Column: Meaning of words hijacked

Farm Forum

One of the challenges facing our country today is the hijacking of words by groups that want to dictate our ability to make choices in our day-to-day lives. Sometimes I am absolutely amazed at how easily and quickly the transformation can take place.

I question the definitions every time I see these buzz words being used, specifically in advertising. It happens all over the place. You see “all natural,” “organic,” “gluten free” and more plastered across products throughout the grocery store.

But what do any of them actually mean?

Let’s start with organic. According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, organic simply means “relating to, or derived from living organisms.” Yet, today, when you mention the word “organic,” you automatically insinuate much more than that.

Advertisers and growers alike use the word organic as a measuring tool of worth and value. Those who buy produce in a store seem willing to pay more just to have those letters on a package. Yet, it’s not a guarantee of the product being free from problems.

Organic produce can still carry things such as salmonella, certain pesticides, etc. No matter what type of produce you buy, organic, conventional or something in between, all produce needs to be washed and cleaned properly before consumption. The label on the package doesn’t change that fact.

Almost all food is organic by the most basic of definition because most food comes from something that was once living. It isn’t until more recent times that the word became redefined.

Another term being hijacked? Sustainable.

Just this weekend, during our church service, it was noted that we should pray for sustainable energy sources. Great idea! But what does it mean?

Sustainable means to be capable of being sustained, which in turn means to be able to support the weight of, or hold up to . . . well, something.

So what energy types are sustainable? I would guess that would depend on your definition of “holding up.” The first gasoline engine prototype was built in the late 1890s. It seems as if more than 100 years of something appears to be pretty sustainable in my book. Although, to be fair, the technology wasn’t around before that, so how can we judge its sustainability?

And in reference to farming, what makes certain production methods sustainable and others not? We are raising the fourth generation on this farm. Our operation has grown and changed as technology and development have changed. Like most farms, our decisions are constantly being influenced by the world around us, by technology and by weather patterns. We do not limit our decisions to one method or one thought process. It’s ever changing.

Are we sustainable? I believe we are the definition of sustainable — mostly because we are planning on the transfer to the next generation. Were we successful? I believe only our future generations will be able to determine the answer.

Words are just words, and as we have learned so many times before, actions speak much louder.

Val Wagner loves raising her four boys on the farm in Dickey County, along with her husband, Mark. Catch her blog, Wag’n Tales, at, or follow one of their cows on Twitter at Cows_Life. Contact her at