Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Organic vs. Local

There are so many studies, commentaries, etc., on the virtues of local and organic foods. Organic foods don't have all the pesticides which are so bad for you (also, this), and eating more locally not only reduces the amount of petroleum used to get your food to the table it also increases the amount of nutrients in those foods because they haven't been lost over time. Of course, eating locally organic foods are the epitome of what foodies (myself included) look for. But what if you have to choose between the two? I've never yet found any consensus about which is better. I've read several doctors/nutritionists say that if you get nothing else organic, buying organic milk for children is one of the best choices you can make. And there's always the list of the dirtiest and cleanest produce, to help you choose which ones are worth buying organic and which might not be on a tight budget.
But what if you have to choose between organic or local? I don't think there's been a comprehensive study yet about which is better to choose. So which is more important, eating based on food miles or based on what chemicals you want to keep out of your body? For me, it depends on the food. This is a choice that Alaskans have to make less than most, since so few different foods are grown here. Sometimes when it is available in the grocery store, there's no organic option. (Finding organic celery is a nightmare during the winter!) Milk is the one thing that I've been struggling with. Not having kids, I'm not necessarily sticking to organic milk. I'll pick up either organic or local, depending on how I feel and where I am when I remember that I need milk. Price wise, they're virtually the same and they taste about the same. I am annoyed with the organic milk, though, for having a stupid plastic nozzle on the side. Since when is the regular waxed paper opening too difficult or not good enough? Unnecessary plastic. Grumble grumble.
Organic labeling can be costly for smaller farmers to get. They have to jump through hoops to get the certification, so it's not worth it to a lot of smaller operations. They might follow organic principles but without being able to label their foods as organic. It's always worth checking. And a lot of farmer's markets have rules about organic growing, so it's worth checking out the website of your local one. Or just ask the farmer's themselves. Around here, they're almost always selling the same produce at the same time. (I tend to buy one type of produce from a stall, then move to another for a different type of produce, just to spread my money around a bit.) Last summer I bought a head of broccoli and there was a sign there saying, "Be sure to wash your produce!" When I asked why, the farmer said that she fertilizes her field with cow manure, "and some people forget that they still need to wash it." I double-checked to make sure she didn't use pesticides and she seemed offended by the very idea. My kind of farmer.
Isn't it nice, being able to talk to the people who grow your food?

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