Since reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma I have been suspicious about certain items in the supermarket, most notably the ones in the center aisle.
In this aisle, we see organic and non-organic pre-prepared food frozen and designed to last until the end of the world.
Most are preserved by something as simple as sodium, others are preserved by something as complicated as rocket fuel from the netherworld.
There are frozen boxes of pizza, full steak and mushroom meals in simple green boxes, Your–Not-So–McNuggets–Chicken Nuggets (free range), Fresh from the Sea Fish n’ Chips packs, and just about any other processed edibles. All of these things are guaranteed organic as evidenced by the Organic Seal of Approval.
Pollan’s observation is valid. How can the words organic land on a package of TV Dinner? Doesn’t organic mean natural and unprocessed? And doesn’t processed food mean old and unhealthy?
Well, it seems that there is a loophole in the very meaning of the word organic. After more research, I found out that the term refers only to agricultural practices. It involves the production of food without the use of pesticides, artificial fertilizers, growth hormones, genetic engineering, irradiation, and antibiotics. It does not mean natural or unprocessed.
Processed food, on the other hand, means foods that have been altered from their natural state for safety reasons and for convenience. The methods used for processing foods include canning, freezing, refrigeration, dehydration and aseptic processing.
So a farmer can grow corn organically, dry freeze it, add some sarin gas, then stuff it in can for convenience. That constitutes a processed organic food item.
In the same vein, a chicken farmer can raise his or her products without antibiotics and hormones, yet after slaughter, can process the meat along with organically grown potatoes and gravy for a classic organic chicken TV Dinner.
If this is the case, then the question to be asked should be whether organic TV Dinners are natural.
Natural food, by definition, means food items that are whole, minimally processed, and free from artificial or chemical preservatives.
Natural foods can be organically grown or conventionally grown like fruits, chicken, grains, beef etc. But not all organic foods are natural, as evidenced by the existence of organic Twinkies and mystery meat hotdogs bearing the organic seal of approval.
For the manufacturers of these organic TV Dinners, however, they claim their products fall under natural since no artificial preservatives are being used. I checked some, and yes, they are not lying. There are no artificial preservatives that could even make a Hollywood celebrity’s marriage last a lifetime.
For me, I think these organic TV Dinners are a lesser evil than their non-organic counterparts. I just hope the time that I would actually nourish myself with these meals in a box would never come. I just enjoy being deeply involved with my food right now, from my first encounters with them in the market to the preparation of the actual meals. I feel empowered because I know where my food comes from and how it is being prepared.
Here’s a breakdown of ingredients in a conventional non-organic TV Dinner we all find in the center isles of our supermarkets. I have put links into some of the more unfamiliar ingredients here for further investigation.
Non-Organic Glazed Chicken TV Dinner
Cooked chicken tenderloins (chicken tenderloins, high fructose corn syrup, water, corn oil, modified cornstarch, lemon juice concentrate, sodium phosphates, salt, caramel color, potassium chloride, garlic, onion, paprika, spice), water, blanched enriched long grain rice (rice, ferric phosphate, niacin, thiamin mononitrate and folic acid), green beans, mushrooms, onions, blanched wild rice, modified cornstarch, sugar, salt, cultured whey, chicken fat, lemon juice concentrate, caramel color, dehydrated onions, spices, dehydrated garlic, paprika
Contains: milk ingredients
Note: Potassium Chloride- Harmful when swallowed. Oops!