The local versus organic food debate is not new. In Vermont it heats up to a boiling point almost every harvest season. In winter, when less local produce is available, it seems obvious that organic is the way to go. But is it so obvious? It depends…
Here are two ends of the debate:
LOCAL: Consider this statistic (attributed to Local food movement pioneer, Joan Gussow): Shipping a strawberry from California to New York requires 435 calories of fossil fuel but provides the eater with only 5 calories of nutrition.
ORGANIC: “I don’t know what local means. Do they use local pesticides? Does that mean the food is better because they produce local cancers?” Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety quoted in the New York Times in 2007.
The short answer is that the decision to buy organic or locally grown food is a personal choice based on health concerns as well as environmental and social responsibility. As you make your choice, always consider the source. And here are a few other points you might examine:
- How vulnerable is a particular food to pesticides? Eggplant for example has a very thick skin and according to the Environmental Working Group is among the least likely vegetables to be contaminated by pesticides. Milk, on the other hand, is very vulnerable. The USDA Pesticide Data Program found as many as twelve different pesticide residues in milk tested in 2005.
- According to the Environmental Working Group Shopper’s Guide: Pesticides are detected in 7 of every 10 fruit and vegetable samples tested.
- How is the produce shipped? How the food is shipped effects its quality and its environmental impact.
- What happens to the produce after harvest? Improper food storage can create health risks.
- Where is the food from? When organic food travels long distances to market, it creates pollution that can outweigh the positive environmental effects of organic farming.
At Vermont Country Cyclers (we started small in Vermont and grew into a worldwide bike touring company), our modus operandi was “travel globally, eat locally.” As we settled into central Vermont at Green Mountain Garlic, we had to make more considered choices about food. Organic and local are our preference. The two are often synonymous in Vermont. When they are not, we always consider the source and avoid the Dirty Dozen.