Dr. Mehemet Oz, daytime television host of Dr. Oz and the man behind bringing medicine and health to the masses, has found himself in a bit of hot water with the green food community after calling organic food consumers “elitists” “snooty” and “snobs” in a recent article for TIME magazine (you can only read this article if you are a current subscriber).

Oz argues that the organic lifestyle is not only unconventional and undemocratic but also only reserved for the nation’s “1%”.

But before we throw the scrubs clad doctor to the wolves, let’s dissect these notions on the basis that maybe, just maybe, there’s a little truth to his tirade. How often have we heard from friends, family and complete strangers online that eating organic is expensive, not practical and outside of their budget? We’ve all witnessed the single mom at the grocery store filling her cart up with conventional canned vegetables, sugary snacks and chips instead of opting for the healthier foods all in an attempt to stretch her budget and man her household.

Damn right that organic food is elitist. There’s an entire culture centered on the green movement that involves yuppies, yogis, and the occasional hippie.

Socioeconomically disadvantaged communities are riddled with fast-food restaurants, “soul food” hot spots, and junk food galore — with the occasional Farmer’s Market coming far and few between. Food deserts aren’t a myth. They are a true reality for millions of Americans living in disadvantaged communities. But guess who can afford to eat well ALL THE TIME? That 1% everyone is always talking about.

Sure there are ways people can go organic and fresh on a budget, but that takes planning and time. And who has time if you’re a family of four or more working several jobs to pay the rent and have no car to make it to the grocery store every week? There’s no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s making it to a location near you anytime soon.

There is a national food crisis happening and we can’t ignore its link to obesity, sickness and poor health. For example, Newark, New Jersey just opened a neighborhood Food Depot after 25 years of not having access to a local market with fresh foods.

What Doctor Oz said may not have been politically correct but he wasn’t lying. These realities, however, don’t give us an excuse to stop trying to eat non-gmo, pesticide-free food. We’ll just have to keep fighting.

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34 Comments

  1. It’s all about context. I don’t have access to this article, but there are plenty of academic journals and books that look at how organic, local, ‘ethical consumption’ have become only accessible to those who are class privileged (mostly white) and this is more or less a symptom of structural racism, environmental racism, and the consequences of neoliberalism.

    But, I don’t have access to the article, so can’t say further…

    Howard, Philip H., and Patricia Allen. “Beyond Organic: Consumer Interest in New Labelling Schemes in the Central Coast of California.” International Journal of Consumer Studies 30, no. 5 (2006): 439-51.

    Alkon, Alison Hope, and Julian Agyeman. Cultivating Food Justice : Race, Class, and Sustainability. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011.

    Guthman, Julie. “Bringing Good Food to Others: Investigating the Subjects of Alternative Food Practice.” Cultural Geographies 15 (2008): 431-47.

    Guthman, Julie, and ebrary Inc. Agrarian Dreams the Paradox of Organic Farming in California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

    Johnston, Josée, Andrew Biro, and Norah MacKendrick. “Lost in the Supermarket: The Corporate-Organic Foodscape and the Struggle for Food Democracy.” Antipode 41, no. 3 (2009): 509-32.

    Newman, Sarah. “Labor Exploitation: The Ugly Truth Behind Organic Food.” Organic Consumers Association, http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_17971.cfm.

    • @A. Breeze Harper: Right, play the race card, that always works well. Plenty of people can’t afford it. We need non-chemicals, non-persticide, i.e. “organic” self-sustaining living. We all need to change, and change starts from within. We all need to grow our own food, no more lawns! Get off the false dichotomy. Be the change you want to see instead of pointing the finger while continuing to rely on others to do things for you, i.e growing food. Peace and love.

      • @Kris: That sort of “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” rhetoric is privileged, arrogant, and completely misses the point, not to mention it reeks of that selfish, individualist libertarian ideology.

        If you read Breeze Harper’s comment as only addressing race, perhaps you should try a little harder. She’s talking about the intersections of race, class and geopolitical privilege as it pertains to health and the ability to buy organic, non-GMO produce. For example, a single black female working 2 jobs, surviving just above the poverty line, and living in southwest Detroit does not necessarily have the same access to the kinds of organic and whole foods that an individual living in one of the plethora of affluent suburbs and townships surrounding the city might have. Why? Because within a 5 mile radius of where she lives and works there are nothing but liquor stores and fast food chains. Throw in the fact that the last major corporate food chain left Detroit in 2007, and you add in another hurdle. I could add in a dozen other variables to this not-too-uncommon situation, but I wouldn’t want to tax you.

        You say, ‘we all need to grow our own food, no more lawns’, but that statement alone speaks from a position of class privilege. Socioeconomically speaking, lawns are typically a luxury afforded to the middle- and upper-classes. In many places you have to have a substantial income and good credit to even rent, much less purchase, a house. If such opportunities are not available to someone from a working-class background, what sort of alternative solutions do you recommend?

        It’s privileged, simplistic and cheap to spout condescending adages like ‘be the change you want to see…blah blah blah’ as it presumes we all come from the same socioeconomic standpoint. Time to critically engage, yo.

  2. Organics aren’t any better than conventional produce.

    What your paying for is freedom from the current profit green revolution GMO human experiment, brought on the large-scale existence of monoculture farming and herbicides and pesticides.

    We should not be fighting to bring organic produce prices down — especially since over 80% of organic companies are own by BIG FOOD — but to demand seed freedom and the full-scale dismantling of big food conglomerates and monoculture for-profit farming.

    Investments in permaculture science could help also

  3. Reality Slinger

    If you have money for cable, you can cut the TV and use that to get healthy food.

  4. @Food freedom. I think from the perspective of who harvests the food, organic is ‘healthier’ than having to pick ‘conventional’ produce that has been sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals. I am trying not to look only at the ‘quality’ of the food for the consumer to eat, but also the ‘quality’ of life of the person who is harvesting the produce.

    @Reality Slinger, how does this apply to those who don’t have money for cable and still want access to foods they think will make them feel better?

    • @A. Breeze Harper: I understand your sentiments as far as quality, but there is little evidence that clearly states organic foods are better than conventional produce. I definitely agree that conventional produce in markets around this nation is sprayed with harmful chemicals, which have been shown to contribute to a wide range of illnesses and disorders.

      I’m interested in the dismantling of the system, which would free the workers too, so I guess we are saying the same thing. But thanks for clearing it up for me.

      • @food freedom: I’ve been wondering about this – the actual health benefits of eating versus conventional foods. Do you have any sources or recommended reading? I hear a lot of advocating for eating organic, but I’d like more factual, scientific information about the impact of consuming food treated with chemicals. Thanks.

  5. I purchase organic food all of the time and I am no where near being in the infamous 1% . I took the time to find local organic markets and I also purchase from my local grocery store. They carry the same food I was going all the way to wholefoods to get, between those to I actually end up saving money on my weekly groceries. Just like Reality Slinger said if I can spend money on non essentials I can take the time and create a food budget that includes real food.

  6. I am wondering if it can be argued that anything consumer object can made to be ‘elitist’. It’s all about context and situation. It’s all about the meaning placed on that object and how it communicates identity, cultural values, taboos, etc.

    I also will share that I am doing my dissertation work about the meaning of food, symbols of ‘ethical’ and ‘purity’ within the vegan food commodity chain. So, that is where I am coming from when making my comments.

  7. @Shea. Yes, but that is ‘you’. I’m wondering, though, what it means that finding ‘healthy’ and/or ‘good’ food is a real challenge for a significant number of people in the USA. How does one get access to the foods they need, even if they create a food budget but they live in an area where they don’t have what YOU have access too? Or are prohibited by factors such as transportation to get to place that offer ‘better’?

    Applied Research Center did a wonderful job trying to explain “Good Jobs and Good Food”, showing statistics of who has easier access to ‘organic’ or ‘local good’ foods here: http://arc.org/foodjustice

  8. Correctoin: I meant “that any consumer object”, not “anything.”

  9. Ok, this is not working. I even spelled “correction” wrong. One hand typing while nursing a baby…

  10. Why not purchase organic now and save money on big pharma’s, big food’s, and big gov’s solution to all the problems that await you after a lifetime of eating chemicals. I’ll be elitist

    • @Mykel: Is this a rhetorical question? Not everyone has access to organic food or even eating 3 meals a day, so I’m just trying to understand how that is a solution? Or, is it only a solution for someone from your particular social and geographical location? I don’t think you’re being ‘elitist’, but I am wondering from what social and geographical location you speak from, and how this has shaped your conclusion that seems to apply to EVERYONE.

      • @A. Breeze Harper: I’m from Carson, California neighbor of Compton, Torrance and Gardena. We have a Whole Foods in El Segundo that eats my check but I know I’m safer than eating at Ralphs or Albertsons. My roots are indigenous and I don’t take well to eating chemicals. I’m not rich nor geographically privileged as I don’t have a car in LA but I still make it work. #noexcuses #fitforlife

        • I agree with @Mykel:. When I was a grad student living in inner city Chicago making less than $900 a month, I used to take the bus to get to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and local organic food co-ops. I live in Southern Illinois and in a better financial position now, but I still have to make a long drive to get to one of the only organic food stores in the region. I also travel to meet with farmers and volunteer in exchange for some of their harvest in the summer. The point I’m trying to make is that organic, healthy eating was and still is a priority for me. I budget to live well. I sacrifice time to get access through travel. There’s always a reason why people can’t do something, I would like to see more reasons why they should. Eliminate the excuses.

        • @Mykel: Mykel not every area in our nation has decent public transportation so hopping on a bus is not an option. If all you have within an hour’s distance is a big chain store then your options are extremely limited, and if you have to feed more than just yourself the challenges multiply.

  11. I think the problem is somewhat more difficult than just attacking one aspect. Organic foods are expensive, especially since they are in demand by the ‘better off’ crowd, who are willing to pay more for an alleged better product. Their is some question as to whther organic is really healthier, because ity surely doesn’t mean chemical free growth/or processing.
    Many local farmers can not afford to get the expennsive certification to be labeled ‘organic’ but they are using healthier practices in growing food and raising edible animals. I think the fact is the knowledge has to be shared, we need to be able to teach fokjd how to maximize thier dollars whereever they shop, the list of the clean 15 should be distributed with every welfare check so people can learn what veggies they can buy conventionally, and the truth of the matter really is that mother with food stamps buying quarter waters and colorful cereal really needs a lesson in proper nutrition, using food to heal and budgeting her non-cash dollars to maximize the whole family’s health. Until someone teaches the fundamentals of healthy eating just like ABC,s no one will benefit.

    • @patti: Well said (typed)!!! There is truly, a need for required education on healthy eating for persons on food benefits. There is also the supply and demand factor. If there is a request for healthier food choices in local food stores, the request will generally be met. Local food stores will only stock products that are being purchased. Yet, it all starts with education.

  12. If it makes one feel better in his mind to eat organic then that’s great, but if it’s not any healthier there’s no need to waste extra money for it. Conventional fruits and vegetables are always on sale & stores like Aldi & other discount grocery chains make it easy to eat a healthy meal on a budget. Moreover, frozen vegetables are another healthy & cheap option.

  13. All the healthful food we should consume does not have to be organic. Knowledge is key to any successful transition to a healthier way of life. For example, there is not need to look for or buy organic bananas because the peel on the fruit prohibits any pesticides from getting to the flesh. The same can be said for pineapples, oranges or any other fruit where the skin isn’t eaten. As for meats, dairy, herbs, green leafy veggies; organic is best. And for the record there is nothing wrong with canned vegetables as long as they are low or no sodium. Typically, those products are picked and canned at the peak of their seasons and on the shelves relatively quickly.
    If lower and middle socieconomic classes continue to accept the view point of things, products, services, programs,etc being out of their collective and individual reach, then that is what it will be. In life we have exactly what we say and think.
    And secondarily, I can afford organic food more than I can afford being in poor health because I would not make some sacrificial choices for my greater good. Those who are complaining about organic food being elitist aren’t saying smart phones, tablest and the like are elitist. Somehow a way is made to have those nonessential consumer goods.

  14. So no one is going to mention that this is a politician-level flipflop on Doc Oz’s part?

    I eat organic whenever possible because with the cocktail of meds I have to deal with, it gives me one less thing to stress about.

    It’s never been about the nutrition difference (zero with the exception of meats)—it’s the chemicals. Washing doesn’t remove all of it. Some things leach through. There are, however, things you can skip the whole organic razzledazzle on.

    I live in a busted up area, on food stamps, and yet I manage it without incident. It is all a matter of planning.

  15. I don’t need a study to tell me that foods free of toxic pesticides and fungicides are healthier for consumers, the environment and the people who work in the fields and orchards where our food is grown.

    How long did it take for people to realize that it’s unsafe to live near an atomic test sight? How long did it take to prove cigarettes cause cancer, asthma, emphysema etc? And how long after that was it proven that even second hand smoke is dangerous. How long was margarine on the market as a healthy alternative to butter before we studies proved that it was actually worse?

    Nope, I’m not waiting for the FDA to tell me if poison is poisonous. I’d rather spend a little more on the worst offenders and take my health into my own hands.

    Dr. Oz missed the mark on this one. Organic food in and of itself is not elitist – it’s food! The marketing and distribution of it however sadly is. We need to work towards access and affordability. For many communities that means community gardens, education, CSA’s etc.. Organic food should be an option for all of us but until it is I think that simply throwing an “elitist” label on it does more harm to poor folks than good.

    Incidentally, I myself am Black, a Woman, and I’m also disabled. I have lived well below the poverty line for many years. Eating organic is important to me and my family so we make it work. It’s important to recognize that at this point in history we as a nation spend a much smaller proportion of our incomes on food than ever before. Good food hasn’t ever been cheap. For many people, buying organic is simply a matter of not spending that same money on junk (food or otherwise).

  16. everyone calm down they later did a study and found out organic food has no more nutritional value than non organic produce but in a small way it is elitist and sad so yeah before you all jump on the angry band wagon read a little more into it is all

  17. Luckily I live in San Francisco. It’s hard not to find organic food here. I think it’s more of an access issue than a class issue. They take food stamps at the Farmers Markets here, and they are much cheaper than the grocery store.

  18. That is the problem with mainstream media, they all want to focus on the end result and not the root of the problem. This is very important in decoding the truth. We have to ask why is it that organic food cost more? Because of our government, regulations, “certifications”, and everything else local organic farmers need to do to produce organic food. Also, organic can be a huge joke, excuse me for wanting food the way it is meant to be. There isn’t a word or certification that can describe pure living food. Does that make Indians and our ancient ancestors ‘elitist’ … I’m pretty sure most of them went beyond organic and had a biodynamics means of farming. Also, there at so many other elites processions people have, paying a few dollars more for optimal health money is a conversion of your time and energy spent and YOU are the most important thing you have! Doctor OZ’s article is loaded with fallacies with no real judgement. My friends and I are young and poor but we can still buy organic. And I think it’s interesting how people stretch the term “1%” and Dr. Oz, are you calling out the one percent because you feel guilty? Not accusing, just saying. Local organic food all day for everyone!

  19. I’m not and Oz follower, but it appears, after reading the Time mag article, that he is trying to convince people who don’t buy fresh produce, to start doing so. I know people who have literally not purchased apples because they couldn’t afford the organic. And while I’ve done a lot of research and found that environmentally and physically, organic is better, it is also more expensive. And my friend should really be eating apples and feeding her children apples. I believe he’s speaking to those who can’t afford organic, or simply don’t understand the subject, which by the way is about 87% of Americans. Btw, search “the dirty dozen” and you can see what produce is WORTH buying organic, which is not, and why. It’s all about educating ourselves.

  20. look I usually don’t reply to things like this, but this literally made my skin crawl. My grandmother fed me all throughout my childhood with kasha, rice, uncooked vegatables, swiss/cottage cheese, rye bread and turkey breast from C-town and Associate market in kew gardens and jamaica areas in Queens where we lived in 90s, yeah thats a real 1% neighborhood right there. No, the turkey breast and swiss cheese probably weren’t “organic” and “free range” but it’s still a MILLION times better then buying 10 cans of mac and cheese and wonderbread and throwing up your hands and saying ” I have 2 kids, I have a job, my husband has a job, I dont have time to cook “fancy” food”. We had 5 adults ( at one time 6) + 1 child living in a 2 bedroom apt with only 2 of those adults actually working and 1 in school, the other 60+ years old. Other people in the former USSR immigrant community lived 2 families in one apartment. You dont have to buy farmer’s market but at least switching to a processed crap-free diet that requires at least 20 minutes of cooking would help but it does all boil down to apathy and brainwashing that we are “overwhelmed” as woman and we need to assert our “independence” by making “our own choices” which inevitably leads to buy canned food. Same crap big pharma uses to push xanax and birth control pills. The myth of the mom with “3 kids” who is ” trying to feed a family” is missing the crucial element; more then likely ( I know from many personal experiences) is that the woman has a significantly lower education then the man who fathered the children and is the unemployed party in the household. Both members make poor decisions based on one-sided ideas about the other person’s abilities to fullfill some ridiculous notions of parenthood. Please dont tell me you can have 3 kids and EVERY SINGLE ONE was a “big accident” and “we were drunk and the condom broke”. Unless you’re from a immigrant or religious community where the number of children relates directly to your status in the community ( a COMPLETELY different set of issues ) there is NO REASON TO HAVE 3 OR MORE CHILDREN. Just STOP. Also, woman paying $50 a week every week for years for a blow-out or curl at the beauty salon when you can BUY the $200 flat iron that the salon uses that will last you for 2+ years, or $90 for a set of hot rollers. Its as bad as bankers saying they cant support their family on a million a year because private school and the townhouse in the west village just sucks away all their money.

    The fact that the daughter of immigrants from a country where you had to wait in line to buy week old beef is so critical of multiple generational disadvantaged communities is a very bad sign.

  21. Whether you are lower class or of the 1% if you truly care about your health and the importance of having an overall well being then there are ways to cut back in other ways. Reality is that whether you eat what you can “afford” or decide to take the time and eat healthy you are going to spend money regardless. Either spending money on medical bills, prescriptions for your steadily declining health due to your diet or you can eat the right way spend the money on a healthy lifestyle and save the money you would have spent on your debilitating excuses. I being an African-american wife and mother of 3, not a yogi, hippie, or of the 1% but I am extremely cautious of what my family puts into their bodies. Our extended might see it as pretentious but majority are sickly, obese, and stubborn.

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