Talk Will Probe Backstory and Influence of 'Organic' Food Labeling

September 20, 2011

September 19, 2011 — What does it mean when a package of salad mixed greens is labeled "organic"? Or butter is labeled "natural"? Who develops and applies such key words that influence how we choose our food and understand its qualities?

Such questions will be addressed during a panel discussion on "Adulterated or Organic? The Meanings in What We Eat" at the University of Virginia Miller Center's Forum Room, to be held Sept. 23 from 2 to 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

The speakers will include Samuel Fromartz, a freelance journalist and author of "Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew," and Benjamin Cohen, an assistant professor at Lafayette College and former director of U.Va.'s Food Collaborative, an interdisciplinary consortium of faculty, staff and students that addresses all aspects of sustainable food issues.

Speakers will trace the history of food labeling – going back to the 1880s, when mass marketing first came to food products – and its implications for food consumption and the public's perception of nature.

This panel is the fourth of six events developed by the Committee on the History of the Environment, Science and Technology, known by its acronym CHEST, a collaboration among faculty members and graduate students in the Corcoran Department of History in the College of Arts & Sciences and the Department of Science, Technology, and Society in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

With support from the Page Barbour Fund for Interdisciplinary Initiatives and the Miller Center, CHEST brings together speakers from around the country to explore topics that cut across traditional academic and policy boundaries separating studies of the environment, science and technology, said CHEST coordinator James Allison, a doctoral student in history. The U.Va. Food Collaborative also co-sponsored this panel discussion.

The next CHEST event on Oct. 20 will focus on "Envirotech," a new way of combining insights from environmental history and the history of technology to reveal previously overlooked connections between the human and nonhuman world. Past CHEST events have covered "Food and Famine in the Developing World: The Cold War Battle Against Asian Poverty," "Global Disease, Modern Health" and "Electricity, History, and our Energy Future."

For information, contact Allison at 804-651-0566 or

— By Brevy Cannon

Media Contact

H. Brevy Cannon

Media Relations Associate Office of University Communications