A controversy in Canada has reignited debate: What’s better — buying local food, or buying imported organic? This writer says: Buy local! Here’s why.
Canada’s grocery industry was rocked by a whistleblower revealing that a large organic chicken supplier was sometimes flat-out lying about its product’s “organic” status.
This got a lot of folks talking about buying organic, and all the old skeptics came out of the woodwork again, bemoaning the notion that buying organic is a “scam.”
I think, for the most part, when you’re buying organic, you’re usually getting organic. I don’t think there’s some industry-wide conspiracy to dupe you, the well-meaning consumer.
That said, let’s talk about why buying local might change your world better than buying “organic”.
Organic doesn’t mean Earth-friendly
Just because it was grown without pesticides doesn’t mean you’re doing the planet any favors when that produce has been trucked up from Mexico. It may have driven for 24 hours on the Interstate, but hey, man, the label says organic.
The truck, however, is still a carbon-spewing monster. The refrigeration it requires, the packaging — they’re all part of the consumption problem.
Buying from local providers or farmers’ markets means foregoing all that pollution, possibly even the packaging. And from my own experience, I find most local farmers are trying to balance a productive crop with healthy growing techniques, even if it’s not 100% organic, because they know they’re more reliant on good customer relations, and they also know their customers tend to be better informed about their growing practices.
Organic doesn’t mean ethical
That “free-run organic egg” might have chickens eating organic feed, but they’re still chickens eating feed indoors. I’d buy a non-organic free-range egg before I’d buy “free-run organic”. I’d rather my chickens get outside, run around, live happily, eat natural feed and, hey, eat other stuff chickens like to eat — like bugs, worms, grass, leaves, and other “real” food. They may sleep indoors overnight, but their diet is less grain-focused and more balanced.
It’s easy to employ “organic” farming without necessarily farming in a biodynamic or Earth-friendly way that reduces consumption and waste. If you’re buying local and organic, you can ensure it’s from providers who are not just growing food but being a part of the ecological solution.
“Local” keeps your community employed
If you’re demanding your local stores and butchers use local products, you’re helping your local foodmakers keep their operating costs lower, allowing them to invest more in the quality of what they’re producing. You’re ensuring they get top dollar for their product, because local meat and veggies can tend to cost a little more. This is also critical to your local economy, since local producers often pay a living wage to their workers, versus the pay one might get at an industrial food giant.
Local food tends to be ethical
Smaller producers tend to favor traditional methods simply because they can’t opt into the “big machine” methods used by big agriculture, and as a result you’ll be likely to find balanced, sustainable practices going on, and that’s a big deal. It also means that we help protect the sprawl-to-agriculture ratio and keep some greenery around us.
Food you can feel good about
Where I live, a lot of local providers have gotten their products into all the restaurants and stores. I’ve come to know their farms and operations by name and I can rely on getting a quality product when I favor their product at the stores.
I may pay a little more for what I get, but I guarantee you, from tender spinach to juicy strawberries, “local” product tends to have better flavor, it stays fresher longer, and I enjoy it more than the flavorless trucked-in products I get from “big agriculture” in places like Mexico and California.
Not a buzzword
Buying local isn’t a buzzword. It’s a return to a way of life where we ate where we lived. In some cultures, they believe you need to eat food from the land you live upon, in order to have the proper life-force to live where you do.
Are they right? Meh, I don’t know. But I do know I keep local farmers employed, I don’t have to worry about “food recalls,” and my meals taste better than they ever did when I was buying imported goods.
What about you?
Are you eating where you live? Are stores giving you the chance to do so? If not, talk to produce managers and butchers, ask them what it’s gonna take for you to have that option.