socio-political self-help and stuff
a few days back, a friend of mine, aware of my generally* healthy eating habits and advocation of all things green, asked for my opinion on buying organic versus locally sustainable produce. i realized that not many understand the difference between the labels – and for good reason… they’re confusing as fudge! (not that fudge is confusing at all. but in the spirit of keeping this family friendly… 🙂 )
i’ve decided to share my definition of the three, with a bit of commentary, ’cause that’s just how i roll…
local. even the usda has not quite developed a clear definition of local food. their 2010 study entitled “local food systems: concepts, impacts and issues” doesn’t want to say that they’ve concluded local to mean food sourced from within four hundred miles of one’s location. but they do. kind of. they also go on to say that it includes food grown within one’s state. sort of. i mean, they really skirt the issue of just spitting out a definition. i kind of thought if anyone would do it – it would be the u.s. department of agriculture. but no. they go on to say that it’s not the distance that makes food local – but the relationship between the consumer and the supplier. huh? yeah. okay. to make it a bit more confusing, a few extreme locavores bring those four hundred miles down to one hundred… and are all about the distance.
good: fresher produce – ripened on the vine/tree and not in the back of some cargo truck. reduced carbon impact – your food doesn’t need a passport to get to you. responsibility – in the farmers’ market sense, there’s some accountability when the farmer must look you in the eye as they hand over their wares.
bad: there are no rules on how farmers can grow produce – local farmers are not prohibited from using pesticides or gmo seeds.
in-between: if choosing local, look for local farmers who also incorporate organic and/or sustainable practices. you can ask to visit their farms in order to be sure of the methods employed. be wary of the farmer who says no…
organic. organic food is typically grown without using chemical fertilizers, pesticides or other manmade substances. it is not exposed to antibiotics, radiation, or synthetic additives. to label one’s food as organic, a farmer must obtain certification by way of one of several governing bodies. processed organic food uses inputs certified as organic.
good: organic food not only tastes better, but researchers are finding that it is better for our bodies. it’s what nature intended. the body finds it difficult to process those unnatural, chemically laced foods, which are notoriously contributing to major health epidemics in western countries.
bad: certification is quite costly – a farmer must have each component independently certified. the average small organic farmer – when you think of actual yields – cannot afford the cost of certification. organic foods are not without controversy – processed foods labeled organic have a five percent leeway in including components that are not organic. that’s right. only ninety-five percent of the products in an “organic” product must actually be organic. what? and… there are exceptions to using chemicals – if pests and weeds are not controllable through organic methods, farmers are permitted to use chemicals not listed on the national list of synthetic substances. i know!
in-between: organic food’s goods definitely outweigh their bads. be sure to note the practices of the organic farmers that you source from. you can research a company’s practices with a few internet searches. find out who their parent company is, if applicable – look into their practices too. and yes, the price of organic food is higher than conventional foods – don’t let this be the reason you’re eating unhealthy health foods. give up something else, if you have to – you are worth it. if you’re only going to buy some organic items, be sure to choose the items listed in the environmental working group‘s dirty dozen.
sustainable. food grown using sustainable practices isn’t necessarily labeled organic. it isn’t necessarily local. but it is usually both. sustainable practices often involve principles of permaculture, which promotes harmony with nature. that means, using as little resources as possible to grow food. employing planting/growing/harvesting/raising techniques that serve as pest and weed control and increase yield, without damage to the soil and/or environment.
good: sustainable farming allows the earth to work the way it works. it follows cycles and goes beyond what nature intended – it is nature at work. it leaves the land in a better condition. and uses less resources than conventional farming.
bad: i really can’t think of many here. save that some may not purchase sustainably grown food that isn’t also labeled organic. but. since the organic certification is quite the costly undertaking and is somewhat losing its validity, many sustainable farmers simply choose not to seek certification.
in-between: this one is my favorite. hey, i’m biased – mostly due to that whole permaculture design course i completed awhile back. but i believe that one can’t go wrong with eating food grown in the way that nature intended.