Cindy Burke

Cindy Burke

Cindy Burke

Business '98

To Buy or Not to Buy Organic is a practical guide that helps consumers make informed decisions about purchasing organic foods. The book describes how conventional agricultural practices have made certain vegetables and fruits (apples, for example) more likely to contain pesticides, making them a good choice to buy organic. On the flip side, the book lists other fruits and vegetables (such as thick-skinned avocados) that test extremely low for pesticide, making them a great less-costly option even when not organic. The author, Cindy Burke (class of ’98), claims that the book’s successful spin on the organics dilemma was germinated in her experiences and lessons learned as a business student at UW Bothell.

Burke, now a Seattle resident, left Michigan State University just short of completing her undergraduate degree in journalism. She pursued a design career in Washington, D.C. for several years before realizing that she wished she had completed her college degree.

While visiting, Burke fell in love with Seattle and she decided to move to the area. After arriving, Burke decided that she wanted a more challenging career and opted to pursue a business degree at the community college the University of Washington. Upon the advice of admission staff, Burke enrolled in system to complete her business prerequisites (mostly math) and then transferred into UW Bothell.

UW Bothell provided an experience vastly different from that of her previous university. According to Burke, “the education at UW Bothell was exceptional, with smaller classes and far more connection to the faculty.” Burke praised the experience she gained from the multitude of group projects and class presentations. She now appreciates that they served as “invaluable training” for her work today as a learning consultant and instructional designer.

Burke also recalls a couple of important life lessons garnered while at UW Bothell. “Seek opportunity everywhere,” was one mantra that she heard and embraced. Another treasure was that “if everyone you see is looking right, then look left. Don’t follow the pack.” That axiom relates directly to her book on organics.

In the years following her graduation, Burke, a food lover with a young daughter, co-wrote a book that investigated the prevalence of unhealthy trans fats (partially-hydrogenated oils) in processed foods and offered alternative recipes. Since then, food manufacturers have greatly reduced trans fats in many processed foods, due largely to the greater consumer awareness and demand.

Burke was approached with an opportunity to write a book called “100 Things You Must Buy Organic.” In the process of conducting her research, Burke noticed that everyone was jumping on the organic bandwagon. In 2006, the rise of organics was a becoming a marketing groundswell.

Yet Burke harkened back to her business training and decided to “look left” when everyone else was looking right and offer an alternative to the “all things organic” tidal wave. What if she reframed the question as, “What to buy organic and what not to buy organic?” It was a subtle twist, but a prescient one, because the book was published in 2007, when the economy was about to change significantly.

As the great recession settled in, consumers became less willing to spend money on organics, which can cost considerably more than non-organics. Food shoppers wanted better information about how to make their dollars count at the grocery store. They still wanted to eat food without pesticides, but they wouldn’t pay the organic premium price without wondering “what to buy organic and what not to buy organic?” The book continues to sell well to this day.

To Buy or Not to Buy Organic: What You Need to Know to Choose the Healthiest, Safest, Most Earth-Friendly Food, Cindy Burke, Da Capo Press, is available for purchase online and at your favorite bookseller.
Seek opportunity everywhere… Cindy Burke