(Note: Updated on 15 March)
If you care about the impact of your food choices on not only yourself, but also on the environment–and please do–should you aim to buy local or organic? John Cloud, writing in Time, has a piece on precisely this question that is well worth a read.
The article is surprisingly good, considering its mega-media publication outlet, and in spite of some annoying passages (e.g. an utterly stupid throwaway line, “I know I’ve been listening to too much npr…,” and some irrelevant and ignorant political asides). It does quite a good job of considering the many dimensions of these decisions, and includes informative interviews with John Mackey (Whole Foods) and Nate Keller (Google’s CafÃ© 150).
It notes that:
advocates of local eating are now making another leap, saying what happens after harvest–how food is shipped and handled–is perhaps even more important than how it was grown.
I am not completely ready to endorse that statement, but I come close. If forced to make the choice, on most produce I would prioritize local over organic. Fortunately, I am in California, and I rarely have to make that tradeoff–especially if I do not insist on “fresh” fruit like grapes and plums in the winter (which will have been picked way too early and shipped thousands of miles from the southern hemisphere).
the packages in which most Whole Foods groceries are sold say nothing about the food’s origin. For instance, in the freezer section you can find Whole Foods’ Whole Kitchen brand Breaded Eggplant Slices with Italian Herbs. The box tells you a wealth of information about the eggplant slices–that they contain wheat, dextrose and annatto (a dye); that they can be fried, baked or microwaved; that they have no trans fat; that they are “flavorful” and “versatile.” But you don’t learn where the eggplant comes from.
Yes, this is a major annoyance to me. I just want to know. Tell me where the produce came from.
UPDATE: Mike Biltonen weighs in on this issue. His blog is called Organic Schmorganic, and subtitled “Debunking the myth of organic in favor of local, ecological agriculture.” To clarify a misconcption some readers apparently (and understandably) have gotten, he says, “What weâ€™re really battling is GLOBAL organic and not LOCAL organic.” I certainly am sympathetic with that.
h/t Nige at The Jew and the Carrot