Food Disconnect

The hot weather has brought some refreshing times near the pool with family and friends.  Of course, food and drink around the pool are part of our custom here at The Ornato Homestead.  During this past weekend I was chatting with my brother-in-law about food, coffee, organic vs. non-organic, and we stumbled onto the topic of the Harmony Organic Dairy that I offer in small lots.

He questioned what the prices were with respect to a 4L bag of organic milk and I had to think hard but I couldn't believe hearing myself say that is was just over $14 for a 4L bag.  The reason I shocked myself is that I vividly remember paying just under $9 for a 4L bag of President's Choice Organic Milk over the Winter, and I confirmed that this price is still in effect.

So the question I asked myself was, "Why does the price for Harmony Organic milk sound so high when compared to its competition?".

If you actually do the research into the traceability of Harmony Organic's Milk and President's Choice Organic Milk, you'll start to understand why.

Harmony Organic is a grassroots company with roots in Listowel and Kincardine, Ontario.  Lawrence Andres moved from Switzerland and began farming here in 1978.  He was the first in Canada to petition for the separation of his organic milk from the conventional stuff. He was originally part of the Organic Meadow group, but parted ways once they decided that growing big and dealing with grocery store supply chains was their vision.  Andres made a commitment to stay "smaller" and focus on customers who are connected to their food.  When you navigate their website, you can get familiar with their philosophy, their environmental practices, and there's even stories on their cows!

On the contrary, organic milk such as PC Organics "used" to do business with Organic Medows, until they reached an agreement to have Nielsen provide organic products.  You can see what that did to Organic Medows by reading this story, HERE.  Basically, dealing with the "big boys" never ends good for the "small guy".  Moreover, the pursuit of exponential growth tends to create short-cuts and complacency.  When I search PC organics milk and try to find roots to where their milk is from, all I get is Nielsen and a very interesting article about how PC Organics misinformed the public in a Fortino's flyer:


Food disconnection

I started to think long and hard as to why I was questioning the milk price for a fraction of a second and why I don't question my other food sources such as my meat, or eggs, or garden vegetables.  The reason, I concluded, is that I am fully connected and involved in these processes.  I understand the work involved to produce these products and the care we put into their nutrition and processing.  As for milk, I am completely disconnected from the process - that is, until I started diving into the roots of my milk supplier and reading literature on supposedly comparable products.

The more we are disconnected from how the food we eat ends up on our table, the easier it is for marketing departments in big businesses can seduce us into spending out money on what we think are superior, naturally produced products without really knowing.  This seduction leads to us comparing naturally produced products to others based on price and not on quality or principles.


Organic & FairTrade® doesn't mean it's good 

I buy the green coffee beans for O-JOE coffee primarily through my supplier OPTCO who is located in the USA on the West Coast.  I met OPTCO by simply calling them up when started roasting because I liked the whole concept of Café Femenino.  Brian, one of the employees at OPTCO took hours upon hours over the next several weeks just getting to know me, my roasting style and offering tips and tweaks to bring out the best in my coffee beans.  At this point, I hadn't even made an order, and yet every time I called, Brian would take time out of his day to chat.

My first order included Café Femenino from PERU and the incredible Decaf I still roast today.  The downside to dealing with Brian is that his prices are all in USD.  If you have noticed, the Canadian dollar is at its lowest point in the past 10 years, so buying beans at USD prices has eaten a big chunk of profit from my bottom line over the past few months.  The question I ask my self is, " does this matter?"

You see, I happened to get my hands on a sample of coffee beans that are marketed as FairTrade® & Organic Certified.  They're highly sought after beans from the Sumatra region, but are imported to Canada by a Canadian supplier at a cheaper price than what I am paying now.  If you do a side by side comparison( if you had a visual) , you will notice right away that O-JOE Sumatra beans are blue-green, uniform in size and smell fresh with the typical earthy undertones that would reflect Sumatra.  The sample I received included inconsistent sizes, mould, stones and a funky smell.  A friend of mine actually sorted the beans and it turned out that 40% of the beans were defective and nasty looking while 60% might pass ( not sure how this ends up being cheaper).  The point is that I wouldn't add a drop of shit to my food on any day, so why would I accept 40% shit in my coffee just because it's cheaper? Contamination is contamination, so if my beans aren't 100% good, I am not seduced by price. 

Both beans are sold and marketed by roasters as Certified Organic & FairTrade®.  The public wouldn't generally  think to question the quality when you have the backing of the certifying boards, and that they are roasted by people with expertise in speciality coffee. I wouldn't pay 50% less for those sample beans - it would show that I don't care about my craft (or that I put profit over principle) and certainly not about my customers.

There is a trend now that Organic & FairTrade® products stand for quality.  The demand for such foods is so great, that big businesses want to capitalize on it.  My personal philosophy is that when you take a craft and industrialize it, you lose something.  In the case of food, you lose nutrition and care. I think when we go "big" we lose transparency; when we use price as our guiding principle, we lose quality -0 no matter what size business we are. We need to question where our food comes from and accept sources of food that align with our principles.

When we are disconnected from our food, we don't understand what it took to produce it, the livelihoods it supports, and the nutrients it gives -  all we have to compare at that point is the price.  It's completely wrong, and we must work harder to reconnect ourselves to our food and support others who put their passion into their craft.