Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ask and You Shall Receive

A typical morning in the peaceful, easy Slayton household goes something like this. I bark requests (ok commands) while my children feign deafness and my husband tells me to calm down. Last week, as our departure time approached I looked at my shoeless son Myles and said “can you give me one reason why your shoes aren’t on?” He stared at me annoyingly tranquil, despite my hysteria, and answered “because you didn’t ask me to.” I went through the catalog of orders I had given the boys and he was right, that morning I hadn’t mentioned the shoes. Touché’.

I thought of this exchange on Monday when I attended a breakfast meeting and panel discussion on organic food sponsored by Stoneyfield Farm, Nature’s Path, Earthbound Farm and Native’. I listened as the moderator, a nutritionist named Ashley Koff, discussed visiting farms to observe the difference in organic and conventional soil. I nodded as Alex Lu, who is in environmental health at Harvard explained that nobody needs to prove conventional food is healthy. And what people would say if, instead of “organic” you asked if they want chemicals in their food or no chemicals? The U.S., it seems, has led the way in cleaning up our air and water but unfortunately not our food. As far as I was concerned, the esteemed panel was preaching to the choir. I was already pro-organic and when presented with the option vote organic for taste and health.

When it came time for the Q & A, I had a question I was dying to ask. Ashley had mentioned that her group had to pay the Westin in order to not serve their food and instead offer organic items. I had a room service delivery of non-organic coffee and hormoney milk back at our hotel thought I would never consume a conventional dairy product at home. As far as the convention I was attending I would place my bet on the needle in the haystack over finding organic food in the food court. I was passed the microphone, complimented the panel and asked “practically speaking, what do you suggest people do when they are away from home with few organic options?” The response was eye opening to say the least.

Jeff Moyer, from the Rodale Institute said the farmers grow what is requested of them. Sadly that’s often the potato that will make the maximum number of French fries or the tomato that can withstand the picking machine. “If people demanded organic, producers and companies would come around.” He said that if every 12 year old demanded organic pizza, the wheat industry (controlled by pizza) would change. This was completely eye-opening for me. I spend hours every day helping people make choices to improve their health and nutrition and hours more writing about the state of these areas. While I do work with my children’s school in improving the food offerings, I don’t think I had considered the power of us all acting as our own lobbyists. Why should we have to eat inferior food when away from home? Let’s each try to change the food selections at one school, store or restaurant and I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised. Some ideas:

• Ask your local coffee place if they serve organic milk. Tell them people would perhaps pay more for it and they can alert their customers they’ve made the change.
• Find out where your workplace gets food for meetings and see if the fruit or lunch meat can be changed to organic.
• Work with your children’s school; start with organic snacks or organic produce.
• And talk to your local pizzeria. Request organic cheese or organic flour (organic whole wheat or is a home run)
Let me know where you plan to “ask” for organic food options and pass this concept on to your friends, family members and coworkers. This time next year I hope the Westin has its own organic options.


  1. What a great blog! I frequently stay at the Westin South Coast in Orange County and whenever I travel I try to stay at a Westin property. I've found that they are pretty accommodating about food...however, you made a very good point. If no one is asking for organic, they're not going to shell out the money for it. Next time I'm there I will definitely make a point of asking for it and/or submitting a comment card with my request.

  2. This is a great blog. I recently had to buy "snack" for my kids' classes and after the trip to whole foods it was something like $250. It got me thinking, "are the other parents buying organic foods when they have snack or are they just buying whatever's cheapest?" I felt like too much of a "snob" to ask the school to either suggest the parents buy organic snacks or collect from the parents and buy it themselves.

    Funny how asking for things to be organic still feels like I'm being "upscale" and it really shouldn't.

  3. Love it, Lauren! Sprout Organic Baby Food supports starting kids healthy with babies' first bite, and also sustainability, helping to preserver our Earth's soil to grow food for future generations.

  4. I was at that breakfast, too, Lauren. I was shocked at Ashley's comments about the Westin as well. So glad you asked that question....I took so much away with me that morning--looks like you did, too. I'm reposting this on my FB and Twitter accounts (Robinsbite)

    Thanks for a great post!

  5. This is another reason to shop and eat locally when possible instead of patronizing chains. Chains can't respond to customer requests as quickly and it takes many more voices to make an impact. Our local coffee house uses organic dairy, eggs and fruit. They made this switch when only a handful of customers requested. And prices didn't rise. Can't see that happening at starbucks.

  6. If even the 5 of you (along with me) took steps to ask companies to change and suggested your friends or clients do the same we'd be off to a running start. Marie, you're right change is easier with small companies but more widespread with larger ones. Abby, maybe a list to the parents about good options (I'm happy to step in an be credited/hated) and Morgan fill out those Westin comment cards. We can do this.

  7.  My wife is from the OC and we've stayed at the Westin a number of times while visiting family. I've always found that more than a fair share of places in Orange County are pretty good about food requests in general. But, the only way to push the switch to organic is to submit the suggestion.