This Organic Life author Joan Dye Gussow 

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This Organic Life author Joan Dye Gussow will leave her New York home on the banks of the Hudson River to give a free keynote address to the Bioneers 2009 Conference (WestminsterCollege.edu/bioneers) on Thursday, Nov. 5, at 7:30 p.m. at Westminster College’s Vieve Gore Concert Hall in the Jewett Center for Performing Arts.

Are you a Bioneer?
I never did exactly understand what a Bioneer meant, but I think it means “biological pioneer,” and I suspect in that sense, I am. Many people feel that I am the person who began the whole “local” movement; Michael Pollan [In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma] calls me his teacher. I wrote a book called The Feeding Web in 1978, which was about how food fit into the whole global environmental picture.

So, is organic food actually superior?
There are people yearning to prove that it’s all sentimental nonsense. And, there’s a lot of argument about whether organic is more nutritious. I, for many years, said that isn’t the point at all. The point is that it’s better for the land; it’s just as productive; it doesn’t poison things; it uses resources sensibly. I now believe there is pretty good evidence that organic is superior. And there’s no evidence at all that bio-tech really improves yield.

Why are organic products so damned expensive?
The reason you get that cheap crap in the store is because we pay huge, huge subsidies to farmers to grow corn and soy, among other things. That makes corn and soy really cheap, so they can stuff it into animals; cows shouldn’t have corn—that isn’t what they should live on. And they raise these animals in these intensive feeding operations, which pollute the land around them, and pollute the air and the water. They’re slaughtered by immigrant, non-legal workers who are recruited because the work is so terrible that [legal] workers quit right away. The conditions under which meat, for instance, in this country is produced is horrendous. We pay for that in all kinds of ways, so that when you go to the store you can get cheap pork chops.

California water was always subsidized. We all paid to have those dams and canals built—our tax money. We also pay for those spills that kill fish in streams when pig lagoons break and overflow, and for illness. There was just another [meat] recall the other day.

I don’t know if all those subsidies were counted that the food that you’re getting at the store would be cheaper or not. But I do know it would be a lot more expensive than it looks.

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