“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Healthful or Harmful: How to Read Organic Labels
Food labels boasting "organic" ingredients don't guarantee protection from unwholesome ingredients, preservatives, or manufacturing processes.
With food blogs and news outlets continually reporting conflicting information about the safety of GMOs, organic and raw foods, and even infected lettuce, it's all to easy to become confused as to what's healthful and what's harmful. While some food producers find it within their best interest to provide healthier options, many companies unwilling to change their product methods have resorted to changing their marketing. As a result, misleading labels regarding "organic" foods are meant to confuse consumers.
To be clear, truly organic foods in the U.S. have been certified as such by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Their requirements are as follows:
- Produced without excluded methods, (e.g., genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge).
- Produced using allowed substances.
- Overseen by a USDA National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations.
Thus, any food can technically be "organic," from produce and milk to deli meats and seasoning. However, the limitations of the definition lead some companies to advertise their products as "organic" while still using unwholesome ingredients, preservatives, or manufacturing processes.
Here are five tips to decode organic labeling jargon:
1. "All natural" doesn't mean it's organic
In truth, many products are technically "natural," due to government regulations that forbid food producers from adding hormones or steroids to many animals. In terms of poultry and their eggs, for instance, "natural" only means that the birds are are not given hormones or steroids. In contrast, "organic" poultry denotes that birds are raised with more space than in traditional poultry farms, they only consume on organic (vegetarian) food, and no animal byproducts are allowed.
Thus, "organic" eggs are from uncaged birds who haven't been fed any chemicals. It's important to note that even an "organic" certification doesn't guarantee that the animals were raised in cruelty-free environments. Even "organic" birds are raised on factory farms, and they're still subject to beak cutting and forced molting through starvation.
2. There are different degrees of "organic"
If a label says it's "made with organic ingredients," then the product is composed of 70% organic ingredients. The remaining, non-organic ingredients may still be closely monitored (for example, GMOs aren't allowed), but they don't qualify for certification. Likewise, an "organic" label still gives leeway, as only 95% of the ingredients must be organic to qualify. In reality, only a label that says "100% Organic" can guarantee that a food product is comprised of completely organic ingredients.
3. Are there still nitrites?
Sodium nitrite is a preservative often used in meats. You can sometimes recognize the use of nitrites in deli meat that has a distinctly pink coloration. However, some studies suggest that too many nitrites can damage cells or cause cancer. As The New York Times reports, "Some products that claim to be 'natural' or 'organic' may say they are processed without nitrites or nitrates, and the label may say the item has 'no artificial preservatives' or is 'uncured.' But nutritionists warn that food manufacturers may still add vegetable powders or juices such as celery juice or beetroot juice that contain naturally occurring nitrates, which are converted to nitrites either in the food itself or when they interact with bacteria in our bodies."
4. Look for other certifications
The healthiest animal products come from the healthiest animals. As such, look for certifications from animal wellness groups. For example, Animal Welfare Approved is a credible label considered to be "the gold standard." The United Egg Producers' label certifies egg-laying hens have been treated well, and the Fair-Trade label indicates that workers' rights were seen to during the production process.
5. Larger companies are more likely to be organic
Unfortunately, some companies will not only label their products misleadingly, but forge the Organic certification. Larger companies cannot commit such fraud without quickly being noticed, but smaller companies, like those that earn less than $5,000 a year, are often too insignificant to be noticed. As The Washington Post describes, "The official USDA certificates guaranteeing that a product is organic are relatively easy to forge. And because the organic rules are designed for larger-scale commercial operations, mom-and-pop farmstands may be exempt from inspections if they yield no more than $5,000 a year in sales. So, whether food really meets organic standards is more a matter of trusting purveyors than trusting the organic label."
Mark Kastel is co-founder of the organic watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute. He notes, "There's a higher authority on these issues than the USDA. And that's the consumer." Demand is everything; the more consumers choose "organic" and hold companies accountable for inaccurate labeling, the tighter regulations can become.
Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.