" to meet all US regulations. This means they cannot use pesticides that do not have tolerances for that produce if they want to sell them in the US. Does that mean there isn't abuse? Absolutely not! We have abuse in the US too though. The true problem is enforcement. USDA simply doesn't have enough staff, time or money to test all international produce. Organics from overseas must be certified by someone the USDA has said is a certifying agent. Again, lack of enforcement. You and I could read a book and become a certifier. I'm not disagreeing with Crunchy's post I just wanted to make clear that overseas produce is not subject to different rules, just a lack of enforcement!

Anonymous said...

Why do people pack cheetos? Because they can't bring fresh or unprocessed foods to schools out of a fear of lawsuits.

And they wonder why we have obesity problem!