Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Article 13: Organic

INORGANIC ORGANICS

I have to wonder how many people actually carry out the quite simple exercise of checking the meaning of words in a dictionary. Doing so, they might learn just how much gobbledegook is being flung at them every day. And just how much advertizers and those with more political motives, are perpetually playing on their fears and ignorance. Hypo-allergenic shampoo, for example, is not one that prevents allergic reaction, just one that contains lower levels of the proteins that do cause an allergic reaction. The compound word means ‘less allergens’ – one of those utterly meaningless statements of which advertizers are fond because there’s less chance of Trading Standards jumping on them. The question you have to ask is: less allergens than what? A patch of stinging nettles? A wasp’s nest? Obviously the intention of putting these buzz-words on bottles is not to inform, but to blind with science. Perhaps realising this people could then ask themselves why fruit additives are good or why washing with herbs will give you an orgasm? At its root, all this obfuscation is playing on the simplistic idea that natural is good and chemical is bad (This ignores everyday facts of life e.g. because we drink chemically-treated water we are utterly free of natural cholera and amoebic dysentry), which brings me, by a roundabout route, to the incredible ignorance surrounding the word ‘organic’.

While driving around in rural Essex it’s quite common to see signs up advertising all sort of items for sale – knackered lawn mowers, ancient cars, flowers, honey – and some of the signs display literacy ranging from the poetic to the abysmal. But just lately I’ve been noticing a trend set by ‘greenies’, adopted by supermarkets, and promulgated by stupidity. Now you can buy organic manure, organic cheese, organic eggs… Do the people who started this strange craze have any idea what ‘organic’ means? Could they please explain to me what inorganic cheese, manure or eggs might be?

If you are green then you’ll probably think it means items produced without any of those nasty chemical thingies. What utter drivel. Everything is made of chemicals or their constituent elements. They are not something recently created by evil science but something derived from what is already here. Monosodium glutamate (flavour enhancer) … yuk, we don’t want any of that – far too many syllables. Ever wondered why tomatoes enhance a dish? Because they’re packed with MSG. An essential chemical we must ingest every day is sodium chloride: the product of a metal that if held in the hand would result in you being hospitalized shortly after, and the basic constituent of mustard gas. It is also a chemical three oxygen atoms away from being a powerful bleach and weedkiller. How about these terrible sounding compounds: diallyl disulphide, diallyl trisulphide, S-2-propenylcysteine sulphoxide … The list is a long one, but can be contracted to one word: garlic.

That which is organic is something relating to or derived from plants or animals, or it is any of a class of compounds based on carbon. Interestingly, a final definition in the dictionary I’m presently studying, is: any substance such as a pesticide or fertilizer derived from animal or vegetable matter. So, organic food that you buy in the supermarket can have been sprayed with a nicotine insecticide or the organic chemical DDT. In fact few insecticides and fertilizers are not the product or organic chemistry, so they are organic. In fact, some of the most poisonous substances on this planet are products of organic chemistry, whether performed in a laboratory or in the more potent chemical laboratories inside living things. Oh my goodness, chemicals, I hear you cry. Sigh. Get with reality. Curare is organic, so why not spread some of that on your wholegrain bread and see how you get on? And next time you buy your organic potatoes, remember they could have been sprayed with the organic compound agent orange and that would make them no less ORGANIC!!

Ends

9 comments:

Olaf said...

Junk science in adverts is a particular bug bear of mine.

I havea degree in pharmacology so unfortunately I can spot it a m ile away. Some of it is painfully awful and misleading to the point of being illegal.

I doubt those that enforce the standards have enough training to understand how bad much of this advertising is.

My fav was an expensive face cream that used magical "Q10".

When I studied Q10 was a molecule involved in the death of brain cells through apoptosis.

Peter said...

Some of this wordplay is really quite dire. I'm not even a chemist but it is quite amusing to watch adverts sometimes and go 'Thats rubbish. That is just table salt.' etc, but then I think quite a lot of people will get suckered in to it. Sometimes I wonder if playing on peoples ignorance is tantamount to a crime.

Best ever wordplay hoax has to be the evils of dihydrogen monoxide http://www.dhmo.org/.

Also to be, when I see inorganic I think metals, when I see organic I think hydrocarbons, so the marketing tosh fails on me :)

/goes off to eat some extra pesticide treated cabbage

Hendrick said...

I'll have to agree and say the whole 'organic movement' is at best questionable. However, I don't think attacking its linguistic virtue is the most effective strategy--organic in the context of organic food is a neologism to describe a certain way of producing the food. Of course, the benefit of the 'organic production' has not been scientifically demonstrated, and I too find it confounding that people pay such premium for organic product purely out of illogical fear of 'chemicals'.

Neal Asher said...

Olaf, junk science across the board is a particular bug bear of mine, but especially where it seems to be actually backing up an aversion to real science. I think one of the ones that's killing me now is the green anti AGW bullshit coming through many adverts.

Peter, it was the Penn & Teller version of ban dihydrogen monoxide I watched. Very entertaining.

Hendrick, this is an old article from the POV of a writer. Certainly I could write plenty slamming the bullshit 'organic' industry, but in this I was mostly annoyed by the misuse of words.

Alex Cull said...

I don't know, Neal; I've had quite a few sandwiches at train stations that were definitely inorganic in origin (well, that was my impression at the time.)

By the way, did you know another awful horrible thing is that generations of twisted Franken-farmers have been tampering with the genes of animals and plants, by "selective breeding". Modifying and warping them, in other words! Dreadful.

killemallletgodsortemout said...

Ha, Ha!!!

This has been a bugbear of mine for yonks. I have a degree in fuck all, but I know that organic means "based on carbon".

Another source of hyperbollocks are TV ads for wimmin's hair and beauty products. Q10, pro-retinol-a, beta-carapeptiditones - they're worth watching just for the sheer audacity of the advertisers.

Essex ads are great aren't they, especially the one near the Tiptree strawberry fields.

"Pick your own", under which some swamp donkey had scrawled


nose.


Only in Essex, only in Essex.......

Neal Asher said...

Alex, certainly, we've been breeding selectively for thousands of years. My argument is that with GM we're actually doing it more specifically. I had a rant about this before I think ... check back to the one about GM hysteria.

Kille... I groan in despair just about every evening when another bullshit name comes up in the adverts. I mean why is avocado oil good for a woman's hair? If she wants it glossy and black, why not try sump oil?

Mercurior said...

What really interests and infuriated me, is the word poly un saturated.

Poly meaning many, UN meaning not,

so its many not saturated, of its not saturated many times.

Peter thats called a zohnerism.

Plastic is organic.. isnt it, it comes from oil, which is dead animals and plants. they used to LIVE, so are organically based.

(some say its the processes that change it from organic to.. synthetic)

Enn-Jay-Ell said...

Heh....

Err.... re: the curare

- quick caveat here, as I cba to check out my old course notes -

spread away on the toast; you're OK as long as it doesn't get into the blood stream - at which point you're fucked.

Still, I agree in general with your thoughts on this one... it seems to me that people just don't question facts presented to them, especially when its something that they have either have no knowledge about, nor an interest in. A potentially dangerous end game for us all perhaps...?

I like the bit in the blog about "organic manure".... is there any other type? Dead Jain tech perhaps... ;-)