Marketing Communication Anthropology: Social Branding, Media Machines, Netnography The blog of Robert Kozinets, USC communication/marketing professor

October 22, 2007

Purification, Chemicals, and Organic Versus Veggie Wash

Filed under: Green marketing — Robert Kozinets @ 10:15 pm

Something different, again.

By night I am a tireless marketing professor, seeking to fill the world with wonderful new products and services that make people’s lives better. But by day I am a mild-mannered consumer who is trying to eat healthy and to feed his family healthy, but also has to live within a budget.

In preparation for tomorrow’s blog entry on being an “Organic Intellectual” I thought I’d play on words a little bit. I’m currently reading a very good book that is truly frightening, about the sheer amount and toxicity of the chemicals in our food, water, and air. It’s by Randall Fitzgerald and it’s called “The Hundred Year Lie.” The part of the book I like most is on solutions, in particularly detoxification regimes. Fitzgerald, who is an investigative reporter, indicates that a regime of raw food, fasting, wheatgrass juice, colonic cleansing, infrared saunas, and organic foods can help to reduce our bodies’ level of toxicity. It sounds pretty good and sensible to me (um…except for the colonic cleansing part).

Along those lines, particularly in regards to organic food, I would just like to know something, Are organic foods healthier than regular mainstream foods that are washed with a pesticide remover solution? I’ve been looking for good books and information on this topic but can’t seem to find anything useful or scientific in the least.

Does anyone remember P&G’s failed experiment with a product called “Fit”? Fit was designed to remove about 98% of the pesticide and other residues on the surface of fruits and vegetables. Fit was originally developed by Procter & Gamble in 2000, developed from food related extracts like citric acid and grapefruit oil. Fit flopped horribly in 2001, and was eventually sold to HealthPro Brands in 2006. I see several scientific tests related to the brand online attest to its efficacy at killing bacteria. I see that the product is available online here. Actually, although the product failed, I think it was a very good idea, and might be made to work again with the right approach, or better timing.

My family currently uses a Veggie Wash (works on fruits too; maybe the category is “Food Wash” but that sounds strange) called “Nature Clean” which claims to be an “all-natural fruit and veggies spray wash.” As far as I can tell, the main ingredient is sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, which sounds like sodium lauryl sulfate which is in most soaps. But the label says that this is a “food grade cleaner” that is made “from palm oil.” Okay, but there are no efficacy claims at all on the package, or related to it. It’s just a Veggie Wash. Plain and simple. And that’s what I’m curious about.

It’s definitely part of our purification preparation ritual for the food. But does it work?

And how much of what we’re buying as “organic” really is pesticide-free, anyways?

How does one stack up against the other? Economically, as well as in terms of how much pesticide residue is entering our bodies?

Here’s the bigger question that concerns me as a consumer: Do we have any information, any recourse, any way of finding out the answers to these questions? How might the Internet play a role, a big role. Maybe, just maybe, we can use our conversations to collectively empower ourselves as consumers-and as citizens. And I think the chemicals in our food and in our water might be a great place to start the conversation. I’ll circle back to this later.


  1. Hi Robert-
    I’m no expert on this but I think there are two different things going on here. One, the thing that you’re talking about, is the safety of the food that you are eating….in that vein, you need to consider the type of fruit or vegetable that you are eating. In some of them, where the skin is very thin or you are likely to eat the entire fruit (including skin), you are more likely to have a situation where the fruit might not be that safe with or without a wash…for instance, if I were to buy something non-organic, it would be something like an avocado or a melon (where I discard the thick skin) rather than any type of berry or green bean where I would eat the entire thing. But, let’s say you’re careful and maybe with non-organic pesticide free produce or produce that is specially washed, you can get rid of all or most of the chemical concerns. Next, and more important in the long term, is the NUTRIENT VALUE of the fruits and vegetables that you are eating. And that’s where Organic produce has incomparable value compared to other types of produce. Do some research and that’s where the real value of organic produce lies. Victoria Boutenko has some of this information in your books, and I’m sure you can also find it elsewhere.

    Comment by lscoop — October 24, 2007 @ 1:39 am

  2. Hi Robert You ask this basic question \”Are organic foods healhier than regular mainstream foods ….\” When it comes to organic food, science goes out the window and hype and marketing take over. I\’m sorry but I don\’t buy the basic premise that organic food is healthier washed or unwashed! Both should be washed to remove bacteria which are much more toxic then any chemical pesticides! What you say … such heresy! In fact I can argue you should wash the organic produce more as organic producion relies on organic fertilizer (aka cow dung) whereas conventional can use either synthetic (man-made)or the natural (cow-made)fertilizer. You don\’t need a microbiology degree to know that manure is laced with E-coli and other harmful bacteria. I digress though… what I really wanted to do was to bring this into a marketing context. \”Organic\” has become a brand … what do you think about when you hear the word organic. Heatlhy, safe, pesticide free, small family farms, better for the environment. The organic industry, and yes it is an indutry, has done a good job at branding. But these are all myths (and mostly urban ones at that!) Myth 1 – Organic food are healthier – Study after study has comfirmed that their is no difference in the nutrional value whether or safety of organic food. I can supply the references on request. Myth 2 – Organic farmer don\’t use pesticides – Wrong! – they use so-called organic pesticides. They are approved for organic production because they are not synthetic or man-made.The list of approved organic pesticides includes nicotine, tin and copper based compounds, sulfur etc.- some of these are being pulled from the market because of heavy metal buildup in the soil. An organic grape grower in CA has to apply 10 – 20 applications of sulfur at 20 pounds per acre in each spray to control fungal diseases. A conventional grower uses maybe 5 sprays of a modern highly effective and highly tested synthetic fungicide at ounces per acre. I know which one I would prefer to get my wine from. Myth 3 – Organic production methods are better for the environment – There is so many ways that this is wrong! First – there are no organic herbicides used in food production – they simply do not exist. Organic growers must rely on mechnical cultivation that burns fuel and can lead to greater soil erosion or the use of fallow and/or cover crops therby taking land out of production and reducing yields. Organic production has lower yields. All the land that can or should grow crops in the world is being used to produce food. If low yield organic farming techniques were to be used thoughout the world we would need to drain the swamps and cut down the forests to make way for more land. High yield farming prevents environmental degradation by producing more on an acre of land. There are other myths relating to organic production that I won\’t get into here but the basic premise behind the organic craze is this the biggest myth of all … natural good, synthetic bad! This arguement has nothing to do about science … it is about philosophy! If it make you feel better to eat an organic apple … washed or unwashed then go ahead. But don\’t tell me that an organic apple is healthier. Both are healthy and that is the point. Eating apples or other fruits and vegetables is the best thing we can do to fight cancer. The process behind geting it to you is unimportant. We are lucky to live in an affluent society (made this way ironically because of modern agriculture) and debate the nuances about the food we eat and not have to worry about our basic sustenence. Here is a good reference article on Marketing & The Organic Food Industry. You might also want to pick up a copy of the book \”The Truth about Organic Foods\” by Alex Avery. I have not read it but plan to pickup a copy. I will also pickup the book you suggested and keep an open mind to hearing both sides of the story

    Comment by Greg Dunlop — October 30, 2007 @ 9:44 pm

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