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Feb 24, 2006 03:14 PM

Organic foods

  • f

The TJ's thread below got me thinking. When is “organic" really worth it and is buying "organic" truly better than buying local?? Do the 2 serve the same purpose??

The reason I ask is that I have never bought "organic" milk. I have milk delivered from a local dairy who, for whatever reason, can not label their milk "organic" even though the farm used no hormones, etc.

Also, I would always choose a locally grown item before an "organic" one that has been trucked 1/2 way across the country. I know some people think that organic tastes better but I still think an apple off a local tree picked that day or a few days before tastes better than an organic one that has been trucked from CA. Even it was picked/boxed and shipped the same day that it is picked it takes the average trucker 65 hours to reach Boston. The chances of it getting in my hand in less than 3 days are slim. Never mind the gas, etc expended to get it to me.

To me supporting local is better than supporting conglomerate owned “organic” companies even if it means living with out off season goods. Now, I know that I am lucky to have the options and that many don’t have the choice. I also know that sometimes in February I do crave those gorgeous looking Fla strawberries I see in the market. And when I give in to my craving I usually spring for organic but during strawberries season here; if my choice is local/non organic or CA organic I will choose local every time.

So if you do have the choice what do you choose? Local before organic or does organic always rule?

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  1. The food groups that I try always to get organic are dairy, beef and poultry products. I don't like the way commercially produced cattle and chickens are treated (i.e. feeding cattle corn when their systems are designed to digest grass) and I don't think the additives used in their production (antibiotics, growth hormones) are good for people.

    The organic milk I buy is produced locally. Sounds like by supporting a local dairy, you are doing basically the same thing.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DanaB

      Just like you, I am most particular about buying only organic beef, chicken and dairy. I don't want to eat hormones and antibiotics.

      I don't have a problem with grain fed cows, however. If you could stand in my back yard and hear my grass fed cows bellow and watch the drool litterally pour from their mouths when they see someone with a bucket who might give them some wouldn't feel so bad about eating grain fed beef.

    2. Totally agree with you! I'd rather buy the non-organic veg from my local farmers' market than organic supermarket veg. Both organic and local is ideal and easy to find here in the SF Bay Area. A few small farms here are purposely not certified though they go beyond the federal definition of organic since they feel organic has been co-opted. Notably Knoll Farms in Brentwood.

      1. m
        Morton the Mousse

        You've raised some very interesting issues.

        The most important thing for me is to know where my food comes from, and that means buying local. Some of the local producers I buy from are certified organic, others aren't. In the case of those who aren't certified I've taken the time to learn about their methodology. Most artisinal farmers and ranchers are proud of their techniques and are happy to discuss their methods with an informed, inquisitive customer.

        Small producers often don't go to the trouble or expense of becoming certified even though their standards are higher than "certified organic" standards. A lot of imported goods, particularly European cheese, are not certified organic even though they meet organic standards. For a small farm or dairy, the cost of the "organic" label can be prohibitive. Again, the important thing is to know and trust the producer or the purveyor. Be an informed consumer and ask lots of questions.

        The fact is, there are very few small farms, ranches or dairies that are dependant on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, etc. "Conventional" farming techniques are far more compatible with large scale agribusiness than with traditional family farms. Many small farmers can't afford the petroleum derived poisons, don't want to expose themselves and their workers to toxins and recognize that artisinal farming produces a superior product. It sounds to me that the local milk you are buying is more sustainable, healthier and better tasting than the corporate organic milk they sell at Whole Foods.

        You are absolutely right in pointing out that the organic label has been co-opted by many large conglomerates. However, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. These large corporations are making organic products more widespread. Even if "corporate organic" quality standards are not as high as artisinal producers, I'd rather see mainstream America buying "corporate organic" products than "corporate conventional" products. Of course, I will always buy "artisinal non-certified" over "corporate organic", but I live in Berkeley where many artisinal products are available.

        One last thing: by expressing my opinions I am not putting down those who choose to not buy organic. I believe that artisinal products tend to taste better but when it comes to food, there is no objectivity. I believe fundamentally in the freedom of individual choice. If you want to buy mass market foods that is your prerogative. I would no sooner tell you what foods you can put in your body than tell you what drugs you can put in your body. I do take issue with government policies that subsidize corporate agribusiness at the expense of family farmers, thus driving up the price of artisinal foods relative to mass market foods, but that is a topic for another thread.

        So, I guess that's a longwinded way of saying: local first, then organic, assuming that the local producer maintains good standards.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Morton the Mousse

          And I agree as well.

          It mostly depends on *why* you want to buy organic. Some people believe that organic foods are healthier to consume, in which case a locally produced non-organic product might not be an acceptable alternative.

          If, as I do, you buy organic products because in most cases they are better for the animals, better for the farmworkers, better for the environment, higher quality (because more care and oversight goes into the production) and usually contain fewer additives (there's no such thing as organic high-fructose corn syrup, for example), then buying from other producers -- especially local producers -- who produce foods using the same values, even though not organically certified, can be as good or even better (less fuel consumed transporting food, supporting the local economy, developing a connection and greater awareness of the food you consume, etc.).

          1. re: Morton the Mousse

            "The fact is, there are very few small farms, ranches or dairies that are dependant on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, etc. "Conventional" farming techniques are far more compatible with large scale agribusiness than with traditional family farms"

            I wish that were true, but it is not, in my experience. For example, my family's peach farm. If you do not spray peaches, you will loose MOST of the crop. Small family farms cannot afford to loose most of the crop. It's that simple. I suppose if the farm were 50 miles from NY or SF where there is a large population of people willing to pay 80% more for a perfect organic peach, then loosing 80% might be doable...but most aren't.

            Now, those peaches are supremely delicious. Incredible, none better. I wash them before I eat them. I submit that being organic per se has absolutely no affect on the taste of a vegetable or fruit. I think the biggest factor is transportation. I get those peaches by driving over to my granmother's house, walking out in the orchard, and getting the peach when it is ripe. If it were picked green and spent three weeks in a box on the way to the store, it's a different peach. So I would like to cast my vote for local. I would certainly prefer local and organic, but if I have to choose, I'll take local.

            Another pasture. If I don't want it to go completely to hell - no grass, covered in noxious weeds - then I have to spray herbicide and lay down fertilizer. If I had unlimited range land, that would not be the case (I assume), but on my 40 is. So to blame "agribusiness" for the use of chemicals in farming may sound pretty, but it is unfortunately not the case.

            1. re: danna

              i tend to agree with danna's assertion that organic does not equal superior taste. but at least equally important as handling/transportation is varietal. i've grown hybrid vegetables designed for superior holding qualities and characteristics other than taste using both organic and chemical methods. their flavor is identical. however, none have approached the flavor of the heirloom varieties grown under either method.

              i look for varietal when i shop. if i can't find that, then i try to judge based on appearance, size, weight, samples (if available). knowing the characteristics of what you're shopping for will usually lead you in the right direction; after-market labels don't impart flavor. i look for local producers more for political reasons than anything else. for me, organic only factors in when all other criteria are equal.

              1. re: mark

                agreed. I started to get into that, too, but decided my post was rambling enough as it was.

                As you say, it's very obvious with tomatoes. My parents get 10 times more tomatoes off their vines than I do (they fertilized and seven dust). No $*&%, my Dad has a STEPLADDER he uses to pick some tomatoes. Do my tomatoes taste better? The heirloom ones do, the other ones don't. My Mom has some variety of cherry tomato that grow anywhere, any time, and come back from seed. They are miracle tomatoes, except that they taste like crap. "Oh comes Mama with another bag full of those completely tasteless red balls." ;-) I can only assume it's the hybridization...

                One more rambling thing, though...all the beautiful heirloom tomato seedlings I bought from the Russian lady at Greenlife's tailgate market were stunted and spindley and died with little to no production. It made me think there may have been a pretty damn good reason to hybridize for hardiness years was just taken to the extreme.

          2. My first priority is to buy as local as possible, and IN SEASON. I live in Central IL. If I want apples in March, I pretty much have two choices---they'll come "fresh" from New Zealand, or have been stored for the last 4-6 months in Washington state. In this case, I choose neither. Fresh oranges---even from CA---make more sense for me this time of year! Having said that, sometimes I want something that cannot be grown "locally"---bananas are a good example. So, when buying bananas, I'll usually choose organic over conventionally grown. If they're both traveling the same distance, why not?
            Finally, there is the "dirty dozen" of produce. According to the Enviromental Working Group, the following have the HIGHEST levels of pesticides:
            • Apples
            • Bell Peppers
            • Celery
            • Cherries
            • Grapes (imported)
            • Nectarines
            • Peaches
            • Pears
            • Potatoes
            • Red Raspberries
            • Spinach
            • Strawberries
            Whenever possible, I either buy these organic---or grow them organically myself!

            1. I have no concerns regarding "organic" and buy nothing based on whether it is or isn't - with one exception - milk.

              I tried organic milk a couple of years ago and found that it just plain old tastes better. Since then, I will buy nothing else.

              Since the days of having to switch to non, or low fat (1%) milk, I craved flavor. The standard stuff was just too watery. When I tried the organic 1%, it just had a much fuller taste than the normal grocery store or local dairy brands (in Boston, Hood or Garelick Farms). I've tried several brands of organic milk, and I find this to be consistent - Organic just tastes better.

              I do try various organic items here and there, again, not out of concern for improperly regulated additives or less than wholesome methods, but simply to see if it tastes better. So far, I've found nothing else that fits into this category of a consistently better flavor based on nothing more (apparently) than the organic process and labeling. But try the milk - I think it's worth the difference.

              1 Reply
              1. re: applehome

                In most of the country, though, the only organic milk available is UHT pasteurized, which means it could be months old. In New York, as in most big cities, you can get milk from small local farms at the farmer's market, and it is very very good.