David Heinemeier Hansson

February 24, 2021

Organic food used to be niche like privacy is today

I don't remember when I first heard about organic food, but I do remember only knowing one family growing up where the term was even mentioned. This was in the 90s, and my awareness of pesticides, factory farming, cage chickens, antibiotics-pumped pigs, and the other ingredients of industrial food production simply didn't occupy space in my consciousness.

Organic food, was, at the time and in my head, something for hippies. Kind, caring people, who perhaps were a little strange. In a good way, but not in my way. It was difficult to even relate. What's wrong with processed food? McDonald's? IT'S JUST FOOD.

Contrast that with today. Organic food, caring about the quality of the ingredients, reading nutrient labels, that's not just for so-called hippies any more. It's an utterly mainstream preoccupation for a lot of people, and hurray for that. It clearly hasn't solved all the world's problems with food production, but it's given rise to a strong counter force of consumers who won't buy and eat the shit they did in the 90s. Progress!

I think caring about privacy today is where caring about organic food was in the 90s. Still the preoccupation of a niche group of people, who might seem a little strange to those who haven't given the topic much thought, but one that's on the cusp of going mainstream. When it does, it won't transform our digital world overnight either, but it'll make a real difference.

Contrast how most people thought about Facebook in the mid to late 2000s. Or even Google and Gmail in the early 2010s. Wow! They're giving these amazing services away for FREE??? THANK YOU BENEVOLENT TECH MASTERS! That's just not a sentiment you'll find many people expressing today. Usually, you'll hear a reluctant defense for why it's actually a pain to switch, or that the alternatives are just as bad, but very few are coming out with an enthusiastic defense of these business models now.

That's quite similar to the rise of organic food as well! The selection and access in the 90s was limited. You had to work harder to find outlets and pay quite a bit more. But alongside rising consumer awareness, access improved, and now you'll find organic food (at least so labeled!) at even discount supermarkets.

Facebook and Google are like Tyson Foods: Mass producers of the digital pink slime. Billions of people turned into a gob of eyeballs sold at monopoly rates to advertisers around the world.

How long do you want to continue being an ingredient in that?

Pink slime.png

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.