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Written June 17, 2019

In August 1969, nearly half a million young people made a spiritual journey to a rustic upstate New York farm, there to participate in an Aquarian exposition of peace and music.

Afterwards, Joni Mitchell sang that we need to return to our Edenic origins. 

We are stardust —
     Billion-year-old carbon.

We are golden —
     Caught in the devil's bargain.

And we've got to get ourselves
     Back to the Garden.

We are carbon!  Just do it!  Or, as Eve said to Adam, “Werg!"

Well, no, she probably didn't.  However, linguists have deduced that there must have been a Proto-Indo-European root *werg- that did mean “to do.”  From *werg- sprouted a branching etymological tree.  In modern times, we have words like work and erg.

The ancient Greeks had organon, literally meaning “that with which one works.”  They used the word to refer to a tool, a musical instrument, or a part of the body like an eye.

And from the Greek organon comes the modern adjective organic.

I've played organic music in church.

But that is not usual sense of the word.  There are more than a dozen other definitions.  In general they arise from the observation that our bodies are composed of many parts, and these “organs” are “organized” to form a living being.  For example:

                 or·gan·ic (adj.)

1.  Part of the basic structure.

2.  Developing analogously to the growth of a living thing.

3.  (Corporate Development) Growing continuously and
      naturally rather than by acquisition.

4.  (Philosophy) Complex, like the organization of living

5.  (Law) Pertaining to the essential constitution of a

6.  (Psychology) Caused by physical change.

7.  (Medicine) Affecting the structure of an organ.

8.  (Art) Having an irregular shape suggesting forms
      found in nature.

9.  (Architecture) Having a structure perfectly filling
      the functional requirements for the building and
      forming an integrated whole, like a plant or animal.

Frank Lloyd Wright described his architecture as organic, but he struggled all his life to define the term.  In 1908 he wrote that an organic building should be filled with integrity, appearing to “grow” easily from its site with natural colors and freely-expressed materials, and it should be simple, sincere, true, gracious, and loving.   In 1953 he explained further: “Organic means Part-to-Whole-as-Whole-is-to-Part.”

Here are six more definitions of a technical nature:

10.              or·gan·ic (adj.)

10.  (Science) Of living organisms.

11.  (Biology) Of the organs of an animal or plant.

12.  (Pathology) Of living tissue.

13.  (Material Science) Derived from living matter.

14.  (Chemistry) Containing the element carbon.

15.  (Agriculture) Grown with fertilizers or pesticides of
       animal or vegetable origin, not manufactured chemicals.

When I went to college, I studied introductory chemistry, but not the higher-level organic chemistry.  “Organic” was more complicated because it dealt with carbon-containing compounds.  Its title comes from definition #14.  By this definition, everything we eat is organic, except for a few inorganic compounds like sodium chloride.

However, grocery stores prefer to use definition #15.  They label some food products as organic but not others.

Charlotte Vallaeys of Consumer Reports explains, “‘Organic’ has strong, comprehensive federal standards that address how foods are farmed and processed.”  Organic foods may not be produced with most synthetic pesticides or with any artificial flavors or colors, antibiotics, or growth hormones. 

These are organic red potatoes?  Yes, by #15.  But by #14, so are the less expensive potatoes in that bin over there!

Didn't you learn in your chemistry class that starches are polymeric carbohydrates? 

Potatoes are mostly starch.  Therefore potatoes contain carbon.  Therefore, says the chemist, all potatoes are organic — just like you and me.  So there! 



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