Eating Local | Why Organic Isn’t Necessarily Better

Whatever your political leanings are, everyone can pretty much agree on the basic tenet that more oil consumption = bad. While your reasons for thinking this might be varied (dependence on Middle East oil vs. harm done to the environment), what we can all focus on is making sure that our food doesn’t travel halfway around the world before getting to our plates. If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of local produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.

In addition, there is clear evidence that foods picked when ripe and eaten soon after are simply much healthier than foods that are, in essence, already decaying by the time we eat them. After an organic tomato has traveled 2,100 miles from California to Chicago, is it really all that much better for my health and the health of the planet than a tomato that only traveled 5 miles, but was sprayed with pesticides?

According to TIME, many chefs, food writers and politically minded eaters are outraged that “Big Organic” firms now use the same industrial-size farming and long-distance-shipping methods as conventional agribusiness. “Should I assume that I have a God-given right to access the entire earth’s bounty, however far away some of its produce is grown?” asks ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan in his 2002 memoir, Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods.

And the consumers aren’t the only ones affected by outsourcing what we eat. The farther away your food has to travel, the less money the farmer will see. While a local farmer sees over 90¢ of your dollar, a farmer thousands of miles away can expect to only get around 21¢ after marketing, transportation, and other business costs.

Eating like a “locavore” can also be an exploration of what the French call terrior, or the specific geography and climate that gives food its flavor and sense of place. This article follows Andre Darlington as he rediscovers the natural flavors of where he lives, as well as helping the environment.

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