Sustainable Eating #3: Locavore vs. Organic-avore

Welcome to 2010!

A lot of exciting things are supposed to happen this year.  If Arthur C. Clarke is right, this is the year that Jupiter will turn into a sun thanks to Roy Schneider.  We’re 2 years away from the Mayan (Aztec?) apocalypse.  Yep, this is an exciting time to be alive!

In all seriousness, while 2010 is a year of great opportunity, it’s also one of great challenge with the glocal economy still on shaky footing, joblessness soaring acros the world, and some very credible evidence that the environment is getting more and more unstable.  Fixing the environment is a big job, but it’s not so big if we all pitch in.  That’s why Caitlin from Roaming Tales and I are doing this series on sustainable eating: so everyone can make informed decisions about food and the food supply.

Local vs. Organic

… the debate continues.

There is no debate in food (except maybe the debate between rice cooker enthusiasts and those who cook rice without) which is filled with such passion as local versus organic.  I’ve seen vegetarians and carnivores shake hands and agree on animal rights long before a locavore will concede a point to organic-afficionado.

See, the problem is that in this debate, both sides have really good arguments to support them and both have some flaws to their arguments.  That, more than anything else, keeps the debate going.

As I see it, the debate boils down to this:

Locavore: You should eat as much as you can from as close to you as possible.  This increases the freshness of the fruit since it didn’t have to travel so far and reduces the carbon footprint of your meal.

Organic: Food should be grown sustainably and using practices that avoid pesticides, artificial fertilizers, hormones, etc.

Now, obviously the best thing is when you can find local organic food and then everyone can live in peace.  There’s only one problem, you can’t always have both.  In fact, even though I live in the breadbasket of the country (Kansas) surrounded by farmland as far as the eye can see, I struggle to find local, organic produce.  We have one famers market dedicated to it, but other than that, there may be only 1 or 2 stalls at any given farmers market that will have organic produce from 100 miles or less.

When my wife and I realized that, we had to make a choice.  We could either eat local and reduce our carbon footprint or go organic and eat foods grown with practices we support.

At this point I want to pause and give you a second to figure out what you would do.  Eat local or eat organic?

Before revealing my decision, I can say the first thing I did was make the local organic farmers market my first stop on my weekly shopping trip.  Again, best of both worlds.  But with only 4-5 stalls dedicated to vegetables (and many of them selling the same vegetables), all of our vegetable needs simply weren’t met.  That meant we had to make the decision… and we chose organic.

Not without some amount of discussion.  I’m the first generation in my family not to grow up on the farm.  I respect the small family farm, but at the same time I abhor unsustainable agriculture, I want to avoid genetically modified foods, and I don’t relish the thought of dining on a banquet of pesticides and hormones. 

However, I didn’t let it rest there.  To this day, when we go to the non-organic farmers markets, I always ask if the farmers if they use organic practices.  If they don’t, I smile politely, explain I prefer organic and move on.  If some of their product is organic, I will strongly consider buying just the organic goods.  In this way, I am trying to bring about change the only way I know how: education and voting with my dollar.

And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone because I’m finding more and more farmers are starting down the path towards becoming organic.  Which is good.  When I hear a farmer is starting down this path, I will start to support them because I approve of what they do. 

However, there is a trick to giving a farmers a pass.  It’s hard to explain, but basically you can tell when a farmer is proud of the changes they are making in the way they talk about them.  They are excited to share and they are knowledgeable about what they are doing.  If they farmer just says “Oh we’re not organic, but we try to be healthy” keep walking. They have no idea.

So am I making an eco-change?  I would say yes.  I am doing what I can to further the development of local, sustainable agriculture.  I am conciously seeking out farmers markets where I can get local, organic produce, and frankly, I am eating organic which has a net positive impact on the environment.  Perhaps not so much in terms of carbon footprint, but it definitely helps because I am supporting not putting bad chemicals in the soil while improving its health.

If that’s not your choice, if you would prefer local over organic, go for it.  It’s a perfectly legitmate choice.  Though, I would respectfully request that you work for the holy grail of local and organic food.  That way, we can all have the produce we want and eat it, too.


Leave a Reply