I’ve been meaning to make a post about my thoughts on food for awhile now. I talk about food a lot — both here on the blog & in my every day life. It’s a topic that I am truly passionate about. When it comes to food, I am a huge advocate of local, sustainable, and organic. These are the things that I value for myself and for my family. I’m not sure if I’ve ever defined these things in terms of what they mean to me, so I’m going to give it a go today.
Sustainability has to do with the farming practices in place when food is grown. Sustainable farming practices enhance the environmental quality and natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends — as opposed to unsustainable practices which are destructive to the environment and its natural resources.
Sustainable and local often go hand-in-hand. Aside from the practices used to grow food, another big reason why most food is not sustainable has to do with travel. For example, imagine the impact of the tens of thousands of pounds of food that are shipped from South America into the United States every day. This long-distance movement of food, in many cases, saves companies money. The cost of employing workers in third world countries is significantly lower; the environmental protection laws are lesser, or non-existent; and so on. Then the company moves this food long-distances, which in turn uses an incalculable amount of natural resources (fuel) and creates a further incalculable impact on the environment (automobile pollution, etc). When these facts are taken into consideration, it’s easy to see why local is, in many cases, more sustainable.
I also buy and support organic food when possible. Here are some key differences between traditional and organic farming practices.
Traditional: Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth.
Organic: Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Traditional: Spray synthetic insecticides to reduce pests and disease.
Organic: Spray pesticides from natural sources; use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Traditional: Use synthetic herbicides to manage weeds.
Organic: Use environmentally-generated plant-killing compounds; rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Traditional: Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth.
Organic: Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.
When looking at traditional vs. organic practices, it’s easy to see why organic practices might be better for the environment and for our health.
All of these facts are only pieces of a very large puzzle. As with anything in life, there are pros and cons to all of the decisions that we make. These are just a few of the reasons as to why local, sustainable, and organic products are my first choice for my family. Now, with all of this being said, I want to point out that we do not always eat local, organic, and sustainable food — not by a long shot!
First of all, we are spoiled and there is a lot of food that we eat year-round (for example bananas) that does not grow in the States all year, let alone hyper-locally. Secondly, no matter how you spin it, organic food is almost always more expensive than non-organic food. Although it’s easy to see why this is the case — that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow for a family that lives on a budget.
In my case, I would say that the food that I purchase and prepare for our family is about 50/50 when it comes to organic vs. non-organic and about 70/30 when it comes to local vs. non-local (70% being non-local). (Update: As of May, 2015 we now eat about 90% organic. We’re still working on eating more locally, as well.) The latter shifts drastically in the summer and autumn months when farmer’s markets are open and I am visiting local farms frequently. During those times our local vs. non-local consumption is at least 50/50, if not more (in favor of local).
I buy organic and non-organic produce. We occasionally eat packaged food that contains preservatives. I shop at Walmart sometimes! I am so far from perfect — not that there is even such a thing. It’s just really important to me to be clear that just because I support a certain lifestyle, doesn’t mean that I am capable of living up to some unrealistic standard of perfection. We’re all doing the best that we can and I believe that supporting causes even some of the time — or as much as possible within reason — is a huge step in the right direction for our society.
The truth is that I would love to eat only local, sustainable, organic food — but, for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, it’s not practical 100% of the time. I do it as much as possible and I feel good about that. At the end of the day, I believe that what’s important for all families is educating ourselves about our options and doing the best we can with what we’ve got.
This type of decision-making flows into all of the purchases that I make for my family — from food, to cleaning products, and so on. Two of the brands that I rely on often are Finish and Nuk. As I mentioned in a previous post, Finish products are designed to be less harsh so that they can be used with baby products like Nuk. Nuk makes products that are innovative and proven to support safe, healthy development. These are the things that I look for in every product that I bring into our home — food or otherwise.
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