My Organic Origins
By Phil Anderson
During the late 1980’s I worked as a chef at Gelson’s Markets, an up-scale grocery chain in Los Angeles. My habit—then as now—was to read constantly in order to keep abreast of the “goings-on” in my industry. One subject that appeared repeatedly in my culinary magazines and journals was the emergence of the “organics movement.” Simultaneously, I began seeing more food labeled “organic.”
During its inception, the organics movement fundamentally consisted of family-owned and operated farms. These farms’ owners understood that sustainability was inherent to our earth’s survival and the ability of future generations to flourish. The organic farming ideology was “nurture the earth while teaching others the importance of sustainability.”
Since it was my job to develop all of the recipes offered in the deli/fresh foods department, vendors often gave me “samples” of their foodstuffs, hopeful that I would choose to stock these items in our store. I had the pleasure of meeting Larry Jacobs and Sam Darling through this process and they proved to be two of the gentlest and kindest entrepreneurs I have ever known.
Sam and Larry grew organic herbs and tomatoes in Baja, Mexico. Their motto was: “organic foods, grown in fertile soil by loving, gentle hands, help nourish the land as well as its’ people.” That philosophy rang true to me.
Understandably, Big Business took notice as organics gained popularity. Agribusiness and massive factory-like production farms saw that there was a lot of money to be made and they wanted to “cash in.” At its’ inception, organics had no regulatory entity, “organics” had no true definition. As a result, the massive farms often used synthetic chemicals, pesticides, growth hormones, and food additives, with impunity. These were the very processes to which the true organics movement was strictly opposed! And true believers like myself were outraged. Adding insult to injury, many of the family-run farms who promoted organics in its purest form were bullied out of existence because agribusiness farms were funded by the government.
In 2002 the USDA finally began to regulate the organics movement. Once people saw that there was a way to police the use of the term “organics,” the public at large became more confident in buying organic food. We foodies breathed a sigh of relief as that new level of trust made organics accessible to all.
Today organics and sustainability go hand in hand. The philosophy of sustainability takes organics one step further, combining food ethics with a concern for each step between the farm, oceans, and table.
The concepts of organics and sustainability cannot survive without a collective societal focus. It never ceases to amaze me that some of my friends and relatives neglect to recycle. I am similarly astonished when I see someone throw a cigarette butt out of a car window. I mean, come on! Have we learned nothing about our responsibility to Mother Earth?
In my opinion, we Chefs hold the future of the global food supply in our hands. What we buy is a nod to our food ethics and whom we buy it from is of the utmost importance. As a society we must choose sustainability simply through the way in which we eat. The choices we make today will definitely shape our future.
Phil Anderson, executive chef, devoted husband and host of the “Uncle Chef” video series is featured in over forty online cooking videos. In over 30 years in the food industry he’s studied in the US and abroad and done cooking demonstrations throughout the country.