This has been a question weighing on my mind lately. In our home eat predominantly organic food for reasons too numerous to mention. But my fanaticism about organic food has to be balanced with what’s good for the planet, as well as our bodies.
There are four pillars to sustainability. Organic food clearly meets the first: environmental. It is pesticide free and is grown without the use of chemicals and Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs. That’s good on a number of levels. The food is neither sprayed — nor is it managed — with anything that is not organic. No non-organic fertilizers, no animal byproduct feeds, etc. If none of that goes into the food, none of it gets into us.
Since the middle of the 20th century, our food has been “scientifically managed”. We get “perfect” vegetables and fruits, fat chickens and nice red beef. The vegetables and fruits may be grown in shorter times, having less time to absorb nutrients, the fruits sprayed to appear beautiful. The chickens are fed hormones to grow more quickly (and push our children into puberty before their tenth birthdays), and the beef is fattened in packed feedlots where animals live in their own waste. So, organic is good. But there are some other sides to the argument.
Do we buy organic at the price of the other three pillars of sustainability? What if our organic fruit comes from Chile? It meets all the organic criteria, but…it is shipped over thousands of miles. That’s a big carbon footprint (environmental). It also supports Chileans, God love ’em, but not our own economy (economic). It numbs us to our own ability to grow and manage our food sources (social and cultural). That loss of tax base erodes our elected governments’ abilities to fund: social services, schools, the arts, infrastructure, etc.
Enter the local food argument. Growing food locally limits the fossil fuel issue. It supports our own farmers and our own tax base. Lake Country Harvest (full disclosure: it’s my little sister, Paula’s company), dries cherries and produce from the Okanagan. It is often the “cull” produce that would otherwise simply be composted. It makes fabulous food that withstands time and bursts with flavour. Paula’s nascent little company increases the yield for Okanagan farmers, preserves seasonal food and is local food.
She’ll source organic when she can, but the bigger issue for her is limiting waste in our own back yard and preserving the best of our provinces harvest. It’s something to think about. And I’m doing that.