Ministry of Controversy

Dilemma for Journalists: Who do you interview for the anti-organic position?

For news outlets still wedded to the notion that fair reporting requires representing pro and con on every issue, it must be getting harder and harder to fill that anti-green slot in their journalists’ stories.  For example, for NPR’s story about the campaign for an organic vegetable garden at the White House, who on earth would speak against THAT?

In Alex Avery, anti-environmental spokesman at the conservative think-tank The Hudson Institute, the NPR reporter found his man.  Avery helpfully calls the White House garden a "shallow stunt" and compares its shallowness to that of the "intellectual rigor" of the "organic farm agenda."

Really, hasn’t interest in organic techniques spread far, far beyond some kooky notion held by just a few?  Isn’t this guy being hauled out to declare that 2+2 don’t equal 4?

The story does contain a bit of nice news, though.  Also interviewed is Walter Scheib, who took over as executive chef during the Clinton years and discovered already in place a rooftop vegetable garden there.   He expanded it during his years there, including the Bush years, and guess what – Laura Bush is "adamant about organics"!  So why not put that all that on the White House website and get a little credit for it?  Oh, yeah, politics. 

Posted by on December 30, 2008 at 11:10 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
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21 responses to “Dilemma for Journalists: Who do you interview for the anti-organic position?”

  1. Jeff Gillman says:

    For anyone interested in anti-organic reasoning Alex’s father Dennis Avery wrote a book — Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastics. It makes some good points — and some silly points — but it’s an entertaining read.

  2. greg draiss says:

    How about interviewing Monsanto or any globalist i.e. the Chinese government or the so-called Illuminati, World Bank members, UN etc.
    Anyone craving world domination socialist or otherwise would argue that massive centralized growing operations that control distribution and therefore pricing of food stocks would certainly be against sustaianable/local anything.

    The (end is near) TROLL

  3. It is a stunt, I don’t think anyone is disputing that. The point is to bring attention to the import of organic methods, local foods, small farmers, growing your own food, etc. Whether or not such a stunt would be effective (in which case, it most certainly would not be “shallow”) is up to anyone to decide, I guess. Presumably, people who think it would be a “good” stunt would pick a less pejorative word, but it’s still a stunt nonetheless.

    But what the heck is the organic farm agenda? I’m conservative and I use organic methods in my garden. I didn’t know I was supposed to hand in my Republican card just because I don’t like to eat pesticides. I think Avery might have gone a bit overboard with the whole scary “agenda” thing. There’s no vast right wing conspiracy, and there’s no organic farming agenda. Sorry folks, time to put away the foil hats! 😉

  4. Dawn Hill says:

    Oh, Susan, how hilarious is your snark about Laura Bush and organic gardening! And how unenlightened of her not to start a garden blog on whitehouse.gov! Apparently you and the “Campaign For An Organic Garden At The White House” are the only ones who were uninformed about Mrs. Bush’s interest in gardening. That’s my snark.

  5. Jay says:

    Hi Susan,

    I am an organic gardener myself, for what it is worth. But –

    Who do you interview? Anyone who is concerned about food affordability, poverty, world hunger, etc.

    Inorganic systems are responsible for a significant amount of the increased agricultural output of modern farming methods and are largely responsible for the availability of “cheap food” and should not be reviled.

    Even those of us who produce significant amounts of our own food owe something to high intensity agriculture. I do not produce everything I eat and I doubt many here do. I still buy things at the grocery store. Meat and grains in particular. I would starve without them; I am not self-sufficient.

    Cheap food is a good thing, and high-intensity agriculture makes cheap food possible.

    High intensity agriculture with inorganics is not all bad for the environment; it is a mixed bag. While it does reduce run off and pollution, it required a larger land area to be put into cultivation, destroying natural habitat.

    Inorganic fertilizer is not necessarily unsustainable either. High nitrogen fertilizer is available from atmospheric sources and is inexhaustible so long as electrical power is available – power which can be provided by solar or wind sources :)

    In my view, organics are more appropriate for home gardeners such as myself, where we can easily use the compost we generate, provide habitat and food sources, natural beauty, and of course fresh fruit and produce :)

    I like the idea of gardens instead of lawns, community supported agriculture, distrubuted agriculture, and so on, but I also believe large scale commercial high-intensity agriculture has a large role to play in our society’s food production.

    Also, if I may :) It’s better to focus on gardening and not politics. Not even the politics of gardening. Gardening is non-partisan. :)

    All the same though, have a great day! Love the blog.

    – Jay

  6. Susan Harris says:

    Jay, I’m with ya and agree that organic-only on a grand scale may be impossible, what with there being too many mouths to feed, etc. But the organic garden at the White House would be on a very small scale and not burdened with having to feed the world – just a few healthy eaters who live in our National Residence. An example could be set for what families can do.

    And Dawn, I didn’t intend any snarkiness about Laura Bush preferring organic and don’t understand what you call your snark.

  7. Victoria says:

    I had to laugh at this. In my journalistic experience, there’s always someone willing to take the opposing view, however illogical, unpopular or just plain daft it might seem. Want someone to argue that drowning kittens is a perfectly respectable pastime? Trust me, they’re out there somewhere!

  8. greg draiss says:

    The producers of cat meat for Chinese restaurants would argue that drowning kittens is ok if there is a meat surplus and the practice was to keep cat meat prices high.

    Those in favor of intensive farming have made a point and it is a good one. Organics are not utopia. Want organic grow it yourself or shop at a farmers market that sells organics.

    To re-iterate to save the world you must start in saving your back yard first. You may find there is nothing in danger in your backyard at all.

    There is nothing in danger of extinction in my backyard except the veggies I grow that are eaten by deer, rabbits, birds, turkeys, moles and other so called threatened species.

    The (Annie get me my gun) TROLL

  9. greg draiss says:

    Fern……………….
    You have really upset Ms. Hillary with your inference of there nt being a vast right wing conspiracy. If there is not then I am the only member of the club.

    Also Mr. Cheney called he is sending over some fellas dressed in black to get your Republican card back.

    The (I warned you ) TROLL

  10. ANY garden would be an improvement over a giant nitrogen-sucking, water-hogging, grass clipping-producing, boring lawn.

    Plus, I bet a White House brand of organic veggies would go for premium prices. How about a produce stand out front to score a little cash and help reduce the deficit?

  11. Genevieve says:

    I’m guessing that after paying someone government wages to keep up the white house garden, selling veggies out front would still result in a pretty steep loss.

    Let’s be honest, here – it takes a lot more time and money to grow veggies on a small scale like that than it does to maintain a lawn.

    I think a white house veggie garden is a nice political and moral statement – but I don’t want to pay for it.

    If the government wants to make a real difference to organic farmers and consumers of organics, surely there are ways which will bring in revenue through private enterprise, rather than costing us money for little actual return.

    (I’m not heavily against a white house veg garden, it is a nice idea that brings awareness of organics and the advantages of growing your own, but I feel like I’m paying way more tax than I can comfortably afford, and I’m in favor of cutting the “nice ideas” in favor of more cash in my pocket for me to actually garden with.)

  12. This is a great opportunity for the nation to lead by example and really simple to do.

  13. Dave M says:

    Jay- I may be misunderstanding, but are you saying “traditional” chemical ag prevents runoff? If so, there are several leading soil scientists who would disagree. I don’t think erosion control is a benefit from that.

    Organic’s not a perfect answer; but we need to take a hard look at what’s standard practice and relearn WHY it’s standard practice, who wins by it, who loses, and what can be done better.

    As for the White House organic garden… meh. He can keep the lawn if he’ll replace Vilsack.

  14. I still seem to run into people from time who think that the organic movement is nothing but a)liberal guilt, or b)marketing hype.

    There will always be someone willing to take the contrarian view, even in the face of overwhelming evidence–especially if they think it threatens their current way of life. Witness those who still think there is no such thing as global warming.

  15. Dawn says:

    Susan, since you asked, the part of your article I took for snarkiness is your apparent amazement that Republicans might like to use organic produce:

    …guess what – Laura Bush is “adamant about organics”! So why not put that all that on the White House website and get a little credit for it? Oh, yeah, politics.

  16. Jay says:

    Hey Dave,

    Sorry, on re-reading the paragraph you mention, I have to admit to extremely poor use of pronouns. The “it” in the sentence “While it does reduce runoff” was meant to refer to organics. A grammatical atrocity! My bad :)

  17. Plantanista says:

    Well, I don’t have many Bush-supporting clients, but the few that I have are also “adamant about organics”. Back when I lived in DC, one of my biggest clients, a major RNC donor during the Clinton years (hubby loved waving “3-Dollar Bills” at me, had a meltdown over her daughter using even Safer’s Soap in her garden during pregnancy. Was afraid it would poison the child, whom I believe was born a healthy Democrat, from all reports. So, I guess “fervent” GOP gardeners can all at least afford to pay someone else to spread the essential organic ingredient, of which there is plenty in DC.

    So anyhow, there’s always John Stossel for a contrary position. Now I would never link to Stossel’s drivel, but here’s a pretty good link to FAIR’s response to his anti-organics flotsam: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1808

  18. Susan Harris says:

    Plantanista, thanks for that great link!
    My post about the NPR report happened because I’d been stopped on the street moments before by a local gardening activist who was furious that Avery had been featured in the story, and proceeded to enlighten me about the guy…but links from commenters here (and private emails sent to me about Avery) have been even more helpful.

  19. The very word organic has political baggage. In my opinion, organic gardening conjures up the image of old hippies–sorta like myself and maybe a fair number of other Garden Rant readers. It’s for this reason that when the editor at University Press of Florida asked if I could write a book on organic gardening for Florida I twisted his arm and changed the title to Sustainable Gardening for Florida. And besides sustainable is a much broader and again in my opinion more important topic.

    Happy New Year everyone!

  20. Susan Harris says:

    I hasten to add that I only jump on NPR because I’m such a fan. Though I also can’t resist adding this link to Ethicurean, who’s also pissed off at NPR for its report.
    http://www.ethicurean.com/2008/12/29/digest-misc/

  21. Plantanista says:

    “Organic” has always been problematic. I personally no longer refer to myself as an “organic gardener”. I prefer to say that I use organic or sustainable techniques in my gardens. Gee, I wish I had a think tank and funding like Mr. Avery to further parse my position, but here goes:

    “Sustainable” seems more appropriate because it addresses whole systems, and the goal is held within the word. One can still be a polluter while using “organic” techniques. Runoff from “organic” manure is also damaging to aquatic life.

    Oh no, now I fear that I’ll be quoted by Avery as an organic gardening expert who has left the warm fuzzy folky fold to embrace the M*~$@~+o way…

    I also like the fact that sustainable systems also include treating workers fairly and paying them a living wage. Lest I sound like a socialista, I am also an employer, so don’t imagine that I hold a pie-in-the-sky view toward a utopian system, but I do pay people fairly for their work, and in my view, that is an important aspect of sustainability that is often overlooked.

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