by Kieran Healy on July 9, 2007

I had to stop at the local Wild Oats this morning to pick up my monthly supply of liberal condescension. Some of the fruit was labeled “Organic.” The non-organic stuff was labeled “Conventional.” I found this a little odd, because when I see “Conventional” used as a label, I expect its opposite to be “Nuclear.”

{ 1 trackback }

links for 2007-07-11 at Jacob Christensen
07.11.07 at 12:28 pm



ogged 07.09.07 at 5:33 pm

Asymmetrical Islamist Grapefruit.


Cryptic Ned 07.09.07 at 5:38 pm

I noticed this weekend that one brand of canned refried beans comes in the varieties “Low-fat”, “Vegetarian”, and “Authentic”.


Jasper Milvain 07.09.07 at 6:09 pm

An extremely good pub near where I used to live had two menu blackboards, one headed “Welcome to [name of pub]” and the other headed “Vegetarians”. Given that they had as many veggie options as meaty ones, I doubt the slight was deliberate.


Michael Bérubé 07.09.07 at 6:11 pm

Actually, you can get nuclear fruit at some places. It’s really, really big and it comes in very vibrant colors. But as Jonah Goldberg points out in his new book, Whole Foods won’t stock it because of their antinuclear liberal fascism.


Vance Maverick 07.09.07 at 6:15 pm

In San Francisco, the opposite of “Organic” is often “Commercial”. Good for a laugh as you check the price of the organic produce….


PL 07.09.07 at 6:38 pm

Yeah, in the Minneapolis area, it was “organic” vs “commercial,” too. Early on, we thought it was amusing that the main stream produce was the “commie” stuff….


mollymooly 07.09.07 at 6:46 pm

The opposite of “conventional” is “of mass destruction”. This has several subtypes, one of which is “chemical”; which is divided into “organic” and “inorganic”. My vegetables are “home-made” or “dirty”.


Alan Bostick 07.09.07 at 6:53 pm

vance maverick@5: Say what?

The circles I travel in, across the Bay in Berkeley and Oakland, the “Commercial” (or “Industrial”) rubric includes the mass-market industrial organic food sold at Whole Foods. To get the real deal, you have to go to the farmer’s markets.

Go read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Go directly to read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Do not pass “Go,” do not collect two hundred dollars.


Jeff R. 07.09.07 at 6:59 pm

Maybe they’re bridge players? There, the opposite of ‘Conventional’ is ‘Natural’, which is close enough for government co-op work.


thag 07.09.07 at 7:51 pm

so what label would you recommend them to use?

they’ve got to walk a line, after all. they want to advocate organic stuff (“they” = most places like Wild Oats, Whole Foods, etc.), but they still want to move the other stuff, and also cannot piss off their suppliers.

So, e.g. “Chemical-Soaked” is right out.

all in all, I think “Conventional” may be about as neutral-bordering-on-disapproving as they can get.


Kieran Healy 07.09.07 at 8:05 pm

How about “Poisonous”?


Slocum 07.09.07 at 8:34 pm

To get the real deal, you have to go to the farmer’s markets.



Tracy W 07.09.07 at 9:02 pm

My trigger is whenever something is described as having “real” ingredients. It always gives me an impulse to dash out and find the “imaginary” and “complex” versions.

I really want some peanut butter made out of complex ingredients.


Alan Bostick 07.09.07 at 9:14 pm

Slocum@12: That’s all well and good, but the farmer’s market culture in France is not the farmer’s market culture in the USA, especially not in urban Northern California. Farmer’s markets in France are part of the mainstream food distribution network. The farmer’s markets here are explicitly countercultural. The Berkely farmer’s market organizers place explicit restrictions vendors’ growth techniques. What is sold there is entirely locally grown.

Whereas Whole Foods and Wild Oats merchandise is largely industrially farmed Big Organic produce — if not wholly manufactured crap in which the high fructose corn syrup and xanthan gum happens to be distilled from organically grown corn.

You’re better off buying from Whole Foods than Safeway — if you can afford it — because Whole Foods’ merchandise has a somewhat lighter ecological footprint than conventional grocers’ merchandise. At the same time, Whole Foods’ produce is often trucked from the other side of the country or airlifted from the other side of the world, with consequent energy and greenhouse gas costs.


Vance Maverick 07.09.07 at 9:55 pm

Alan, calm down. Note I said “often”. And of course I’ve read Pollan. Understanding his book doesn’t commit me to mis-observing the plain labeling of (some of) the food in front of me.

Perhaps you could take up this egregious usage problem with the real violators, the swank markets of our fair Area.


Bernard Yomtov 07.10.07 at 12:04 am

Maybe they’re bridge players?

Nah. Then “conventional” asparagus would turn out to be kidney beans.


Dan Simon 07.10.07 at 12:06 am

I found this a little odd, because when I see “Conventional” used as a label, I expect its opposite to be “Nuclear.”

It’s all a matter of familiarity, I guess. When I see “organic” used as a label, I (still) expect its opposite to be “inorganic”.


DonBoy 07.10.07 at 2:29 am

“I have two typewriters, an electric and an acoustic.”

OK, that was pretty funny back in the 1970s.


Sam 07.10.07 at 5:56 am

I really want some peanut butter made out of complex ingredients.

Then what you want is corporate peanut butter made with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is produced by processing corn starch to yield glucose, and then processing the glucose to produce a high percentage of fructose. It all sounds rather simple–white cornstarch is turned into crystal clear syrup. However, the process is actually very complicated. Three different enzymes are needed to break down cornstarch, which is composed of chains of glucose molecules of almost infinite length, into the simple sugars glucose and fructose.

First, cornstarch is treated with alpha-amylase to produce shorter chains of sugars called polysaccharides. Alpha-amylase is industrially produced by a bacterium, usually Bacillus sp. It is purified and then shipped to HFCS manufacturers.

Next, an enzyme called glucoamylase breaks the sugar chains down even further to yield the simple sugar glucose. Unlike alpha-amylase, glucoamylase is produced by Aspergillus, a fungus, in a fermentation vat where one would likely see little balls of Aspergillus floating on the top.

The third enzyme, glucose-isomerase, is very expensive. It converts glucose to a mixture of about 42 percent fructose and 50-52 percent glucose with some other sugars mixed in. While alpha-amylase and glucoamylase are added directly to the slurry, pricey glucose-isomerase is packed into columns and the sugar mixture is then passed over it. Inexpensive alpha-amylase and glucoamylase are used only once, glucose-isomerase is reused until it loses most of its activity.

There are two more steps involved. First is a liquid chromatography step that takes the mixture to 90 percent fructose. Finally, this is back-blended with the original mixture to yield a final concentration of about 55 percent fructose–what the industry calls high fructose corn syrup.

HFCS, which they are finding out is probably not good for us (much less so than real sugar) is an extremely complicated process using highly subsidized crops that are also genetically modified and then dosed with massive amounts of petro-chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungucides, herbicides and more, then called conventional when none of it existed 100 years ago and what’s called organic now was what conventional was then.

All these chemicals and the modern way of growing food makes us a giant test case where we find out what’s wrong with this way of doing it after it’s been done… to us.

Unfortunately it’s killing the soil; setting us up for Dust Bowl II and the run offs from the chemicals are infiltrating our waterways and groundwater creating hypoxic dead zones including one the size of New Jersey at the mouth of the Mississippi in the Gulf which has decimated the shrimp industry and others in that area. There are many others on each coast and it’s all due to “conventional” food.

They say that organic can’t feed us (which is the corporate machine trying to brainwash us) but it’s conventional that will destroy us.


shaftesbury 07.10.07 at 7:19 am

My diet consists wholly of inorganic fruits and vegetables, though for reasons that escape me, the store insists on labelling them twinkies and hohos.


Thomas 07.10.07 at 9:00 am

I’m reminded of the scene in 28 Day Later when the heroes go sprinting through an abandoned supermarket and find that all of the fruit has spoiled except for one display of apples.

The father leans over them and says, “MMMMM, irradiated,” and smiles before happily carries of the fruit.

Of course, he gets the plague and is then gunned down in broad daylight two minutes later, but that’s not really the point here.


ajay 07.10.07 at 11:19 am

when I see “Conventional” used as a label, I expect its opposite to be “Nuclear.”

In marriage terms, of course, the opposite of “conventional” is “gay”.

I used to shop in a Co-op where there were two chiller cabinets full of cheese. One, labelled “Cheese”, contained variations on Cheddar. The other contained everything else – Brie, Stilton, Edam, Port Salut, Chevre and so on – and was labelled, in a disapproving typeface, “Fancy Cheese”.


chris y 07.10.07 at 11:21 am

I’m still looking for inorganic fruit and veg, but those damn great carbon molecules get everywhere.


Dan Simon 07.10.07 at 5:55 pm

Now that I think about it, perhaps Wild Oats and its ilk should label their non-organic produce, “treyf”…


Kieran Healy 07.10.07 at 6:09 pm

Or “Soylent.”


Tracy W 07.10.07 at 8:33 pm

I really want some peanut butter made out of complex ingredients.

Then what you want is corporate peanut butter made with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

I’ve read your description and I don’t see any imaginary ingredients being used. Just a lot of cooking. Sorry mate, not complex enough for me.

And the thought of “glucose molecules of almost infinite length” is making my head hurt. How do you get something that is almost infinity? I mean the whole point of infinity is that it’s not a number. You can’t almost “be infinte”, something either is infinite or it isn’t. Doesn’t give me much confidence in the technical analysis of how the corn syrup is made. Of course we can talk about different sizes of infinity, but that’s a separate issue.

This is why I stopped tutoring at university. People keep treating infinity as if it was just a really really large number, it drives me insane.


Tracy W 07.11.07 at 2:52 am

Or to put it another way, even if the glucose molecules were so long that they filled the entire universe, leaving no room for the three enzymes, let alone myself or Sam to contemplate them, the glucose molecules would still not be of “nearly infinite length”.


shaftesbury 07.11.07 at 10:39 am

25– twinkies are people! with yummy creamy centers…

Comments on this entry are closed.