I tend to shy away from some topics at work when away from my immediate team – I work at a very large institution and I don’t know all the peeps as well as I ought to to get away with all topics of conversation. This blog is where I get most of my ranting done. After all, this is my playground, where I get to spout on about whatever topics are really simmering inside my brain.

But, last week, I slipped up and got into a discussion about one of my pet peeves, organic food. I was in the kitchen, making small talk with a coworker. I asked, “Hey there, what’s up?”

“Oh, just making an English muffin with organic butter,” came the reply.

A Tribe Called Quest – Butter

“Ew, organic.” This is the point at which I found myself backed myself into a corner, because once I’m on a topic, I’ll end up stuck for a while trying to get my point across before discretion kicks in.

Predictably, the next question is “Why ew?”, and the answer leads us both awkwardly down the rabbit hole to Viper Pilot’s wonderful land of proof and studies. I’m so much better at presenting my thoughts when I have time to re-read and edit, so on the fly things can get to the aforementioned awkward when I start talking facts instead of just playing at being the prince of clowns.

I realised what I’d gotten myself into, so started out cautiously. I explained that since it’s yet to be proven that organic food has any increased nutritional value, I feel rather ripped off paying more for anything labelled ‘organic’ (organic in this case as a marketing term, not organic meaning something made of carbon, which, as we all know, all plant matter on the planet is).

Things rapidly went downhill from there; despite me saying words in an order that presented some very reasonable points about the issue at hand, pretty much anything that came out of my wordhole went overhead of anyone else in the conversation. I ventured on quite bravely, trying to weigh in with facts and evidence and that kind of junk without sounding like a dick (which, unfortunately, seems to be what happens these days when you’re knowledgeable without also being a celebrity).

I even worked Norman Borlaug into the conversation…
…and still came up fail!

I knew things were pretty much over when I said “It’s not like a plant knows the difference between an atom of nitrogen that’s come from a chemical fertiliser than one that’s come from some cow poop.” That’s always been one of my favourite points on this matter, but when the response to that is the exact same line over the whole of the conversation (reworded slightly each time) – in this case: “I just think that our bodies aren’t meant to be taking in stuff that’s man-made.” – I had to throw in the towel.

Man-made nitrogen atoms? Sigh.

I ran off at that stage to go fulfil a quest for a latté, far away from shared lunch areas and the sociological dangers within.

I know I have a handful of readers who are science communicators or science educators. How do you guys bring science into a conversation when the average person has been let down so badly by the education system?

(Epilogue: There’s a brilliant line in the above link to the LA Times article written by Russ Parsons:

Furthermore, a lot of the best farming practices of the original organic philosophy — composting, fallowing, crop rotation, the use of nonchemical techniques for controlling most pests — have been adopted by many nonorganic growers, even though they still reserve the right to use chemicals when they think it’s best.

So for what it’s worth, I’m NOT saying I’m opposed to organic growing techniques. But farmers, like scientists, are experts in their fields. As such, if a farmer deems that in a certain circumstance that a chemical is the right solution to come to the best outcome for his crops, then that is a-fucking-okay by me. There’s no way I want to buy a product that’s been developmentally hamstrung by limiting what options the grower has at his disposal just so he can slap a label on his crop that lets him change top dollar for something that’s at best only equal to the alternative.)

I tend to shy away from some topics at work when away from my immediate team – I work at a very large institution and I don’t know all the peeps as well as I ought to to get away with all topics of conversation. This blog is where I get most of my ranting done. After all, this is my playground, where I get to spout on about whatever topics are really simmering inside my brain.

But, last week, I slipped up and got into a discussion about one of my pet peeves, organic food. I was in the kitchen, making small talk with a coworker. I asked, “Hey there, what’s up?”

“Oh, just making an English muffin with organic butter,” came the reply.

A Tribe Called Quest – Butter

“Ew, organic.” This is the point at which I backed myself into a corner, because once I’m on a topic, I’m sort of stuck there.

Of course, the predictably-next question is “Why ew?”, and the answer leads us both awkwardly down the rabbit hole to Viper Pilot’s wonderful land of proof and substance. I’m so much better at presenting my thoughts when I have time to re-read and edit, so on the fly things can get to the aforementioned awkward when I start talking facts instead of just being my usual prince of clowns self.

I realised what I’d gotten myself into, so started out cautiously. I explained that since it’s yet to be proven that organic food has any increased nutritional value, I feel ripped off paying more for anything labelled ‘organic’ (organic in this case as a marketing term, not organic meaning something made of carbon, which, obviously, all plant matter on the planet is).

Things rapidly went downhill from there; despite me saying words in an order that presented some very reasonable points about the issue at hand, pretty much anything that came out of my wordhole went overhead of anyone else in the conversation. I ventured on quite bravely, trying to weigh in with facts and evidence and that kind of junk without sounding like a dick (which, unfortunately, seems to be what happens these days when you’re knowledgeable without also being a celebrity). I even worked Norman Borlaug into the conversation – and still came up fail!

I knew things were pretty much over when I said “Yeah, but it’s not like a plant knows the difference between an atom of nitrogen that’s come from a chemical fertiliser than one that’s come from some cow poop.” That’s always been one of my favourite points on this matter, but when the response to that is the exact same line you’ve been getting the whole conversation(reworded slightly each time) – in this case: “I just think that our bodies aren’t meant to be taking in stuff that’s man-made.”

Man-made nitrogen atoms? Sigh.

I ran off at that stage to go fulfil my quest for coffee, far away from shared lunch areas and the dangers within.

I know I have a handful of readers who are science communicators or science educators. How do you guys handle trying to bring science into a conversation when the average person has been let down so badly by the education system?