The Organic, The Local And The Unsustainable

If we are what we eat, then what does that make me?

I am a meat-eater, despite the fact that I grow my own vegetables in containers, and I know I should, as healthy food writer/author Michael Pollan writes, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

I do try to choose wisely and prudently, although but it’s not always easy. Being on a strict budget and also wanting the healthiest choices for my family, I feel at war at times when I make a trip to the grocery store for general food and produce.

Do I choose the pricier organic or the local produce for its shorter distance and reasonable affordability? Or should I choose the conventional item because it’s cheaper or on sale and would help stretch my dollar.

Some choices have a heftier price tag and some are barely nutritious. The truth is I try to buy a combination of all three. Whenever possible I try to get organic or grass-fed meat and dairy, most of my produce from the local farmer’s markets and then some other staples conventional or what I sometimes call the “unknown but affordable”.

It’s not necessarily the most sustainable or environmental choice, but I do try to do what I can when I can. I make a habit to ask myself: If you’re not growing your food, then where is it coming from?

I did a quick break down of some of these options:

The Organic – This is the label for produce and other ingredients that have been grown without pesticides or genetically modified sources. This should be simple enough, except there are also several degrees of organic-ness deemed by the USDA when certifying something as organic with their seal.

There is the 100% Organic or made with 100% organic ingredients. There is the organic or made with at least 95% organic ingredients. And then there is Made with Organic Ingredients or made with at least 70% organic ingredients, according to the Organic.org site.

The Local- Well, this is a gray area, as there is no certification. There has also been a lot of debate over which is more sustainable. For the most part, local produce is anything grown near your home or in your home. Some movements have set 100 miles as the radius for local food production and travel.

Your local farmer’s green market will usually have food brought in from and within New York City and thus support a more sustainable food system. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean all their produce is free from pesticides or that they have fair labor practices.

Conventional- These are "buyer beware," as the ingredients are often too unknown or nebulous to understand, and there is no way of knowing if there is genetically modified this or that in it. It’s always better to see the ingredients list and check the nutritional panel.

Brooklyn and Bedford Stuyvesant in general have quite a few options now for Community Supported Agriculture groups like (www.bedstuyfarmshare.org), local farmer’s markets (www.grownyc.org) and even more are popping up as well as some grocery stores that are picking up more selections. There’s a new market on Bedford Avenue that has some organic selections.

But back to the meat thing, yes it’s not sustainable and consumes far more resources than necessary. But what’s meatballs- and chicken soup-lover like me to do?

I still want to do what I can, but it’s not like I can go whole hog. My short answer: Try cutting back one meal a week to a vegetarian, no-meat variety. I started my organic/local purchases this way by beginning with one item and then it kind of became more addictive.

I’m hoping maybe this will snowball into something similar. You’d be amazed how little you would notice the change (to your tastebuds, that is) especially if you start out small. I don’t know if it will last, but at least it’s something. Right?


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