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Elite Meat

Shoppers sold on organic produce find its main-course counterpart - certified beef, poultry, and pork - to be elusive.

Overall, the organic-food market has reportedly grown by as much as 20 percent a year since 1990. Sales of organic meat have recently grown at a faster rate - about 30 percent a year, according to Barbara Haumann, spokeswoman for the Organic Trade Association in Greenfield, Mass. But meat and meat products, Ms. Haumann says, still represent only about 4 percent of total organic-food production.

The article mentions two possible explanations for the lower sales of organic meat as compared to organic plant products -- consumer confusion over the meaning of labels, and the difficulties faced by ranchers in producing organic meat. But it seems that they're leaving out the impact of vegetarianism. I would guess that people who buy organic food are disproportionately likely (as compared to the general population) to be vegetarian, and thus not interested in meat of any kind. And added to the actual vegetarians are those, like myself, who tend to think in vegetarian terms when we're in the market for organic products (as an illustration, when I'm in Trader Joe's, it always startles me to see meat items such as tuna on the shelf -- there's something that feels incongruous about a store specializing in natural food selling meat). Many of the arguments for buying organic food come from the same environmental philosophy and culture that has spawned the most popular arguments for vegetarianism. (Interestingly, the title or this article -- "Elite Meat" -- suggests a view of organic products as status goods valued for their inherent qualities of flavor and healthfulness, rather than for their more benign externalities, which are what's most important from the environmental angle. That may explain the oversight.)

The disproportionately swift rise in organic meat sales as compared to all organic sales may, then, be partially attributable to the expansion of organic food from a small niche to a more mainstream market. As the market grows, organic foods seem more normal and less tied to a particular radical cultural image. They thus gain an appeal to people who don't fully share the norms of that culture, people who are more likely to eat meat.


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