« Links With Your Coffee - Friday | Main | Links With Your Coffee - Monday »

Links With Your Coffee - Sunday

Coffee Cup

Building Soils - the Key to SustainabilityTruly sustainable farming is all about a long-term investment in the quality of soil. It's about building soils that won't erode with rain and wind. It's about building soils that are very good at capturing rainfall and storing it in a way that will be available to the crop. Sustainable farming is about "feeding" the diverse living community that lives in a healthy soil and making sure that it can "breath" by avoiding the "compression" that can come from use of heavy equipment. This is a kind of farming that incorporates some of the best soil-care orientation of "Organic," but which achieves that without some of the negative constraints of that philosophically-based system.

As you might imagine, I am fascinated by how the mind works. It is, arguably, the most important thing to each of us – our own brain. We are our brains It is our universal tool, the one tool to rule them all. And so understanding the strengths and weaknesses, the quirks and foibles of the human brain in general, and our own brains in particular, should be of paramount interest.

ABSTRACT:  Health-conscious consumers have an interest in knowing if the extra money they spend on organic food is justified. The organic food industry, therefore, has a large financial interest in convincing the public that the food they sell is healthier, tastier, and better for the environment. One area that the industry has concentrated on is the supposed nutritional superiority of their product. The importance of this area to the organic food industry can be seen by the vehemence in which it has attacked and tried to discredit a recent, widely circulated report submitted to the British government that found no scientific evidence for claims that organic food is nutritionally superior to conventional food. Two nongovernment organizations, the Soil Assn. in the United Kingdom and the Organic Center in the United States have been heavily involved in the promotion of organic food. Both of these organizations exert a great deal of influence with the media, and hence with consumers, in both countries. An examination of some of their actions will be included in this article.

A team of Australian scientists has genetically modified rice to improve its tolerance to salt, offering hope of increased global production.

And work is already underway to transfer the technology to wheat and barley, other staple foods for billions of people around the world.

The scientists from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) at the University of Adelaide worked in collaboration with colleagues based in Cairo, Copenhagen and Melbourne.

They used a new technique to trap salt in the root of the rice plant, reducing the amount building up in the shoots and increasing its tolerance to salinity.

Research associate Darren Plett said the breakthrough offered the chance to increase global rice production, especially in areas where salinity was an issue.



The "review" linked in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety is like no review in a scientific journal I've read in my real job - wow. With a staid, boring title like that I expected to be working my way through some facts and statistics for a while. The tone of the article is basically like a blog – if they'd just given us something like a real scientific review, sans the commentary it would have added much to their credibility. There are times when getting down in the mud with your opponents just muddies the whole issue.


Here's the great thing about Organic food.

One may prefer Organic food because of sustainability issues, animal welfare issues, soil management issues, waste management issues, pesticides and herbicides and fungicides issues, or farm worker health issues, or local food production support issues, or particular nutrient or flavor issues or scientifically based agricultural "best practice" issues, or non GMO issues, or all of the above.

If one does not appreciate any of these, one NEED NOT PURCHASE ANY ORGANIC FOOD!

Happily for the consumer, ORGANIC foods are labeled, so you have that choice.

Contrast that with GE foods which STILL do not require labels.

Uh? When did those matters become so easily settled already? Also, do organic require labels, or do they put them cause they charge more, cause people actively search for it and pay more for it?

I don't see a reason for GE foods to require labels, besides the fearmongering of salmon-flavored tomatoes.

re: "When did those matters become so easily settled already?"

my point is that we need not all agree on any of these. Those who think them settled, may choose to buy Organic. Those who don't may choose to not buy Organic. The product is labeled after all...

re: "do(es) organic require labels ..."

well yes, Certified Organic and USDA Organic are regulated labels. Any farmer with more than $5000/year revenues, may not use the term Organic or USDA Organic unless they are independently audited for compliance with all aspects of the National Organic Program.

The word ORGANIC is not just something like "FRESH" or "NATURAL" or "GREEN" the definition for which is anything the user wants to say it means.

Unlike these, a specific and detailed definition of what comprises allowable Organic practice is publicly available from the USDA National Organic Program. The NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) holding responsibility for any changes to that rule solicits public input, publishes meeting minutes and recommendations. Farm Compliance with the National Organic program rules is independently on-site audited annually. So when you buy ORGANIC you get to know what you are getting.

Why does anyone care why people who buy Organic choose to do so? The label permits consumer choice.

You may not care whether the food labeled SALMON is really SALMON plus promoters from Arctic Eels. In which case, why object to truth in food labeling? That way you may buy your ersatz GE Salmon and I may eschew it.

re: "do(es) organic require labels ..."

well yes, Certified Organic and USDA Organic are regulated labels.

That wasn't my question though. I was asking if people who produce organic are required to put labels on it; i.e., if they don't want to they don't have to do it, do they?

You said

Contrast that with GE foods which STILL do not require labels.

which seems like you were complaining that GE foods do not require labeling.

I know one thing. My organic milk, eggs and tomatoes, etc. taste astronomically better than anything else I can buy.

Right, I know that anecdotal evidence is worthless or very nearly so. Confirmation bias . . .

The science of "tastes better" is still a little lose.

Not really. An individual's claim of preference is his claim, but you can still scientifically test if he can actually tell if what he's eating is what he thinks he's eating.

That's sorta what I said below.

I think what we have here might be considered to be a version of distortion, which occurs when the individual perceives a threat to their self concept. They distort the perception until it fits their self concept. "I believe organic food should taste much better, so I ensure that it does by distorting that perception." Classic Rogerian psychology. The more that is invested in the concept, the greater the need to make sure the perception fits the expectation. Of course, I could be completely wrong.

This is also why the grand canyon is beautiful.

Just a damn hole really.

I disagree. a. Not a hole. (in the conventional sense of the word) b. Over 250 miles long, unlike any other "damn holes" It's pretty damn unique in the sheer quantity of rock that river has sliced its way through c. Striated rock results in color patterns which are thought by many to be pretty, especially taking into account the peculiar geometries of the eroded rock, or the way light plays across it due to those geometries. This isn't aesthetically pleasing?

Not that it's the ONLY pretty cleft set of rock out there or the prettiest; I've found canyon-y riparian habitats in northern Arizona to be extraordinarily beautiful. Even though they don't come with the same hype.

Beauty IS subjective (even moreso than taste), but you can apply oversimplification to pretty much anything. Doesn't affect how pretty the thing is.

Ex: Reply to all bird posts Norm has made: "Just another damn bird."

But a key point on subjectivity, is that just because you can't taste the difference between organic and ordinary food, doesn't mean that there isn't one that other people pick up on. Though it doesn't mean there is one either.

You can speculate distortion based on their idea of taste, but it would work just as well the other way for you. If you doubt that organic tastes better, you could pretty easily distort it to believe that other food tastes just as good or better.

In the absence of a double-blinded test, an opinion is just an opinion. It's fine to disagree with opinions, but I don't particularly like Norm's argument. "Your opinion is anecdotal evidence and therefore worthless." Yeah, so are pretty much all opinions. It's unnecessary to state that as a refutation. Might as well go with this. It's a bit much to expect of all people who wish to comment on how food tastes to blind themselves before talking about it.

Expectations will inevitably distort our perception of reality. It's unavoidable. But by no means does that mean that YOUR perceptions are more likely than another's to be correct.

Still doesn't prevent you from sharing your opinion, nor should it. We're free to disagree.

In the absence of a double-blinded test, an opinion is just an opinion. It's fine to disagree with opinions, but I don't particularly like Norm's argument. "Your opinion is anecdotal evidence and therefore worthless." Yeah, so are pretty much all opinions. It's unnecessary to state that as a refutation. Might as well go with this. It's a bit much to expect of all people who wish to comment on how food tastes to blind themselves before talking about it.

I have no problem with people who express the opinion that they believe that organic tastes better, but they are doing more than that, they are offering it as an argument, as evidence that organic does indeed taste better. If they said in my opinion organic tastes better, I wouldn't comment but when they implicitly or explicitly imply that they are providing good evidence for that point of view I'll call them on it. Comment on food taste all you want but don't offer it as an argument in favor of the premise that organic tastes better. I've seen no convincing evidence that it's true.

In fact what evidence I've seen doesn't support that view this for example:

My point was on the conversation halting assertions that peoples opinions are invalid because they want their opinions to be what they are. I just think its an arguement that could invalidate all judgements.

My previous snarky point was that there is a matter to which science has its limits on taste.

Certainly you could test to see if people can actually tell organic from factory. (I think that it is likely nearly impossible to decide what is fair in such a senario. I ussually buy heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market and beefsteak at the store, but heirloom are rarely availiable at the store and almost always organic.)

So I prefer the taste of the organic product in part because it is not the same as the factory product. Do you try to find fruit of the same size? Chickens of the same size?

and say you run a taste test and see what people prefer. Lets say 60% of people prefer factory food, or the other way around.

Does that mean that one tastes better?

Could people prefer what they are used to eating?

IMO (for Norm), too many variables in taste to study effectively. Little things like current mood, memory, and environment affect it too much.

Especially when you consider (as you mentioned, Red) that people buying organic aren't getting replicas of conventionally grown counterparts, but often different products, grown/raised in different fields in different conditions.

Organic is different than conventional, simply by not being exactly the same.

The most valid statement I think you can make on this apparently touchy subject is that some people prefer the taste of organic; some people don't; many people can't tell.

If they said in my opinion It's sort of implied that it's in their opinion. Since it is their opinion.

It comes down to whether you think they were stating it objectively or subjectively, and there's no way to tell unless they qualify it. It's so difficult to decipher tone on the internet.

I think you're making a bit of a leap to assume that it was meant as an argument that organic food tastes better for everyone.

I can't taste the difference myself. But is it not possible that some people can, independently of confirmation bias? Even if a majority preferred conventional taste to organic taste in a blinded test, couldn't that minority genuinely prefers the organic flavor?

I think that thinking of taste as objective is a mistake. We have different kinds of peanut butter for a reason. It's still made of the same ingredients, has the same nutritive value, but some like it crunchy, some like it creamy. I don't see how it could be far-fetched to expect little differences in taste between organic and conventional could create different factions of preference.

Like Norm, I've purchased a few 'organic' items just to see if it really was better. It was good, to be sure, but it left me wondering if I did a blind side by side taste test if I could tell which one was organic.

Anybody here try this?

IMHO, taste is highly subjective. More often than not, folks will find fresh produce more flavorful than that which has set in the fridge or market for days. They find food prepared well more flavorful than that which is over salted, over sweetened and over cooked.

But then there are issues of taste that are genetic. Take the humble Cilantro for example. Some (like me) love it. Others think it tastes like soap. Turns out that some people have taste buds that receive the cilantro flavor differently. Then there are issues of preference. Some like sweet tomatoes, others prefer more acid in their tomato flavor. The only conclusion I can draw about taste, is that variety in our food choices is a really good thing.

Any assumption that some scientific blind taste test will yield a "TRUE" answer about which thing is tastier, is, I think, just silly. All such a test will really yield, is an answer about what that particular palate prefers - a preference which may well be affected by familiarity.

ok, a preemptive strike regarding my previous post on taste.

Here are my objections to it.

  1. Of Course, Palates can be trained. They can be trained to recognize depth and complexity in flavors that less experienced palates might well miss. American palates are so inundated with sweetness (both artificial and sugar based), that we are particularly challenged to also taste herbiness, fruitiness, spiciness, acidity, heat, etc.

  2. As others have noted, there is a HUGE difference in Varietal flavors between vegetables of the same species. Tomatoes that have been engineered for tough skins, off vine ripening with gas, long shelf life, uniform size and shape are not engineered for flavor. We get what we pay for. Heirloom tomatoes tend to be saved over the generations for flavor. They are also sometimes, ugly, prone to cracking, lower yielding. They may be more susceptible to certain pests (fungal or insect). Some ripen off the vine better than others. They may have thin skins. Other, non heirloom, hybrid varieties might have different flavor and benefit profiles.

  3. It makes sense to me to postulate that healthy soils from Organic production, permit a richer expression of flavor and nutrients in the foods grown from it. I do not have proof that this is true, nor do I loose any sleep over that, for flavor is but one small reason why I grow Organic. Reduction in poison (herbicide and pesticide and fungicide) in the food production system is a primary reason I grow Organic. For flavor concerns, I focus on varietals. I grow Garden Peach tomatoes for sweetness, Debraro for acidity, Carmelo for early product, Caro Rich for drop dead gorgeous Orange beauty, Princess Borghese for sauce.

The discussion began because some claimed there was scientific evidence that organic strawberries tasted better. The claim was questionable. It now seems the consensus that taste is subjective and you can't really provide evidence one way or another. Fair enough, then folks need to quit making a scientific claim that organic tastes better. There is no convincing scientific evidence that organic tastes better. So if you want to make the argument make it clear that your merely stating a preference and not offering that preference of evidence of some inherent benefit of organic products.

Preferring the taste can still justify their purchase can't it.

What are we arguing about anyways?

Does one side think that organic is good and the other side think that organic is evil?

It's all a moot point now anyway. The best tomatoes in the history of the world were grown in my grandma's back yard. I don't know where she got her seed, or if she used any pesticides or fertilizers, so even the current homeowners will never know perfection. She's been gone for a while now, so unfortunately, the rest of you will never know what a perfect tomato tastes like.

No bias there of course ;-}

If she didn't live in a lab your opinion is likely invalid.

It's not opinion. It's fact. My taste buds would tell you themselves, but they can't talk.

Oh I do remember she would alternate gardens. My grandpa would dump the fish guts and heads in the one she wasn't using, and she would use that one the next year. We never had to pay for worms either. Kinda stunk sometimes though ;)


Support this site

Google Ads

Powered by Movable Type Pro

Copyright © 2002-2017 Norman Jenson


Commenting Policy

note: non-authenticated comments are moderated, you can avoid the delay by registering.

Random Quotation

Individual Archives

Monthly Archives