Medieval monks spent time mortifying their flesh because they subscribed to the idiotic view that the only thing that mattered was one's soul, and the body was merely a corrupt and temporary container for the soul. While hair shirts and whips designed for hitting yourself on the back have mostly gone out of style, the idea that being cruel to ourselves is somehow virtuous still lingers on.
Case in point: organic rye flakes. Not as popular as oat flakes, so the number of stores that carry it, and the number of distributors that provide those stores with stock, is limited. Most of the places that sell rye flakes around here sell a variety that contains a significant quantity of chaff mixed in with the rye. There's also a brand of rye kernels with a similar problem - significant quantities of weed seeds (which are much larger, so it's not that you can't separate them out by sifting) mixed in with the grain. Why? Not because we don't have the technology to separate out the wheat from the chaff or the weeds from the grain - after all, we've been doing that for 8,000 years now and have gotten kind of good at it. No, its because some benighted moron out there who is one of the few suppliers of organic rye thinks that organic foods should involve suffering. After all, if you're not picking bits of dirt out from between your teeth, how would you know it was organic?
Well, actually, the real reason is because it saves the distributor a few pennies to sell poorly winnowed grain. But the reason they can get away with doing that is because their customers think that it's OK if it's lower quality, because, hey, it's organic, and virtue should be painful. The same kind of mentality operates in the produce aisle: I cannot buy Ontario potatoes or carrots or actually Ontario grown anything at my neighbourhood health food store. Even during the summer and fall, when local produce would be in season, everything in their produce section is imported from California, except for the stuff that is imported from Mexico or central/south America. Because it's easier for the store to buy from a big distributor than to buy from a local farmer.
Now oddly enough, all of this California-grown faux-organic produce is rather markedly smaller than standard produce -- not because you need pesticides and artificial fertilizers to make food grow big, but because all of that imported organic produce is factory farmed. Those heads of lettuce are smaller than their non-organic brethren because the factory farms in California have to harvest those huge monoculture fields fast, before the bugs move in and chow down on the crop (or before the weeds grow up and contaminate the harvest). Likewise, "Organic" chickens that boast of being "grain fed" instead of "pasture raised" are smaller than regular chickens (and much smaller than pasture-raised birds) because they're factory farmed, crowded in thousands to the barn, raised as fast as possible and slaughtered before they're fully grown; if they were allowed to reach their full adult weight, the birds would start getting sick and dying from being raised in such cramped conditions, since they can't be fed antibiotics.
And people buy this organic-in-name-only produce and meat, paying far more for it than for regular food, without demurral over the obscene prices or the substandard sizes, because organic food is "good for you," and if it's good for you, then it has to be somehow inferior to regular food. Because, as a culture, we are still trapped by the hair-shirt, self-whipping medieval mentality that virtue must involve suffering. Meanwhile, the agribusiness companies that raise all that "organic" produce out in California make out like bandits.
Me, I'm going to start buying my produce at the organic farmer's market this summer. And I'm going to try to find a place that gets its rye flakes from a different supplier. One that understands this 8,000 year old technology known as "winnowing"
eta: added some comments about capitalism that I forgot to put in at first.