No One Expects the Organics Inquisition

No expects the Organics Inquisition.

Here is this month’s Green Chain column for the Lake County Record-Bee:

In 312, Roman Emperor Constantine was told in a dream to paint a cross on his army’s shields. Based on that dream, he commanded his generals to have crosses put on pretty much everything. If it went into battle, it had a cross on it. And lo, when his guys faced an army twice the size of his, his army smote them real bad and got pre-medieval on their butts; and Constantine did declare, “Hot Damascus, it worked!” (Obviously, I am paraphrasing; I don’t speak Latin.)

So, Constantine became a Christian, sort of.

In 325, he, being the ruler of the Roman Empire and all, thought he should nail down what it was he believed. So he rounded up a passel of leaders of the early Christian movement and sat them down in the city of Nicaea. The Council of Nicaea, as it came to be known, palavered about a month, wrote down a statement of what they all agreed on (the Nicene Creed), approved some texts for use and disallowed others. All of this pleased some and displeased others. But at the end they all shook hands, said, “Well, that’s that,” and called it “good.”

This consensus resulted in “winners” and “losers” throughout the known world. Schisms, splinters and fractures appeared before the ink had dried on the papyrus. Subsequent Councils worked on those, and patched some, broke others, and created more. Today the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and other Christian denominations still do not agree on many articles and practices of their faith, each one claiming to hold to the true faith.

The point is (lest you think Green Chain should have been placed in the Religion section of the paper) that just as the government tried to get everyone to agree on beliefs in the fourth century, today the green faith roils with dissension regarding its Organic doctrine’s beliefs and practices.

The New York Times published an article titled, “Organic Food Purists Worry About Big Companies’ Influence” on July 7 profiling the founder of Eden Foods, Michael J. Potter, and his quixotic battle against people who do not believe in Organic as he does. According to Potter, heretics have infiltrated the Ecumenical Council—strike that, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

A little history is in order. In 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Organic Foods Production Act creating the National Organic Program (NOP). This act placed the Department of Agriculture in charge of administrating the program and naming the 15 members of the NOSB, who were to “assist in the development of standards for substances to be used in organic production” and advise the Secretary of Agriculture on implementing the program.

Harry Potter

No, sorry, not Harry Potter, Michael Potter.

As a result, the NOSB passes judgment on what is or is not kosher—I mean, what can or cannot be used to produce organic food. In fact, the NOSB has approved a number of non-organic items such as baking soda used in the baking of organic bread.

According to the NY Times’ article, the thrust of Michael Potter’s complaint is that many on the board have connections with, gasp, non-believing big companies. (Yep, Kellogg, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Dole, General-Mills, Kraft, M&M Mars, all make organic foods.) And, he accuses these interlopers of voting to allow blasphemous ingredients, such as carrageenan, a substance derived from seaweed used in cooking, to pass as organic. So incensed is he that he refuses to put the certified-organic label on his own company’s products, which are so much purer, more authentic, and more truly organic than the so-called certified-organic products being passed off as the real deal to an unwitting public.

(Well, I, for one, am shocked, shocked to find that big, profit-motivated companies have jumped into the market. Simply put, organic products fetch a premium price.)

This kerfuffle is not about efficacy but ideological purity. As blogger, Andrew Potter notes, “….[T]he question of whether these various ‘synthetics’ should be allowed or not is entirely political.” And not whether any of the items “are healthy, or good for the environment, or contribute to the taste of the product.”

In the world of ideological purity, nothing matters as much as remaining true to the ideal of the ethos, and only those pure of heart, such as Michael Potter, can divine such things.

It is soon time for the Organics Inquisition.


“According to Lactantius, Constantine was visited by a dream the night before the battle, wherein he was advised ‘to mark the heavenly sign of God on the shields of his soldiers…by means of a slanted letter X with the top of its head bent round, he marked Christ on their shields.’” – (accessed July 14, 2012)

“In 325 CE Constantine called the Council of Nicaea, the first so-called Ecumenical Council of the church, that is the first council at which bishops from around the world were brought together in order to establish a consensus on major points of faith and practice.” – Ehrman, Bart. “Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and Faiths We Never Knew.” Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 2003.

Strom, Stephanie. “Organic Food Purists Worry About Big Companies’ Influence.” New York Times. July 7, 2012. (accessed July 14, 2012)

“What is interesting about the debate as it plays out in this article is that the question of whether these various ‘synthetics’ should be allowed or not is entirely political. That is, Strom goes the entire article without ever confronting what should be the central issue, which is whether any of the controversial ingredients or inputs are healthy, or good for the environment, or contribute to the taste of the product.” Potter, Andrew. “The church of organic.” The Authenticity Hoax – Blog. July 9, 2012. (accessed July 12, 2012)

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