FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Beyond Organic

by JIM MINICK

Imagine you’re standing in the produce section of your local grocery faced with a variety of apples. You want to make the best choice, for the good of your family, farm workers and the environment. Do you buy the organic Galas shipped from across the country or the Granny Smiths grown conventionally but locally?

The decision is not easy.

First, consider organic. Organic farming, because it shuns synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, is friendlier to the environment than conventional practices. And evidence is increasing that organic food is better for you.

Organic produce on average contains about twice the essential minerals of conventionally grown food, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Nutrition. And a University of Washington study found that children eating conventional food had six to nine times the pesticide exposure of children who ate an organic diet.

It is no wonder that consumers have made organic food the fastest growing sector of agriculture. Sales of organic food are rising by 20 percent annually.

But organic is not without problems. As organic sales have grown, organic farming has moved away from its small family-farm roots and is becoming industrialized. The organic carrots I buy at Wal-Mart were probably grown on a large scale, a system dependent on fossil-fuel mechanization, underpaid farm labor and imported organic fertilizers. How sustainable over the long run is the diesel tractor plowing up the soil? How fair are the labor practices? And the chicken litter fertilizer might be organic, but how far was it shipped before it was spread on the field?

This distance question highlights a problem of our entire food system, including organic: our love affair with airlifted, railroaded, tractor-trailored grapes in December or tomatoes in February. Often this produce comes from Mexico or Chile or some other faraway place, and its cheap price belies the waste of energy used to transport it to our tables.

“Eaters might begin to question the sanity of eating food more traveled than they are,” quips Joan Dye Gussow, author of “This Organic Life“. Noting that a calorie is a unit of energy, she says: “It costs 435 fossil fuel calories to fly a 5-calorie strawberry from California to New York.”

The burning of fossil fuel to move food means more globe-warming greenhouse gases. My organic carrots from Wal-Mart might do my body good, but in eating them, I’m harming the larger body of our earth, and that ultimately circles back to everyone’s health.

Now consider locally grown food. It solves the problem of shipping food long distances. The Granny Smith from your nearby orchard only has to travel a few miles, in contrast with the 1,000 to 2,000 miles that most of our food travels from field to plate. And because of this short commute, local food — organic or conventional — is naturally fresher and tastier.

Another advantage of buying locally is food security. Today’s centralized system processes food in huge factories and moves products in large quantities, creating attractive targets for terrorists looking to contaminate as much food as possible. A decentralized system of small local farms and processors would be much harder to disrupt on a large scale.

Finally, buying local food means keeping our dollars circulating in our own communities.

So next time you are in the supermarket pondering the organic Gala or the local Granny Smith, consider how you might help create a food system that is both organic and local. Seek out a local farmers market or vegetable subscription service that provides a weekly bag of produce. Meet your local farmers this way. Encourage them to use organic methods and local sources of compost and other soil amendments. And seek out the small growers, who don,t have to exploit labor to gather their harvests.

If you enjoy quality food and a healthy planet, consider what you eat, where it was grown and how. Let’s choose both organic and local if possible, so we can begin moving our food economy in ways that benefit our health and the earth’s.

JIM MINICK teaches at Radford University in Virginia and also farms. A poet and essayist, his latest work, “Finding a Clear Path”, will be published in 2005. Minick is a member of the Land Institute’s Prairie Writers Circle, Salina, Kan.

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail