Organic revolution it's not just for hippies anymore
By Kim Lyons
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Pittsburgh, PA), January 26, 2006
Linda Gill is a fairly typical organic food shopper: she's willing to
more because she believes organic food is healthier.
"I know there's a lot of debate about whether it's really any different
regular food," said Gill, 45, of Shadyside, who joined a throng of
crowded into the Whole Foods in East Liberty on a recent afternoon.
Then she pointed to son Jonah, 3, sitting in the grocery cart.
"I know I can't protect him from everything, but at least he won't
pesticides," she said.
At its most basic, organic food is grown without pesticides, hormones
genetically modified organisms.
And even in Pittsburgh, home of the pierogie and the funnel cake, organic
brands have begun taking over grocery store aisles. To see how mainstream
organic has gone, just look at the success of Whole Foods and the enduring
East End Co-op in Homewood.
"When I started, our typical shoppers were earthy-crunchy tofu people,"
Casey Dill, team leader at the Whole Foods store in East Liberty, who
been with the Austin, Texas-based company for 17 years. "But now,
particularly in my store, it crosses so many different cultures and economic
His shoppers still include the affluent and middle class, but the East
Liberty store has a lot of food stamp customers as well, he said.
Giant Eagle introduced its own organic line, Nature's Basket, in 2004
response to consumer demand, said company spokesman Daniel Donovan. The
includes soy milk, eggs, tortilla chips, peanut butter, cereal, baby food,
salsa, pasta sauce, dressings, olive oil and pasta.
Organic food and its customers have changed a lot since the East End
Co-op opened in 1977, said general manager Rob Baran. For one thing, most
organic items are not as expensive as they once were, due in large part
better distribution networks among organic farmers, said Dave Headings,
co-op's produce manager.
"One of the challenges is that the demand (for organics) has far
the supply," Headings said.
There is no universal definition for "organic" foods, and the
Department of Agriculture has changed or altered its definition annually
the last three years.
Baran fears new government regulations on organic food may be weakening
"The standards for what can be considered organic have dramatically
changed," Baran said. "They can have some synthetic ingredients.
lot of concern about the degradation of the national (organic) label.
of co-ops are working on what we can do to maintain organic quality."
The East End Co-op is member-owned and operated, and a $100 fee gives
members discounts from 2 percent to 10 percent. Member services director
Kara Holsopple said there are currently more than 6,000 active co-op
The Pittsburgh Whole Foods was the chain's busiest in the country when
first opened, Dill said. There's been so much demand -- parking at the
Liberty store is challenging even during off-peak hours -- that another
Whole Foods store is planned for Bridgeville. The opening date hasn't
"We expected this area to be a lot more difficult, but this store
one of the most successful ever," Dill said.
THE 'DIRTY DOZEN'
Next month's Consumer Reports magazine has an in-depth look at which
foods are "worth" buying, even with higher price tags than their
Some fruits and vegetables retain high levels of pesticides even after
washed, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- so buying organic
is worth the extra cost, Consumer Reports says.
The so-called "dirty dozen" are apples, bell peppers, celery,
grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raspberries, spinach and
strawberries, according to the Environmental Working Group, a Washington,
D.C. research and advocacy group.
But pesticide residues are rarer on these foods: asparagus, avocados,
bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, kiwi, mangoes, onions, papayas,
pineapples and sweet peas, so buying organic might not be worth the price,
Consumer Reports said.
Shoppers who want to avoid the hormones and antibiotics given to cows
chickens raised for slaughter should opt for organic, the magazine said.
U.S. Department of Agriculture has yet to develop organic certification
Kim Lyons can be reached at email@example.com or (412) 320-7922