In 312, Roman Emperor Constantine was told in a dream to paint a cross on his army’s shields.[1] Based on that dream, he commanded his generals to slap crosses on pretty much everything. If it went into battle, it had a cross on it.

And lo, when his army faced the rebel army that was twice the size of his, his soldier guys smote them other soldier guys real bad and got all pre-medieval on their butts; and Constantine did declare, “Hot Damascus, it worked!” (Obviously, I am paraphrasing; I don’t speak Latin.) So, Constantine remained emperor of Rome and a Christian, sort of.

He, being the ruler of the Roman Empire and all, thought he should nail down what it was he, as a newly minted Christian, believed. As it happened, in the fourth century, there were many Christian, and they believed many things, some of which were diametrically opposed. There were lots of writings proclaiming what this fellow Jesus had done and what he was. And there were perhaps hundred of different types of Christians, including some who thought you needed to follow Jewish traditions, and even get circumcised. Ouch!

So in 325,[2] he rounded up a passel of leaders of the early Christian movement and sat them down in the city of Nicaea.[3]  The Council of Nicaea, as it came to be known, squabbled for about a month, penned a statement of what they all agreed on (the Nicene Creed), approved some of these written texts for use in worship and disallowed others. As you would suppose, this pleased some and displeased others. But at the end they all shook hands, said, “Well, that’s that,” and called it “good news,” that is it was now gospel.

This consensus resulted in “winners” and “losers” throughout the known world. Schisms, splinters and fractures appeared before the ink had dried on the papyrus. Subsequent Councils worked on those, and patched some, broke others, and created more. Today the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and other Christian denominations still do not agree on many articles and practices of their faith, each one claiming to hold to the True Faith.

The point is (lest you think this whole article should have been placed in the Religion section of some other blog) that just as Constantine’s government codifying of Christian beliefs in the fourth century resulted in schisms, today the green faith roils with dissension regarding its beliefs; including Organic’s doctrines, that are its beliefs and practices.

The New York Times published an article titled, “Organic Food Purists Worry About Big Companies’ Influence”[4] on July 7, 2012 profiling the founder of Eden Foods, Michael J. Potter,[5] and his quixotic battle against people who do not believe in Organic as he does. According to Potter, heretics have infiltrated the Ecumenical Council—ahem, strike that—the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

A little history is in order. In 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Organic Foods Production Act creating the National Organic Program (NOP). At the time, there were lots of people and corporations producing stuff and labeling it organic, and lots of folks felt that it needed to be codified. This act placed the Department of Agriculture in charge of administrating the program and naming the 15 members of the NOSB, who were to “assist in the development of standards for substances to be used in organic production” and advise the Secretary of Agriculture on implementing the program.

As a result, the NOSB passes judgment on what is or is not kosher[6]—I mean, what can or cannot be used to produce USDS certified Organic food or product. What got up Potter’s nose was the fact that NOSB, which has some large corporations on it, has approved a number of non-organic items. One example of a non-organic item, though not necessarily a problem for Potter, is baking soda used in the baking of organic bread.

According to the NY Times’ article, the thrust of Michael Potter’s complaint is that many on the board have connections with, gasp, profit-loving, non-believing, big companies. (Yep, Kellogg, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Dole, General-Mills, Kraft, M&M Mars, all make organic foods. Even, the great Satan, Monsanto provides seed for organic farmers) And, he accuses these heretical interlopers of voting to allow blasphemous ingredients, such as carrageenan, a substance derived from seaweed used in cooking, to pass as organic.[7] 

So incensed is Potter that he refuses to put the USDA certified-Organic imprimatur on his own company’s products, which are so much purer, without blemish, more authentic, and more truly Organic than the so-called certified-organic products being passed off as the real deal to gullible hoi polloi.

(Well, I, for one, am shocked, shocked to find that big, profit-motivated companies have jumped into the market. Simply put, organic products fetch a premium price.)

This kerfuffle is not about efficacy but ideological purity. As blogger, Andrew Potter notes, “….[T]he question of whether these various ‘synthetics’ should be allowed or not is entirely political.” And not whether any of the items “are healthy, or good for the environment, or contribute to the taste of the product.”[8]

In the world of ideological purity, nothing matters as much as remaining true to the ideal of the ethos, and only those pure of heart, such as Michael Potter or The Food Babe, can divine such things.

It is soon time for the Organics Inquisition.


[1] “According to Lactantius, Constantine was visited by a dream the night before the battle, wherein he was advised ‘to mark the heavenly sign of God on the shields of his means of a slanted letter X with the top of its head bent round, he marked Christ on their shields.’” - (accessed July 14, 2012)

If you don't like Wikipedia, try this:

[2] More than a decade later—no sense in rushing into these things.

[3] “In 325 CE Constantine called the Council of Nicaea, the first so-called Ecumenical Council of the church, that is the first council at which bishops from around the world were brought together in order to establish a consensus on major points of faith and practice.” - Ehrman, Bart. "Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and Faiths We Never Knew." Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 2003.

[4] Strom, Stephanie. “Organic Food Purists Worry About Big Companies’ Influence.” New York Times. July 7, 2012. (accessed July 14, 2012)

[5] You may remember that Potter has been in the news of late for his views on contraception coverage. ‘Like craft chain Hobby Lobby, Eden Foods sued the Department of Health and Human Services in a bid to reverse what its devoutly Catholic founder calls “unconstitutional government overreach.”’-  Clare O'Connor. Eden Foods To Grocers: Stick With Us Despite Birth Control 'Attack.’ (accessed 25-07-14)

[6] From the Hebrew word kāšēr, ‘proper.’

[7] A search on Google reveals a who’s who of purist organic sites, including The Food Babe’s claiming that degraded carrageenan is a carcinogen (most things are, really).

However, the Scientific Committee on Food for the EU concluded in 2003 that “the information available since its last review of carrageenan as an additive for general food use did not provide any reason to alter the ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake-ed.) of 0 - 75 mg/kg bw established previously. The Committee notes that intakes are considerably below the ADI.”source:

[8] Potter, Andrew. “The church of organic.” The Authenticity Hoax – Blog. July 9, 2012. (accessed July 12, 2012)

Feature image: Galileo in front of the Roman Inquisition, after a 1857 Painting by Cristiano Banti. Credit: National Center for Atmospheric Research/National Science Foundation