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Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grewby Samuel Fromartz
Sunday, September 14, 2014 07:30 PM
Powell's City of Books on Burnside, Portland, OR
In 2009, journalist Samuel Fromartz was offered the assignment of a lifetime: to travel to France to work in a boulangerie. So began his quest to hone not just his homemade baguette — which later beat out professional bakeries to win the "Best Baguette of D.C." — but his knowledge of bread, from seed to table. For the next four years, Fromartz traveled across the United States and Europe, meeting historians, millers, farmers, wheat geneticists, sourdough biochemists, and everyone in between — learning about the history of bread making, the science of fermentation, and more. The result is In Search of the Perfect Loaf (Viking), an informative yet personal account of bread and bread baking, complete with detailed recipes. Fromartz will be joined in conversation by Tim Healea, owner and head baker of Little T American Baker. This event is sponsored by Edible Portland.
"[D]emonstrates how the skills and perspective of journalists can produce in-depth accounts of social, political and economic phenomena that go beyond mere reportage, or 'he said/she said' accounts of controversial issues. Fromartz...effectively integrates interviews with key actors in the corporate, government, and organic farming sector, along with savvy analysis of the economic, regulatory, and consumer dynamics that are in play. He also personalizes the book with accounts of his own quest for healthy food while shopping, testing organic food for attractiveness and taste, while maintaining a certain distance as an 'objective' surveyor of a remarkable story." Richard C. Collins, The Virginia Quarterly Review (read the entire VQR review)
Synopses & Reviews
Who would have thought that a natural food supermarket could have been a financial refuge from the dot-com bust? But it had. Sales of organic food had shot up about 20 percent per year since 1990, reaching $11 billion by 2003....Whole Foods managed to sidestep that fray by focusing on, well, people like me. — from the introduction to Organic, Inc.
Organic food has become a juggernaut in an otherwise sluggish food industry, growing at 20 percent a year as products like organic ketchup and corn chips vie for shelf space with conventional comestibles. But what is organic food? Is it really better for you? Where did it come from, and why are so many of us buying it?
Business writer Samuel Fromartz set out to get the story behind this surprising success after he noticed that his own food choces were changing with the times. In Organic, Inc., Fromartz traces organic food back to its anti-industrial origins more than a century ago. Then he follows it forward again, casting a spotlight on the innovators who created an alternative way of producing food that took root and grew beyond their wildest expectations. In the process he captures how the industry came to risk betraying the very ideals that drove its success in a classically complex case of free-market triumph.
"In recent decades, organic food — the idealistic, natural alternative to industrial agribusiness and processed packaged foods — has grown into a multibillion-dollar business. Fromartz's portrait of the adolescent industry reveals that that success has prompted an epic identity crisis. Big corporations like Kraft and General Mills own the bulk of the market, and half of all organic sales come from the largest 2% of farms, alienating those most committed to producing chemical-free fruits and vegetables on small family farms, and selling them locally. Business journalist Fromartz uncovers the trailblazers' tactics: how Whole Foods Market developed a religion of 'moral hedonism,' how Earthbound Farm launched a revolution with bagged salad mix and how Silk soy milk became 'the number one brand in the dairy case, among all milk and soy milk brands.' But if big business is now the muscle of the organic industry, Fromartz demonstrates that small growers remain at its heart. Fromartz's profiles — of pioneers who sell their produce at farmers' markets and foster cooperatively-owned, local distribution networks — deftly navigate the complexities of pesticide issues, organic production methods and the legal controversies surrounding organic certification. This is a pragmatic, wise assessment of the compromises the organic movement has struck to gain access to the mainstream." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Fromartz makes it clear just how precarious this movement has been....Despite the perils facing the industry, the tone of Organic, Inc. is much more upbeat and optimistic." Los Angeles Times
"In Organic, Inc., Samuel Fromartz gives us a uniquely American story — the emergence of Big Organics from humble origins in small, counterculture farms. Fromartz writes with the passion of an organic partisan but his account of the pros and cons of Organics, Big and Small, is unusually balanced, honest, and compelling." Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics
"Unfortunately, this is an author who forces you to eat your spinach — and eat it and eat it — before you get to the meat of the matter, much less the dessert. Instead of spinach, read baby lettuce leaves. Instead of meat, read organically raised free-range chickens." Wall Street Journal
Book News Annotation:
A business journalist based in Washington, D.C., Fromartz describes how growing real food turned into a movement, then into a business that spawned multi-billion-dollar corporations that could afford their own stable of politicians and were not interested in anything beyond the bottom line. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Business writer Fromartz traces organic food back to its anti-industrial origins more than a century ago. Then he follows it forward again, casting a spotlight on the innovators who created an alternative way of producing food that took root and grew beyond their wildest expectations.
About the Author
Samuel Fromartz is a business journalist whose work has appeared in Inc., Fortune Small Business, BusinessWeek, The New York Times, and other publications. A recreational cook, he lives in Washington, D.C.
Table of Contents
1. Humus Worshippers
The Origins of Organic Food 1
2. The Organic Method
Strawberries in Two Versions 32
3. A Local Initiative
From Farm to Market 69
4. A Spring Mix
Growing Organic Salad 108
5. Mythic Manufacturing
Health, Spirituality, and Breakfast 145
The Meaning of Organic
7. Consuming Organic
Why We Buy 237
What Our Readers Are Saying
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