First, it is important to establish where this word can be used. For most Americans, it is used to describe a sector in his or her supermarket. This section of the supermarket contains hundreds of items all with labels like “certified organic” or “100% organic”. These goods are stated to contain no pesticides or additives that would not occur in nature itself. I've also seen the products have labels such as “free range” or “free harvest” when inside this part of the supermarket.
The key concept I believe is left out of this standard definition is the shift in connotation that this word has had over the past years, even in my own life. The meaning of “organic” has transformed from being a safe haven for health, encompassing value and all positive notions, into a word that holds, in my opinion, a depth of negative perceptions. Of course, not everyone holds either a positive or negative view on the subject. I believe that there is no set association with this word, and it can be and often is taken one of two ways.
The positive points of this word were developed out of the large surge of 'health foods' during the past five to ten years. This new food market started out as something that could finally turn America's obesity problem around, and could possibly cure numerous diseases. Stripping foods of their preservatives and other synthetic ingredients started off as a great idea, and all of these products were proud to share the “organic” label. This classification represented something that was pure and transparent and that stood out above the countless aspartame-enhanced sludge that crowds the grocery aisles. When a consumer bought a product with the organic tag, they were certain they were buying into not only a product, but an entire movement that would not only change the way Americans consume food, but the world as a whole.
This feeling resulted in intense pride from consumers, and they also truly believed that their health would be bettered because of the purchase. This new need for an organic product allowed the American industries to do what they do best- capitalize on the consumer need. I remember when I could walk down a Wal-Mart aisle and be surprised to see one or two organic items. Major grocery stores now exist that are completely dedicated to selling certified organic foods. The best example of this is the rapidly growing profit machine, Whole Foods, which is largely regarded as the Wal-Mart of organic produce.
What's the problem with companies taking advantage of a new need in the market? That's just it; they are taking full advantage of the market. I still cannot understand how a product that praises itself for having far less ingredients than it's polar competitors can cost so much more. I have been in a Whole Foods chain on more than one occasion, and the prices are far above what should be expected.
This is what gives the word “organic” a negative connotation to me. I see things that are marketed as certified organic and I immediately think back to the high costs I saw on the shelves at organic food stores. I feel as though I am being tricked or mislead into believing in something genuinely helpful that, in reality, is simply profit based. The organic fight for a healthier world has been surpassed by the fight to produce a large profit. Being betrayed by something I believed in forces me think negatively about the word.
However, I also understand that this word can be taken positively by many people. Plenty of consumers still feel pride and comfort when purchasing organic products, and some of those products are authentic and fairly priced. As these emotions resonate in this group of individuals, they are happy with their purchases and can ultimately justify the cost. The price may be worth the pride and joy and even worth the chance that they're being deceived. These attitudes can be attributed to the successful marketing campaigns of the companies and/or the judgment of the consumers. These are the people that fuel the marketplace that is still rapidly growing. I do not share their opinions, but I do understand them.
Like many words in the English language, organic can be taken several different ways. At the same time, I think it consistently stays true to its definition. The definition stands firm in that it is not misleading. It also does not leave any room for further interpretation as far as its literal meaning is concerned. The problem, as discussed earlier, is that the definition lacks a connotative stance. After sifting through layers of its connotative meaning, we have come to understand that there are two separate feelings about this word.
First, the feeling of comfort and pride is based around the thought that the consumer is buying into a better lifestyle. This allows the consumer to justify the price spikes due to a greater demand. Because the consumer believes so strongly in the pride and comfort in which he or she sought out the product to begin with, the consumer has the ability to only focus on the positive.
Second, there is the feeling of distrust and misguidance. This is the negative interpretation and it is founded upon the belief that the prices of the products are unfair and unreasonable. Another large characteristic of this belief is that the companies are deceiving their consumers. The people who share this belief feel as though they are being taken advantage of and that they have been lied to.
So whichever way you choose, know that there are going to be people who view it differently. But at least you know the reasons people choose to do so. Whether you drink up an aspartame saturated Diet Coke, or you enjoy some fully organic root beer, learn to appreciate the other side.