September 1, 2008

Green House Effect

By Louisa Pearson

IN A desperate attempt to personalise the forthcoming Organic Fortnight (Saturday until September 21, www. organicfortnight), I have been running around the house, compiling a list of every organic item I can find. Now, before some smart alec pipes up with a clever comment about everything being organic, let's clarify. Your dictionary may tell you that organic means belonging to the class of chemical compounds that are formed from carbon, but for our purposes we're talking about products that have been produced without the help of artificial fertilisers or pesticides. I know I'm being pernickety, but I don't want anyone picking holes in my good intentions.

Back to the list. The kitchen is the hot spot of organic activity, with creme frache, eggs, milk, yoghurts, cheese, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, pesto, lentils, coffee, tea, sweetcorn and chopped tomatoes presenting themselves with the correct labels. The bathroom puts up a good show too, stocking an organic shower gel, soap, cleanser and moisturiser, while the wardrobe contains organic cotton jeans, two jackets and a T-shirt. This little lot might not compare to Team GB's Olympic medal haul, but I reckon if the same survey had been done ten years ago, there wouldn't have been a single organic item to be found.

The Soil Association's market report for 2007 showed that organic food and drink sales in the UK had hit the GBP 2 billion mark, direct sales of organic produce (box schemes and so on) increased by 53 per cent, while the number of health and beauty products licensed with the association increased by nearly a third. Research by Mintel, included in the report, showed that more than half of those surveyed had purchased organic fruit and vegetables within the previous 12 months. The organic market might be small, but it's growing fast.

The people behind Organic Fortnight are using the slogan 'Love your planet, choose organic'. I once lived in a rented farm cottage, and some days I'd step outside only to notice a sickly sweet smell. This was a warning sign that the farmer had been spraying, and you would be wise not to venture any further without a gas mask. (I always felt sorry for the birds and insects, who didn't have that option.) It certainly made anyone who lived locally think twice about picking brambles from the hedgerows that bordered the fields.

Concern for wildlife does form part of my decision to buy organic, along with the shameless self-interest that comes from reading articles about what cocktails of chemicals are doing to us. Mind you, having been raised in the 1970s, I've probably consumed so many E-numbers and now-banned artificial colours that even an all- organic diet couldn't reverse the damage. Still, I hold out hope that those of us raised on these dodgy additives will have developed the fortitude of cockroaches and might go on to set new longevity records.

Getting back to the point, my trawl around the house flagged up some clear gaps in my organic efforts. Bed linen and towels could come from an organic source - and high-street names like Marks & Spencer are now stocking these items. Specialist retailer stocks organic hankies, bath mitts and even a bag to keep lettuce in, while So Organic (www. has duvets, door mats and candles. Finding an organic alternative to items such as fridges and TVs has so far evaded me (unless you count going back to having a pantry and sing-songs as alternatives, and I'm not sure the Soil Association certifies these).

So while there might not be an organic alternative to every product, a quiet revolution does seem to be going on, giving us chemical-free options for most of life's essentials - whether you're in it to save the planet or save yourself.

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