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Local Versus Organic Foods

July 5th, 2011

Raleigh acupuncture | Raleigh acupuncturist | Raleigh naturopath | Raleigh alternative healthcare | North Carolina acupuncture | Meaghan Dishman, ND, L.Ac. | Bloom Integrative HealthThis topic continues to be in the hot seat of debate. The heart of the issue revolves around whether conventionally grown fruits, vegetables and other foods grown on your local farm, is a better choice than organic foods produced and shipped from another country, using precious natural resources (fossil fuels, energy) that we as a country are in the first steps of attempting to avoid abusing or over using. The topic is layered and complex- including medical implications, nutritional value, environmental impacts, genetically modified foods, and economic overtones.

In an ideal world, we would all be eating organic AND local produce, meats, dairy and foods. But the reality is that we live in areas where weather, location and resources do not provide this capability for all on a year round basis. So how do we make the best decision?

How do we increase our nutritional intake, decrease our carbon footprint and neutralize our impact on the environment by making each and every decision in how we choose to consume and spend our money, make the most sense for our local economy, our future generations, our current personal and family’s state of health and our pocket book balance?

The answer is, there is no simple answer. And that the answer is personal or has a variety of different options. BUT, if you are thinking about it, you are getting closer to a solution that works for you, your community and the world at large. Who would have thought- one little decision about buying an apple could potentially have such a large impact?

Those who prefer locally grown, conventionally produced foods argue that they feel a sense of grounding in the local community, it’s cheaper than organic produce, that local produce tastes better than organic produce shipped from far away countries, and that they enjoy supporting the local economy.

Raleigh acupuncture | Raleigh acupuncturist | Raleigh naturopath | Raleigh alternative healthcare | North Carolina acupuncture | Meaghan Dishman, ND, L.Ac. | Bloom Integrative HealthAgain, this is a personal decision and preference. However, there are some organic foods that provide higher levels of vitamins and nutritional value than those that are conventioanally grown. For example, a Ten Year Study Comparison of the Influence of Organic and Conventional Crop Management Practices on the content of flavanoids in tomatoes showed that ten year mean levels of quercitin and kaempferol in organic tomatoes were 79 and 97% higher than those in conventional tomatoes, respectively. Organic foods are often going to be more expensive than the conventionally grown counterpart. Essentially, this is because it requires more labor and maintenance per unit of food. Most larger cities have health food stores and conventional grocery stores with a selection of a variety of varying organic produce, meats, dairy and other packaged food items.

A viable option or answer to the question of buying and consuming local versus organic foods is to look into¬†Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)– you join in with others in your local community to invest in and support a local farm, and receive a box of seasonal produce and sometimes meat, dairy and eggs on a weekly basis for a season. Often there are Organic CSA’s nearby, which is what we are looking for in this ideal world! Because local farms tend to be smaller in nature, they may not be able to afford the certifcation necessary to be a licensed organic farm, but still may practice safe and effective organic techniques. Ask them if you are curious. My family loves using Coon Rock Farm-we love that every week we get in season, local and organic veggies, fruits and eggs. While you do not get to choose what comes in your CSA box, I personally enjoy the surprise and like that it keeps me creative in the kitchen, and is cost effective (however you pay a lump sum up front for the entire season). ¬†There are many other farms near and around the Triangle area to choose from as well!

Farmer’s Markets are another great way to support local farmers. Again, many farms are not “officially” organic, but I always ask if they use pesticides if there is not a sign specifying that the produce is organic. You would be surprised at how many farmers actually do not use pesticides, and of course many still do. The Raleigh Farmer’s Market at NC State has over 30,000 square feet dedicated to the sale of fresh produce, plants and other specialty items from local farms.

If locally grown and organic produce are unavailable in your area, it is good to know which produce is considered the “Dirty 12” (highest in pesticides) and which are considered the “Clean 15” (lowest in pesticides). The Environmental Working Group has a Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides and a continually updated website and repository of information on this and other topics. In summary- Pesticides are toxic by design. They are created expressly to kill living organisms– insects, plants, and fungi that are considered “pests”. These risks have been established by independent research scientists and physicians accross the world. As acknowledged by US and international government agencies, different pesticides have been linked to a variety of health problems, including:

  • brain and nervous system toxicity
  • cancer
  • hormone disruption
  • skin, eye and lung irritation

Considering all of these options, there is also one more! Creating your own organic garden or planting in a community garden. Not only will your family learn exactly where their food is coming from, the efforts required to produce their food, but a home garden is cost effective and a unique bonding experience outdoors is lovely side effect!

There is always a time and a place for everything.

And, the choice is ultimately yours. Remember, every singly choice you make has a larger impact than just the immediate consumption.

Choose wisely!