Saturday, June 6, 2009

Organic or Bust

So my first trip to the grocery store as a Greenie was a bit taunting. So many decisions to make! Organic or Conventional? What about Local? Which was Greener? And what should I do if the produce I wanted wasn't available in organic form? Was it worth the additional price?

I realized that I needed to be better informed before I went to the store so I could feel better about the choices I needed to make. After a few weeks/months of research and long grocery trips where I read all the food labels, it got easier. By asking a lot of questions and reading various research and opinions, I found the answers that worked for my new green lifestyle.

I found that for people seeking high nutritional value and reduced risk of exposure to the toxins associated with factory farming practices, organic Green produce offers peace of mind. Organic and conventional produce differ in how the food is farmed as the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is restricted in organic production. The pesticides used in conventional farming can accumulate in our bodies and may have subtle and long term effects on our health. In addition, research increasingly shows that the nutritional content of organic produce is significantly higher than conventional produce.

I believe that food that hasn’t been treated with pesticides and other chemicals is preferable to food that has been treated. Even if you really do wash all your fruits and veggies before you cook or eat them raw, it is impossible to wash off all the chemicals. We tend to think that pesticides are sprayed on the surface of fruits and veggies as they ripen but farmers can now apply sophisticated new bug killers into the soil that then make their way into the plant and into the future food. Such systemic pesticides cannot be washed off.

Finding all your favorite produce in organic form at a reasonable price and within a reasonable distance is becoming increasingly easy- many supermarkets now provide organic food sections for their customers. I shop at my local Whole Foods and Food Emporium but do my main grocery shopping via Fresh Direct where they have a good range of Green products. We also belong to a local organic farmers buying club and have frequented NYC farmer’s markets.

If you are just starting to think organic, or find the local supplies limited, not all conventional produce is heavily treated and some have more protective coverings to lessen chemical penetration. Here is a list of the produce that you should always buy organic: strawberries, apples, grapes, apricots, bell peppers, peaches, spinach, tomatoes, cantaloupe, celery, cherries, cucumbers and green beans.

The truest Green food is Local Organic produce, grown on farms in the nearby countryside. These fruits and veggies are by definition seasonal. In spring in California, that means artichokes; summer in Michigan means blueberries and autumn in Washington means apples. Typically, only produce that has traveled less than a day (7 or fewer hours) from the farm can be labeled "locally grown." Less travel time means less energy expended to get these fresh organic foods to your table. In many cities, farmers markets have become a fun and nutritious adventure, providing locally grown produce, while at the same time helping to support farmers and their land. If you are interested in supporting locally grown farmers check out the USDA website and for some fun sustainable food tips and great info, try Sustainable Table.

For more scientific information on the benefits of organic vs. conventional food download this PDF:

What have you discovered on your way to going green? Does your local supermarket offer enough green options? Are you able to see beyond the price tag and see the value of eating organic?
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