Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Food: Is Organic Better? How Local Is Local? Should We Skip Conventionally Grown Food Altogether?

One of my friends shared an article on Facebook about a lawsuit against Kroger for its Simple Truth product labeling being misleading. The truth is, Kroger is no better or worse than any other company out there. FDA labels allow a ton of leeway sometimes. Don't just see something labeled as "organic" or "free-range" and think that makes it better or worse than another option. Here are some resources.

One of my favorite blogs,, shared some information a few weeks back about egg labeling. It's eye-opening, really. It just goes to show that foods labeled organic aren't necessarily better than foods not labeled organic.

Here's another example, a great image from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI):

I read a fantastic article a few weeks back about how some people forgo regular produce if they can't find organic produce, and the effects of organic pesticides on the environment compared to pesticides used by most commercial farmers. The effects are surprising to me after hearing so much about the dangers of commercial pesticides. Admittedly, my husband is well informed about chemicals, and so I knew that organic doesn't mean pesticide-free. Still, I was enlightened further by this explanation, which was a little less science-y than my husband's, and so a little clearer for me. 

The key, though, is to be informed. Don't just jump on any bandwagon without a lot of research and thought. "Green washing" gets a lot of people--any label claim should be suspect (think "low fat" or "sodium free"). Marketing isn't done for your benefit--it's done for profit. And remember all sellers out there are trying to make a profit--some try to do it while also trying to be good to the environment, and some don't give a crap about the environment. Some farmers grow food responsibly but can't afford to get an organic certification. There are a lot of hoops and requirements, some of which are out of the farmer's control. The key is responsibility

We prefer to buy locally whenever possible, though what grocers call local and what we consider local can vary by hundreds of miles. [A sign at our local grocery store claimed it bought produce from local growers--which in this case meant up to 400 miles away. That's a little far afield for our taste.] Of course, we also like foods that just cannot be grown locally, so we have to decide whether we want to benefit from them being non-organic and non-local or if we prefer to have whatever benefits they provide. (Hm, balance, perhaps?) Also consider, if you're going organic to benefit the earth, how far that organic produce/meat has to travel to get to you. If a lot of fossil fuel has to be burned for your earth-friendly food to get to you (say it's out of season locally), is it still earth-friendly? (Here's a tip: It depends.)

So, when it comes right down to it, balance and responsibility--educating yourself is the key. Whether you're trying to do better for the environment, better for your direct health, or a little of both, things are rarely black-and-white. Maybe organic is better for one food but conventional is better for another, and food from a friend down the road is better. This year, we'll be growing a lot of vegetables right next to a field that is commercially farmed, Our food could never be considered organic because of that, but we're still going to eat it over organic produce purchased at the local grocery store. We all have to make tradeoffs, and it's up to us as individuals to decide which ones we can live with.

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