Sunday, 3 August 2008
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?