Mar 02, 2015

Couple thoughts on organics

Writing from the far back table of the second floor of the Caffe Meditteraneum. I like this place a lot. It is filthy – a Bellowian bath of humanity. An except from an email just sent:

My thinking about organic foods sometimes goes something like this:

  • They are more expensive from my perspective.
  • They taste about the same to me.
  • I am unsure if they are healthier for me in the long-term (seems very plausible, but I haven't researched this closely, and from what I have read the jury seems to be out).
  • There are probably hidden costs (environmental damage, unfair labor practices) associated with conventional farming.

So, when I pay a premium to eat organically, I'm paying for:

  • Potential health benefits
  • Less environmental damage / unfair labor

But maybe I could use that organic-food premium differently to greater effect. Maybe eating conventionally and donating the difference to charity is more beneficial, in the end. If I care specifically about the environmental damages, maybe supporting an advocacy organization is a more effective way to spend that premium. If I care about the labor practices, maybe supporting a pro-labor lobbying group is the way to go.

So that's one way of looking at it. To be honest, I don't like looking at things through that lens, cause I have trouble justifying most of my spending through it (i.e. almost every dollar I spend could probably be spent better, basically the point of Famine, Affluence, and Morality). And that is really fatiguing to consider.

I think my more regular thinking about organics (and most premium goods) goes more like this:

  • I can't tell an immediate difference in the quality, tastiness, or healthfulness of the product (though arguably there are subtle, long-term effects I'm glossing over).
  • There are probably more effective ways to move the issues I care about (though this is arguable for two reasons: a. I don't regularly pursue these more-effective ways, so they are irrelevant, and b. substantial systemic change can occur when many people change in a small, consistent way).
  • I choose not to pay the premiums, because from my perspective I'm about equally satisfied with either good, and I'm not convinced that paying the premiums will change things very much. I'd rather have the extra money, either for luxury purchases, or for impactful donations to other things I care about.

The systemic argument (many small changes in a consistent direction matter) is interesting and persuasive. I need to think about that more; I might change my mind about this.

[rereads: 2, edits: added title (woops), changed all lists to html for aesthetic purpose, added "way" (embarrassing, I sent out an email with that omission...)]