Buying organic makes us feel healthy and good, but how much do we really know about where that food comes from and how it is made? Mark Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, has made it his business to find out. Kastel and his organization are profiled in the November issue of Gourmet.
Kastel, who lives in Wisconsin, used to work in the farm and construction equipment industry, and eventually owned his own business, but his suddenly failing health – including weakness and migraines – was diagnosed as a compromised immune system from exposure to agricultural chemicals. As he told David Tamarkin, "it became very difficult, ethically, to continue to sell four-hundred-horsepower tractors with chemical sprayers to monocrop producers."
Instead, he became a consultant, helping organic farmers with direct marketing. In 2004, he co-founded the Cornucopia Institute, which "has become increasingly effective and is currently one of the most aggressive organic-industry watchdogs in America," Tamarkin writes.
One of The Cornucopia Institute's recent projects is centered around raw – or not-so-raw – almonds. A USDA mandate requires raw almonds to be pasteurized – which the group says sanitizes them "with a toxic fumigant or treatment with high-temperature heat." It claims the process is financially difficult for small producers and disputes the scientific evidence behind it. And, it says, "the treated almonds can still be deceptively labeled as 'raw!'"
The institute is taking legal action to challenge the pasteurization mandate.
When it comes to safe, sustainable, organic food, Kastel says he wants it all:
"As a consumer, obviously I want – and I think my sentiments are fairly representative of committed organic consumers – I want safe food. I want nutritionally superior food, and we know food that's grown truly organically is truly superior – there's a growing body of scientific literature that indicates that. I want food that's really local, not just another kind of marketing hyperbole. So I want all those things. I want the environmental impact and the decisions of my purchasing to have a positive influence on how we steward the earth, and I want the animals and people involved to be fairly and humanely treated. So that's everything. I want it all."
Not a small goal, for sure, but one we can certainly get behind.
(Image: Anna Bauer for Gourmet)