One of the more hotly debated topics today is whether to buy organic or locally grown products. Well, here’s my 2 cents.
To me, the issue is about whether you really want to know what you’re eating – and whether convenience trumps that awareness. Here’s what I mean. Several years ago when professing to be vegetarian was chic, I would hear people tell me that “yes, I’m a vegetarian – but I do eat chicken.” I was never quite sure which food group the chicken was in, a fruit or a vegetable. Their reasoning was that being vegetarian when eating out was so inconvenient because at that time there were so few vegetarian choices on menus.
So, for the first part. Do you really want to know what you’re eating? Well if it’s packaged, start by reading the ingredients. In the U.S., food manufacturers are required to list ingredients in the order of greatest to lowest weight. So that first ingredient makes up most of the weight of the product.
If it’s not packaged like produce or bulk foods, do you really want to know where it was grown and under what conditions? Many people understand the inconsistencies of regulations related to the growing and handling of produce in countries outside the U.S. But there are fruits and vegetables grown here that contain high levels of pesticides (click here for a list) and meat products that contain high levels of hormones and anti-biotics. With these products, organic can be an important choice to minimize your exposure.
Aside from that, do you know the conditions in which your food was handled? Remember the spinach scare last year? The contaminant in that situation was e-coli bacteria. Buying organic spinach may not have made a difference, since manure (an organic fertilizer) can also carry e-coli bacteria. How about the cleanliness of the hands of the workers that picked, boxed and unpacked your fruits and vegetables. That isn’t affected by buying organic either.
If you really want to know what you’re eating, the best way to ensure quality is to grow it or raise it yourself. The next best way is to know the person who is growing it or raising it for you. This isn’t as difficult as you might think. Growing a vegetable and herb garden around your home during the summer months is a simple and fun thing to do. You might also consider a community garden in your neighborhood and share the expense, labor and produce with others. To obtain the items that you can’t grow for yourself, check out the many community farmer’s markets that spring up during the spring and summer months. There you can actually talk to the farmer or rancher and get to know them, maybe even arrange a visit to their farm or ranch.
After that, read the labels for the list of ingredients and the country of origin. I am amazed each time I walk through the produce section of the grocery store and see so many fruits and vegetables available that are “out of season” for our region. With the proliferation of cheap energy and global economies, shipping is no longer a factor. So many people today don’t even recognize that there are growing seasons for fruits and vegetables (check here for the growing seasons of many fruits and veggies). If it’s winter and your about to buy some summer season produce like peaches, you know they were grown half way around the world where it’s still summer.
If you doubt this, consider the proliferation of sushi (raw fish) restaurants in land locked places like Arizona! Serving raw fish requires that it’s fresh – and you can be certain that the fish wasn’t caught locally.
So, starting with my first choice: grow it yourself. Then, buy it from someone who did grow it themselves close to where you live. After that, consider organic especially for the “hot listed” products. And finally, read the list of ingredients and buy products that have fewer ingredients with names of things that you know and can pronounce.
Now, after all of that, what choice will you make when your in a hurry and short on money? How big of a part does the convenience and the cost of what you’re about to buy factor into the mix? In my thinking, that’s the real issue.