Earlier this week, like any insufferable Brooklynite, I found myself in need of some baby spinach. A little pressed for time, I chose to forgo a run to my normal grocery store for a quick trip to my neighborhood bodega.
What I walked out with should have earned me a parade with recycled, locally-sourced, biodegradable ticker tape: Five ounces of delicate greens inside a container that had the word “organic” emblazoned on the packaging no fewer than seven times. At a dollar an ounce, it’d hadn’t exactly been a financial win for me, but one can’t scrimp when one is being heroic.
But although it was organic, the produce came in a chunky plastic container, hardly an emblem of sustainability. The leaves had also been shipped from the West Coast, not the most eco-friendly way to get an overload of Vitamin K. That the greens were “triple washed” might raise an eyebrow given the produce’s drought-beset state of origin. Also, I haven’t the slightest clue how the workers who picked the spinach were treated, a considerable bummer since the spinach came from the same northern California town that inspired Steinbeck’s East of Eden.
It seems as though these exact issues might have inspired Whole Foods to establish its “Responsibly Grown” program, which in essence provides another layer of vetting for produce and flowers. The system rates organic and conventional produce alike and takes into account how farmers conserve energy and water along with other environmental and ethical factors like the treatment of workers. In other words, food no longer has to be organic to be “good.”