Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

When is eating local worse?

Local Food Month - July 2007Sometimes focusing strictly on eating local can be a bad thing. What if your local producer uses conventional methods? What if your local producer is a mega-agribusiness that practices farming techniques that are deleterious to the environment? Think giant hog farms.

When choosing to eat local you need to weigh your options among your local growers. Choosing sustainable or organically grown over conventional is an easy decision if it's grown locally. But what if all you have are conventional products locally? Does it make sense to buy organic products if you have to ship it in from outside your "area"?

This is a decision that everyone has to make for themselves. As discussed in Michael Pollan's, The Omnivore's Dilemma, one farmer argues that buying organic from a giant producer at the very least removes those acres of produce from being farmed conventionally. So, even though that produce is grown in a mono-culture or those chickens have only "access" to the outside (but not truly free-range), it's better than the alternative.

Does this same line of thinking hold for conventional and local versus organic and distant? When it comes down to it I think each situation will depend, but my yardstick will be organic and distant over local and conventional. Of course, when choosing a U-Pick farm or facing down the options at the local farmer's market, this may just waver a bit. Sometimes I forget that just because I'm at a farmer's market doesn't mean that the grower is practicing sustainable farming. I have to remember to ask.

One of my readers brought up a book that addresses these issues: The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. I haven't read it yet, but it looks like it makes for a good read along with The Omnivore's Dilemma.

What about you? How will you decide? What do you do now?

13 comments:

Isle Dance said...

I definitely go certified organic first now, as years and years ago, I was already experiencing health problems due to chemicals/additives/preservatives in our conventional food. Also, later driving through the conventional farm fields...and seeing our crops fed gigantic containers of chemical "Windex" (visualize the light blue liquid, though I'm sure it's not really Windex!) was enough to make me stay organic. This article might help discussion about transportation issues: http://www.cool-companies.org/energy/5.cfm (though I have no idea if anyone else has verified this...but the org looks reputable upon some inspection). Thanks for all that you're doing to help us go local. It's a great eye opener and really making me try hard to figure this all out. Local organic rocks.

QT said...

I agree that organic is the point of going local for me. Perhaps I have enough small producers around me that this has not been an issue so far.

Our farmers market has stalls with grass fed beef, and pasture raised chicken, lamb, turkey, etc.

Cost is not my main driver, but buying organic produce from a local farmer always seems to be much cheaper, too.

Phelan said...

Within my local eating range, we have Cargil, monsanto, pepsi, Kansas cattlemen association {pro NAIS}, so it takes a little research to make sure I am not buying from these companies. I always ask my meat pushers if they are pro NAIS, if they are not I will buy from them. I ask lots of questions of my produce producers about chemicals and farming techniques. Most the time they are happy to tell me everything that I require. I do not go with certified USDA organics, as they are not that strict on what can be called organic, and are becoming even less so. I have to put some faith in my local farmer. They have steep competion with the above mega corps, that they will usually spit their names when asked.

Meghan said...

You know, I'm dealing with a challenge closely tied to this. Is eating food from a big dairy company that just happens to be headquartered locally an issue? If so, am I setting myself up for failure in this challenge by being too hard on myself? Check out my post - I'm very interested in the opinions of others participating in Local Food Month. LFM Challenges

Liz said...

Deborah Madison weighs in on this complicated issue in this recent Culinate essay.

I absolutely agree with her assertion that we the consumers need to be much more tolerant of imperfections in our organic produce.

We also need to remember that many small farms don't certify organic because of the cost and the associated paperwork. Also, just because a farm sprays doesn't mean it's practicing unsustainable farming... it's often as a last resort (as in Integrated Pest Management (IPM)).

Christy said...

The book I read was called The Way We Eat, but I think it is the same author. Another point he makes is paying attention to how the food is shipped in. If it is dry goods shipped by boat, it uses very little fossil fuel. Fresh produce which needs to be refrigerated and contains a lot of water uses a lot of fossil fuels to ship.

He also makes the point that our buying something that is fair trade from Africa or Mexico can make a huge difference in the farmers quality of life while something local may not make as big a difference. It can be a very complicated issue.

I know our local u-pick does spray their crops and I don't want to ingest the pesticides so I've stopped going there. It is hard because I'd like to get my strawberries locally and we love picking our own. I don't want to have to eat organic strawberries from California (I'm in Delaware). I don't look for my local foods to be certified organic, but I do want to know they aren't sprayed or if they are animals that they truly are free-range and get no antibiotics or hormones. I've been lucky on the meat and dairy front but still looking for produce.

Christy said...

Weird, they seem to be the same book just with different titles. I wonder what that is about?

Deb in MA said...

We are fortunate here in Western Massachusetts to have many small farmers raising everything from vegetables, chickens, eggs, dairy, orchards, winery and even a local brewery! I like to buy organic when I can, but I recently learned that organic doesn't always mean environmentally friendly. I purchased a bag of "organic" whole kernel corn only later to learn that it was shipped from China (and then I wasn't comfortable believing it was truly organic). I buy local organic when I can, but knowing the farmers and helping to sustain their way of life is important to me also. IPM is my next choice. However, my local strawberry farm does use some spray early in the season (before flowers set)and my daughters and I still pick there to make our own jams using pure cane sugar instead of eating high fructose corn syrup. I think the trade off is worth it. For me the decisions aren't that difficult as we have no large "agri-business" here. I count my blessings every day.

Ginny said...

I agree. I do not live in a big commercial farming area. Just local farmers. Supporting local farms is important to me, withoiut our support, they cannot make a living. Knowing where our food comes from is more than just a certified organic label. It is also about the famrers, and maybe even becoming involved in the process.

Meghan said...

Out of curiosity, does anyone have a standard set of questions they ask of farmers? What are they for meat? What are they for produce?

nichole vo said...

So here's one that I heard, and I have no real source to back it up. But the woman who told me is very smart, if that helps with its validity...

For us Washingtonians, it's better to buy apples from out of state because the ecological cost of transporting them is less than the cost of running our orchard heaters and fans.

just one to ponder...

El said...

The Singer/Mason book is way scarier and a lot more thought-provoking than Pollan's book, IMHO. It is kind of a shame that they got published at the same time, as their book has lots more issues to wrestle with than Pollan's four meals.

That said, the one issue the Singer/Mason book brought up to me is the question of practice. Sure, those local hydroponic tomatoes look great in April, but did you know they probably heated their greenhouse to make them. Does that greenhouse-heating propane equal the same carbon footprint shipping those tomatoes here from Florida? Most people would never go this far into thinking about their food. But it pays to choose, if you know what informs your choices.

Me? I try to skirt the issue altogether by cooking with food that is either not processed or minimally processed (ground flour, for example). If I do purchase meat, it's for my husband's consumption only, and it comes from a grass-feeding organic local farm. And I grow my own. Not everyone has these options, I know. But I certainly don't feel ethically challenged by my choices.

Chile said...

It's hard to rank my criteria for choosing food. I prefer organic when I can afford it, but I don't necessarily trust the new organic lines in the major grocery stores. I'm more apt to believe products are truly organic from the smaller natural food stores and farmer's markets. If I can find locally produced organic food, that's even better. Fair trade figures in to my choices as well. DH and I discussed what we'll do for Local Food Month today and I'll be posting about that on my blog soon.

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