Today was the first known slip-up of the second year of my organic journey. But the real slip might not be what you think.

I’m in Oregon tonight on a college visit, and when I mentioned that I was only eating organic food a local parent enthused about a quick spot to pick up a delicious, fresh, organic burger. And I was hungry. When I approached the counter to order, I asked whether the burgers were truly organic, and the cheerful cashier assured me that they were.

The burger was delicious. As I was finishing, I read their literature and learned that they described their burger as fresh, local, sustainable, 100% natural, and made from cows on 100% vegetarian feed.

It wasn’t organic. The cows probably weren’t grass fed. They were likely fed genetically modified corn. Whatever the feed grain, it was probably grown with pesticides. I’d like to think that the cows weren’t injected with genetically engineered hormones, but the ‘natural’ designation by itself conveys no such promise.

But let me be straight with you: when I was eating the burger, part of me (that I wasn’t listening to) knew that it wasn’t organic. I used the reports of two well-meaning people to dodge my conscience. I purposefully didn’t push the issue.

Why not? As near as I can tell, four factors, four slips, all working together, made me more susceptible to semi-believing burger misinformation.

1) I was really hungry. Normally, I try not to skip meals unintentionally. Beyond this, I try to eat a little something tasty and healthy between meals (like a crisp organic apple or a handful of organic nuts) so that when mealtimes roll around, it is easier to make wiser choices and to enjoy smaller portions. When I had my ‘natural’ burger dinner, I had not had an afternoon snack – and I had missed lunch on the plane. My last ‘meal’ had been a couple of pieces of fruit in the morning. A.M. oranges and bananas are not enough to prevent my evening hunger drive from trying to exert its authority.

2) I was unprepared. I hadn’t planned ahead. Normally, I carry a few portable, yummy organic food items with me — or at the very least some organic trail mix or an organic energy bar — just in case nothing suitable is available. But when I dashed out the door to the airport in the morning, I left home empty handed.

3) I was late. I love the slow food movement. It’s a shame to rush the pleasure of eating good food. But this evening, I had just a few minutes to gobble my dinner before seeing my son on stage in a Tennessee Williams play. I couldn’t be late. And by the time I ate, if I didn’t eat at this restaurant, I wouldn’t eat.

4) I was eating alone. Breaking bread together has been a powerful social interaction for as long as there has been society. When I share a meal with others, I’m more likely to be conscious about what I’m eating.

I didn’t recognize this lining up of forces. If any one of the above four hadn’t been present, I don’t think I would have settled for that burger. If I wasn’t in such a hurry, I would have looked for something else delicious, even if I were hungry and unprepared. If I had been prepared, I would have had something with me even if I had been late and hungry. If I wasn’t so hungry, I believe I would have waited for supper after the show, even if I had been both late and unprepared. And if I had been with family or friends, I would have waited, even if I had been hungry, late, and unprepared.

My hope is that now, having reflected on this four-fold pattern, I’ll be careful not to let them all happen at once. And even when they do, I hope I’ll recognize the trap and be able to avoid it.

And I think this applies to more than just food.

Published on: November 03, 2006
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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