Monday, August 12, 2013

Buying Food: The naked truth about organic and local

Food. It is essential to life and some (ie. me) may say to happiness. But there are a few things you should be thinking about if you want to live sustainably.


Organic

Producers earn the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) "organic" label by using no chemical pesticides, growth-enhancing chemicals, or genetic modification on their crops. The USDA "organic" label is assigned to livestock farmers who avoid steroids, hormones and antibiotics; use organically grown feed and treat livestock humanely. It is also common for organic farmers to use renewable resources, conserve water and maintain or improve soil quality.



Unfortunately, organic food is often (always) more expensive than conventional food. There are, of course, reasons for this: employers may pay workers lower wages in conventional farming operations, chemicals increase crop yield, organic foods are often produced on a smaller scale etc. But if you are unable to switch completely to organic start small buy purchasing organics that are comparable in price to the conventional counterpart. I've said it before, but it's important to remember, you can vote with your money and stores take notice of what you buy.

Therefore, if you buy organic food you have the potential to:
  • lessen cruelty to animals
  • avoid consuming health-threatening chemicals
  • prevent damaging pesticides from entering the environment
  • help maintain soil fertility for future generations
  • shift the market toward more affordable organic products
Alternatively, organic foods are not:
  • more flavorful
  • higher in nutrient
  • cures for the common cold
  • the fountain of youth
  • preferred diets of unicorns
So get off your high horse (insert Umbridge-ian *hem hem*, unicorn).


On the other hand, organic foods are not always better (side note: I always knew it was time to pay attention in school when a word was emphasized with bold, italic AND underline *hint, hint*). Threw you a curve ball there didn't I? For the most part, as I've described, organic foods are better for the environment. However, if the food has to travel very far to reach it's destination, we measure this in food miles. In some cases, conventionally grown food that was grown locally can be less detrimental to the environment than organically grown food that has traveled a great distance. Which brings us to the topic of eating locally.

Local

Support your local community and economy by shopping at smaller, locally owned markets and farmer's markets. It's a little more expensive: big companies can charge less because they sell such a vast quantity, so small grocers have a hard time competing. Local harvest is a website, which helps you locate food co-ops, farmer's markets, CSA or local farms in your area.


If you cannot afford to spend more for less, there are sections or products within the large multinational companies labeled locally grown (here in Colorado it say, "Colorado grown" or "Colorado raised").

Food Cooperatives (Co-ops) are non-profit business owned by their members. Anyone can shop there, but by becoming a member you receive discounts on purchases and decision making abilities for the future of the business. Find your local food cooperative through Co-op Directory Service.

Farmer's Markets are locally run, seasonal, open-air markets that showcase local growers. Farmer's markets build community through the one-on-one interaction and education of the producer and the consumer. You can find local farmer's markets through the USDA Marketing Service.


Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a subscription to fresh fruits and vegetables. On the same day every week you stop by a shop to pick up your box of fresh produce. You can choose the box size based on budget and cooking habits and you dollars go straight the the family farm -- no middleman. The Robyn Van En Center for CSA Resources can direct you to the CSA nearest to you.

You can also grow some, most or all of your own food at your home depending on your space. My mom mentioned in the comments below (Thanks mom!) that Grow Lawns, Not Food is a great resource for people wishing to pursue this option. For the urban agriculturalist (or anyone really, I'm not exclusive), check out my small-space gardening posts: Hanging Gutter Part 1 (my adventure in Home Depot), Hanging Gutter Part 2 (when I actually put the thing together), and Small Space Gardening on a Budget (where I show you my apartment balcony garden).

And now the moment of truth... Where does your preferred supermarket land on the Better World Shopper rating scale?
Ranked based on five factors: Human Rights, The Environment, Animal Protection, Community Involvement and Social
[A Companies - are social and environmental leaders][B Companies - tend to be mainstream companies taking social/environmental responsibility seriously][C Companies - have either mixed social and environmental records or insufficient data to rank them][D Companies - engage in practices that have significant negative impact on people and the planet][F Companies - have the worst social and environmental records]