Sunday, 3 August 2008

Organic vs. Local vs. Imported vs. Fair Trade

Gosh, hasn’t buying food become an ordeal these days? Should we choose organic over non-organic but locally produced produce, and what about when a fruit or vegetable’s out of season but still produced and available locally, should we choose that rather than an imported version?

With our own health, the health of the planet and the local economy to think about, just doing a grocery shop can be something of a challenge these days.

The way I see it is that each of the above - organic, local produce and imported produce - have their place on our tables and this is why.

According to the Food Standards Agency, "evidence does not show that organic food is any safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food." I'm not entirely convinced though, so if I can find locally produced organic produce then that will generally be my first choice. Organic food may not be any more "safe or nutritious" for us but it's certainly better for wildlife and the soil in general as organic farming promotes crop-rotation rather than mono-agriculture (see my post on soil for more information about this).

However, if buying organic means leaving a large environmental footprint due to shipping and the petrochemicals involved, I'd rather choose locally produced, non-organic food.

Local Produce
Agriculture is an important part of the British economy and unless we support local farmers and small-scale producers, a lot of people will eventually be out of work and the countryside will go to pot. By sticking with food that’s produced locally we’re helping support the local economy as well as cutting back on the carbon miles that our meals are leaving behind them.

The best bet is to shop at farmers’ markets, farm shops, local independent grocers and the likes because their produce is likely to be local in the sense of coming from within a 20-30 mile radius hence having a lower pollution factor due to less transportation. Apparently, by buying food that’s genuinely locally produced, the country would save over £2 billion in environmental and congestion costs.

When it comes to meat, I always try to buy British and if we're talking beef, preferably grass fed.

If locally sourced produce isn’t available then buying British grown produce is the next best option. Usually.

Imported Produce
Whereas local produce is generally the better alternative, if a fruit or vegetable is out of season and being grown in heated greenhouses - often heated by fossil fuels - or kept in long-term cold storage in order to provide for market demands throughout the remainder of the year, an imported alternative can actually be better for the environment. Better, but not good.

Fair Trade
Of course, we can't forget the myriad fruits that simply don’t grow here. Oranges, bananas, mangos, pineapples and so the list goes on - all of which are good for us. If they're what I'm after I try to look for Fair Trade foods, preferably Fair Trade and organic but if I have to choose, I tend to go with Fair Trade. It’s important, I feel, that farmers and their workers in third world countries are also given the chance to develop a sustainable economy.

Having said that, I tend to go for a combination of Fair Trade and fruit supplied by local grocers, because most Fair Trade stuff tends to be found in supermarkets and I really don't like buying more than necessary at those places. Give me a farm shop over Tesco any day!

As I said earlier, making the ‘right’ choice isn’t always easy but I do feel that as much as our own health is important, if we don’t stop polluting the planet it won’t make much difference in the long run. In my opinion, buying a combination of organic food, local produce and Fair Trade imports is the way to go although I have to admit that sometimes my purse steers me in a direction I’d rather not have to take.

Sharon J

Other posts that may be of interest:

BBQs - An Eco Friendly Way of Preparing Food?
Tesco, Asda and The Others
Plenty More Fish in The Sea?
Baby Cows - Should We Eat Them?


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emmani said...

Hello Sharon,

You have such a wonderful blog, you must be top on the guest list at dinner parties! I've stopped by a lot recently on recommendation from Jennifer at HomeMattersMost, you're bookmarked now!

I've been in this dilemma far too much recently... I had an organic local veg box delivered for a few weeks, but found the produce of very poor quality, most things had to be thrown out as it went mouldly before the week was over!

The main problem for us, as usual, is money. We just can't afford to have a choice. Unfortunately tesco value makes an appearance far too often in our fridge.

The main things I refuse to change my stand on are:

Coffee and tea... I always buy Fairtrade (or responsibly grown cooperatives)

Bananas... always Fairtrade, thankfully Sainsburys Basics are Fairtrade

Eggs... I'd rather go without than buy a battery egg, free range only ever in my basket. The cheapest I've found in my local shop too, which is even better.

All non food items ie. cleaning and toiletries are slowly being converted to natural products.

Nappies...Always Nature Babycare a 70% (and working towards 100%) mothers initiative family run business. The 100% nappies are too expensive for me, so are these, but I won't go back now.

I've been putting off my shopping for the last few days... because I end up an emotional wreck at the end of it all!!

Guilt, anger, worry, embarrassment, all in a days shopping... and if I forget to take my reusable bags? Well that's another story!!

Catz said...

Food for thought there Sharon! It is dificult to make the right decision sometimes especially if like me you have a self steering" purse! :)

Frugal Trenches said...

Great post Sharon!
I always buy fairtrade for anything that doesn't grow here, but then try to get local & organic when possible. Sometimes it simply isn't and then I have to make a choice!

Sally B said...

Excellent post Sharon, such an important issue particularly for rural areas. Great blog.

Sharon J said...

@ Emmani. Thanks for the compliments but no, I'm not top of the guest list. In fact I'm rarely invited to dinner, possibly because people think that because I'm an intravenous feeder, I'm going to be difficult to feed conventionally, which isn't true.

I never buy anything other than free range eggs, either. If I could only get battery eggs I'd rather go without.

@ Catz. I agree that the purse does often determine what can and can't be bought. There are some things I won't compromise on though.

@ Frugal Trenches. We sound similar in our choices. Luckily, one of the local farm shops only stocks organic local veg so I tend to pop in there whenever I'm heading that way (not worth the carbon emmissions for a special journey, though).

@ Sally B. I often think 'townies' forget how important it is for those in rural areas that we buy local produce. Welcome to my blog, btw.

Jennifer said...

Hi Sharon
Just adding my two penneth, I choose organic above local or fairtrade because of the 'pesticides / chemicals' issue. I am a bit of a purist and prefer knowing my food didn't have sprays on it. I have bought organic fairtrade bananas and continue to buy as much organic fairtrade as possible.

Speaking of which, I saw you like 'white rice'. So do I but I finally found a fantastic brown rice made from Suma and it is organic and fairtrade. It is their organic brown basmati rice. Smallish to medium size bag around a £1.00.

Unfortunately I just couldn't buy local produce if I wasn't sure whether it was organic or not. :( None of us are perfect though are we? We're all on a journey and all these little steps all of us that read your blog are doing must in some way contribute to a better world surely?


Sharon J said...

Jennifer. You're absolutely right about none of us being perfect and we all have to do what we believe is right. What I write here is just MY opinion, others have their own way of doing/seeing things. As you say, as long as we're doing what we can to contribute to a better world then we're doing the right thing whatever :)

Luckily, I have a farm shop close by that sells local, organic produce.

Who or what are Suma? I've never heard of them/it.

Jennifer said...

Suma is a brand that makes organic/ fair trade food.

Sharon J said...

Thank you, Jennifer. I shall check that out :)

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