I Hate the Term Organic Food

I hate the term organic when it comes to food. Why? It’s a matter of definitions.

Organic food is called as such because it is generally pesticide free, lacking in certain growth additives, uses no irradiation, or solvents. There are specific standards set up by the USDA which govern what can and cannot be called organic. But, is that the traditional definition of the word organic? I’d say not and I’ll explain it to you. But first, let’s back up a step and explain why I care so much.

I’m a chemical engineer by education having both a Bachelors and Masters in the field. Suffice it to say, I spent a lot of time in the chemistry labs as well as specifically a solid 4 years of that time in biochemistry labs working with DNA and various proteins I was synthesizing in vitro. I dealt with biochemicals and as such I dealt with organic compounds. What did that mean? Organic compounds are those which are made from carbon. There is some variation on this as various chemicals containing carbon such as graphite and carbon dioxide are generally classified as inorganic, but generally speaking if it contains carbon it is an organic compound. What does this mean? Let’s think about that for a moment.

What are organic compounds? Well, that would include things like your basic sugars, corn starch, proteins, and even the DNA in your body. Do you know what else is organic by the chemistry definition? Solvents. Most pesticides. Most of the constituents of diesel and gasoline. Ethanol and other alcohols. Yup, all organic.

The point is, by the classic definition used in chemistry, all of these previously mentioned items are organic. That’s the definition I always went by. That’s the definition I still have in my head. So, when I hear it applying to food in a totally different context, it annoys me. It no longer retains its previous meaning and takes what it meant into a wholly different direction. There was no reason to misappropriate this word. There are many ways these can be defined. You can define them by their lack of certain less than desirable components (hormone free, irradiation free, solvent free). Or you could just go nuts and have developed a new term for these types of foods (example, natural foods [which has no formal definition legally], freesh foods [combination of free and fresh to denote free from certain undesirable components], or phis-free foods [acronym of pesticide, hormone, irradiation, and solvent]). Instead they chose to take a term with an already well defined scientific meaning and modify it to their liking.

Oh well.

I’ll just sit here being the curmudgeon who hates on the term organic foods…enjoy your freesh salad…

About the Author

Matthew Newman
Matthew Newman is an environmental engineer (Professionally licensed in Maryland). He’s also a husband, beard aficionado, Dad of four beautiful children, blogger, and all around geeky guy from Baltimore County. When he’s not chasing his kids or working, he’s probably asleep.

2 Comments on "I Hate the Term Organic Food"

  1. I think you’re destined to be peeved for a while 😛

    My pet peeve for years has been the use of the word “literally” when, in fact, the speaker or writer means its clear opposite, “figuratively.” However, as I’ve come to learn as a foreign language learner myself, language is entirely fluid and meanings constantly morph. With its popular use, I’d say “organic foods” are here to stay for better or worse.

    • Matthew Newman | July 26, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Reply

      Curses! But why can’t we use clearly better expressions like “Freesh” food. Such a better term.

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