Forget organic, eat local
Posted on Sep 11, 2012 in Opinion
As a broke college student and devoted foodie, making the choice between Publix and Whole Foods on grocery day has been an emotional one. I want to eat and cook in the healthiest way possible. I simply cannot afford organic food so I have to settle with conventional instead, accepting a nutritional deficit in the tradeoff. Or so I thought.
A recent Stanford study reveals there is little nutritional difference in organically and conventionally grown food. Sure the organic stuff has less pesticide content, but comparisons show conventional levels of chemicals are not significantly greater. Organic animal products are not any more nutritional either. Milk is the only item that has a higher nutritional value than its conventional counterpart.
These facts bring many questions to mind, the first of which being what made buying organic so appealing in the first place? As farming companies grew and food production became more commercialized, farming practices focused on efficiency and profitability, not quality of product or the natural growing process. Concern for chemical use affecting the land, the produce, and consumers led to organic standards being employed and readily available at most supermarkets. Organics quickly became synonymous with “healthy.”
However, like Stanford’s study proves, there are holes in the system of certified organic farming. Now that organic food has become such a desired option, many large corporations have seen a profit in farming organically and also in lowering certification standards. As organics grew, so did companies’ push for the USDA to loosen restrictions on organic farming.
Currently, organic certification means much less than when the movement began.
This raises another question in my food-savvy mind: if there are no health benefits in organics, what am I buying them for? For the quality-concerned consumer, there are many other specifications to seek on grocery shopping day. Locality, seasonality, and animal welfare are very important facets of farming and food consumption and contribute more to health than whether the foods are organic or not.
Supporting local farmers is one of the healthiest choices that can be made. Individual farmers who rely on the fruits and vegetables of their labor take great effort to grow sustainable and chemical free produce even though most do not have official organic certification. The importance is not in the label but the intent of the farmer who wants to give food-savvy people like you and me the best produce we can consume.
Small operation farmers can only grow what should naturally be in season because their operations do not include tropical greenhouses or food flown in across the world. In comparison, today’s standard of organic which allows food to be shipped across the world at any time of the year and still be certified. These farmers also take the best care of their animals, which means they administer medicine when it is needed. Organic standards, however, allow no medicine to be given, resulting in sickly animals suffering on organic farms.
Local eating is a movement gaining momentum across the nation but is one evident in Birmingham. If your stomach is craving more than just shallow certification, check out Birmingham’s local food scene. Pepperplace hosts a farmer’s market every Saturday through December and boasts clean produce from local farmers. Numerous restaurants consistently source locally and are easy to locate in an Internet search.
Next time I grocery shop, I’ll decide on local food and ethically grown conventional foods. I’ll swap a grocery cart for a paper bag at the market.