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Reasons for Organic

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I read an article in a non food magazine recently which probed the issue of the ever increasing popularity of organic foods. Obviously, there are spinoff threads which could develop, like -what constitutes "organic"- and -what is the science of the health benefits of either?-
That however is not the point of this post.
I am just curious to know why you buy organic, how often, and what are the motivating factors in your decisions.

Are they......"concern for sustainable agriculture", "want to support the little guy", " it just feels right", "it's the cool thing to do" ?

Asking fellow chowhounds should provide me with truly interesting and provocative replies, which is why I am launching it here, not at the "water cooler" so to speak. Although I may do that too, just for fun!

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  1. I enjoy buying organic, even though there's a bit of a premium for a few reasons. First of all, I think it tastes better and fresher, though that may be a placebo effect because of the hgher price. But there's something nice about knowing that it was grown or raised naturally, and that you're really helping out local farmers who are trying to make their living and are often shut out by much larger farming operations.

    http://damnedgoodfood.blogspot.com

    1. It's a very good question, formerlyfingers. I prefer to use organic produce whenever possible, but I am also a strong proponent of supporting local growers and of the slow food movement, sustainable agriculture, reducing greenhouse gases, etc. It's sometimes difficult to choose whether to buy organic romaine lettuce grown across the continent and shipped from California to Toronto, or romaine grown conventionally 60 miles away. I've noticed myself shifting more towards the locally-grown, of late.

      My reasons for buying organic when it's feasible include a bout with breast cancer five years ago. I feel somewhat empowered when I can control, in whatever minute way, a portion of what goes into my body and those of my children. Likewise, I use only natural cleaning products in my household. Small things, possible inconsequential, but I do think that every little bit helps.

      We are fortunate in Toronto that our supermarket signage indicates the country of origin of the produce being sold, and usually promotes an item that is grown in our home province. This allows me to choose to avoid produce grown in certain countries. I don't mind going through the winter without eating peaches and plums.

      So, it's kind of tough to answer your question. On one hand, I buy organic produce rather than conventional when it's not home-grown, but I tend to purchase locally-grown produce in season whether it's organic or conventional.

      1 Reply
      1. re: FlavoursGal

        I do the same. I also choose organics when the produce is high in pesticides but don't bother if it's not.

      2. It depends on what you mean is organic...it's BIG business these days and unless you are buying locally, chances are you are not supporting any small local farmer/grower.

        The book Omivore's Dilemma is a good read on this subject. IF you really care where your food dollar goes, it is a must read.

        1. Much the same as FalvoursGal, I buy organic, but tend to choose food that is local and fresh but not organic over food that is organic but comes from a huge agribusiness operation thousands of miles away.

          There is a short list out there of the ten crops one should always choose organic - foods that tend to have the highest concentration of pesticides when not organic. I know potatoes and strawberries are on the list, can't remember what else exactly. I would encourage anyone to buy organic at all times on those items.

          For me, however, it is a taste issue foremost, a economic issue second. and matter of health and ecology third. Local, organic food is usually the tastiest i can find, and I love developing relationships with the growers I meet at farmer's markets, some of whom have tried out new varieties of lettuce, etc, at my request.

          Economics seems like a funny reason at first, since organics usually sell at a premium, but it's my second reason because I want support local economies and local food security. Every penny I give to a local farmer is more likely to stay in my community, and also serves to strengthen the local food infrastructure.

          And, yes, I do also care that a lot of evidence suggests that organic food is healthier for me and for the land.

          Anyone interested in local food should check out www.localharvest.org - its a great resource where you can punch in your location and find out about farmers, ranchers, and food producers near you. Check out a farmers market, sign up for a CSA, get some local grass-fed beef. You will taste the difference.

          The great food and culture blog The Ethicurian is also worth a peek - www.ethicurean.com

          1 Reply
          1. re: andytee

            see david joachim & rochelle davis' book "Fresh Choices" for more on the "dirty dozen" or "dirty ten" list.

            the "dirtiest" crops are a good place to start eating sustainably but it is a step that usually leads to an increased awareness of food systems-- you end up eating organic broccoli not because it is one of the most tainted food crops, but because it is one of your region's staple organic crops, et al

            also you see impacts far beyond your immediate area--women in florida are no longer giving birth to children with empty eye sockets, but there are still blue baby alerts in iowa.

          2. I buy organic food whenever possible. My reasons:

            Health - mine and others. I like to limit the pesticides I consume, especially for foods I eat all the time (like lemons and romaine lettuce). But equally important for me is the health of the agricultural workers who are growing and harvesting my food - I really hate the idea of what pesticides are doing to these hard-working people. It's especially horrible for pregnant workers. I don't want my food choices to be responsible for miscarriages and birth defects.

            Taste - Much of what I buy tastes better in an organic form, especially fruits and veggies. That could be because my store (a natural foods co-op) tries hard to get fresh and local food from small producers when possible.

            Love of Luxury - Yes, I admit that I enjoy being able to afford organic food. It's definitely more expensive, and I feel happy and lucky that I have the money to spend on it. But it makes me mad that the world is set up that way. If I were Global Empress, I'd make sure that poor people could afford just as much organic and healthy food as rich people.

            By the way, here's Consumer Report's list of the most important foods to eat organic.

            http://neddy.blogsome.com/2006/01/17/...

            And here's Prevention Magazine's list of the 12 foods highest in pesticides:

            http://www.prevention.com/article/0,5...

            Anne

            1. I'm not into the organic thing.
              My personal feeling is that it really just an excuse to charge higher prices. I've had organic foods and found them to be no better or no worse that conventional foods. Just more expensive.
              Also, after reading an article in which they documented that an organic milk got so popular they ended up having to buy organic milk from Denmark, reduce it to powder form for shipping and reconstituted it in (New Jersey I think) and blended it with the local.
              It just doesn't sound right.

              Anyway, I'm not too worried about the pesticides or steroids because I think the air I'm breathing is gonna be the killer anyway.

              DT

              1 Reply
              1. re: BellaDonna

                Increases in hormones levels are coming from the water supply, even bottled waters, and from the use of soy products.

              2. Love the positive attitude, Davwud.. Why not shoot yourself now and get it over with? ;-)

                Have you ever bought local organic produce from a farmers market or small grocer? If you are just comparing the stuff you find in Wal-Mart, you might not notice a difference, but if it's fresh and local you will.

                Re: the milk thing, I've never heard that story and would love a link. I hardly drink milk at all, but when I do, I either get it from small local farms, a goat dairy in Vermont, or in the store I buy Organic Valley or Cabot, both of which are farmers cooperatives and do not / would not import powdered milk from overseas. If you can find the story you mention, I'd love to know who the culprit was.

                5 Replies
                1. re: andytee

                  I don't know where you live Andy but you should see the air in the summer around here. You can cut it with a knife. You walk around with a scratchy throat for months. You can't tell me that's healthy.

                  We have farmers markets around here and I frequent them as much as possible. Nothing better than fresh grown produce. There is one in particular that has a peach farm in the Niagara region that has the best peaches I've ever had. Even better than the much ballyhooed Chilton County peaches in Alabama. My wife worked with a girl who's parents were chicken farmers. She would bring us a dozen eggs, fresh from the farm every Monday. They did absolutely nothing for me. Tasted like an egg.

                  My comparisons have been from Loblaws and Dominion. Local megamarts as Alton would call them.

                  I believe the article below is the one I read. I read it off a link on another thread.

                  I'm not gonna sit here and tell you that organic stuff is or isn't healthier than non. I really don't know. I just think that it's more about marketing than anything else. To me, it's right there with Angus Beef. You pay a premium for something that just doesn't warrant it. But the marketers have you believing that it is does.

                  DT

                  1. re: Davwud

                    Hi Davwud -

                    I don't know where you live either. I'm in Boston, things could be better air quality wise, but it's not LA. My point was that bad air quality is hardly a logical justification for smoking, or shooting heroin, or eating crappy foods.

                    If you eat fresh local foods from the farmer's market when you can, my feeling is that that is about the healthiest choice you could make for your body. And I understand your scorn for some organic "products" - all too often organic packaged foods have ingredient lists a mile long and are highly processed, and above and beyond that are sold at a price premium. I'd choose something non-organic with a short and simple ingredient list over that anyday.

                    Produce wise, I think the evidence is more or less in - you can refer to any of the several lists posted in this thread of which foods you should always (or most always) eat organic. Buying organic potatoes, the cost issue is minimal - potatoes are a cheap food either way. Other things, like strawberries, the way I afford to only buy organic is to only buy them local and in season. The big ones you get in January from Chile taste like cardboard anyways.

                    As much as possible my personal goal is to move out of the world of international agribusiness and source my food from the local foodshed. Now, I'm forgiving about this, I do love my Bordeaux and my Belgian chocolate and my blood oranges that are coming from somewhere down south, but a lot of what makes eating organic affordable and "worth it" is re-thinking what you buy and how you eat. Winter in New England, we cook a lot of local root veggies that our CSA has been keeping in root cellars for us. Potatoes, parsnips, carrots, rutabegas, turnips, daikon, onions, winter squash, and more.. Lots of stews and lentil soups and such. And there is great New England fish and seafood - lately I have been cooking a lot of mussels from a mussel farm in Maine.

                    I'm with you that paying twice as much for boxed organic strawberries in the winter is foolish. And when I am in the "local megamart", a lot of factors play in to my shopping decisions. The short list of "always buy organic" items, I usually buy organic or don't buy, but the other stuff, quality and price play as big a (or perhaps a bigger) role.

                    1. re: andytee

                      Well first of all, let me just say that when I say I'll shop at farmers markets and things like that it's twofold. First of all, generally the stuff tastes better. With most produce items, the closer you are to them being just picked, the better. Corn probably being the best example. Secondly, I know what farm conglomerates are doing to the small farmer and don't mind paying a premium (If there even is one) to them. They need it and appreciate it.
                      As for eating "Crappy foods" as you seem to think I do. I can tell you that first and foremost, I do my best to stay away from processed foods of anykind. Secondly, I do my best to stay away from preprepared meals. I like to control what I put in my food. So I make most of our meals myself. I do a decent job of trying to eat healthy when I can but I do fall into that "I'm on the run so I'll just grab........" thing from time to time.

                      Now. How you got poor air quality and not really buying into the organic craze equated with shooting heroine is quite beyond me. I don't smoke either.
                      I do like my beer after hockey. So I guess I may as well just shoot myself and get it over with then eh??

                      DT

                      1. re: Davwud

                        Sorry if I offended - I have no idea what or how you eat, and don't at all assume you eat "crappy foods". My point was simply a comment, mostly in jest, about how your earlier comment about poor air quality being what kills you really not being a very logical reason not to worry about other health issues.

                        1. re: andytee

                          Don't worry, I wasn't offended. Slightly confused but not offended.

                          As for not worrying about other health issues. It's not that I don't. It's just that I figure if I worry about every little thing that'll kill me, I'll probably have a stroke at age 50 from the stress. I've adjusted my diet as I've aged. Cut down on the drinking. Gave up cigarettes and other inhalables. Try to get more sleep. Blah, blah, blah. At some point in time you have to find the medium between what's bad for you and the enjoyment you want out of the life you're trying preserve. If I listened to my doctor, I'd have given up hockey 15 years ago. I just can't do it. It's not that life wouldn't be worth living. It's just that it would be so much less enjoyable. So I ache once in a while. So I may need a cane when I get older. It's worth it for the enjoyment and exercise I get.
                          I could also be wrong. But I look at what we breathe in and think that in 30 - 40 years (Or sooner) we'll start having a lung cancer (Or other respiratory disease) epidemic. And if I'm wrong and I hit age 80 and no respiratory problem occur. Then I'll take out a gun and kill myself!!!!
                          LOL

                          BTW Boston is probably my favourite US city.

                          DT

                2. This is probably the article he read: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/...

                  And again, try reading Omivore's Dilemma, it is worth the time and you will be better able to make the decisions you want to make and know how to implement them.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Quine

                    Yes, if there were one book in the past year I could make "assigned reading" for the whole world, it would be Omnivore's Dillemma.

                    1. re: Quine

                      In fairness, here's Stoneyfield's reply to the Business Week article. Stoneyfield partners with Organic Valley, andytee's milk choice, and they do add organic powdered milk to their fluid milk. Currently they are not importing it but have not foreclosed that option. The situation is fluid, so to speak. http://www.stonyfield.com/AboutUs/Moo...
                      New Zealand exports powdered organic milk to the US as does Denmark.
                      Who's using it? Let the buyer beware.

                      1. re: Quine

                        I was also concerned about the recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbgh) that I keep seeing organic milks DON'T have- so I would assume it's better, and that's what I should buy for my family- - but have heard from a dairy "expert" that regular milk doesn't have any additional chemicals or anything unhealthy. The gov't has strict guidelines about what can be in milk, and these antibiotics and growth hormones are not passed on from the cows through milk. Eating the meat is a different matter, and one could make the argument that treating the cows with these synthetic chemicals is unethical (cows on growth hormones are not happy cows- http://www.awionline.org/farm/rbgh-s9...).

                        I feel like a lot of these companies that provide organic options are doing as a marketing ploy, and that these products are not much different. Especially companies like Kelloggs that now have "Organic" cereal. Puh-lease!

                        1. re: Lazy Susan

                          I buy organic milk, too, but not just an organic label from any company. I like this list describing organic dairy farms and how they produce their products.

                          http://cornucopia.org/dairysurvey/ind...

                          I'm not convinced of the safety of rBGH and I think it's sad that we have half the dairy cows that we used to but they produce a lot more milk. It's not used in Canada or Europe because they haven't determined the safety of it. Consumers need to be more educated about issues and not depend on the "organic" label. Organic oreos...hmmm....

                      2. Ah, the culprit with the powdered milk - Gary Hirshfield of Stonyfield Yogurt.

                        Gary is not a bad guy at all, but if you follow these issues closely, he is one of a few people who are "old guard" in the organics movement who have chosen to do what they can to take it the big business route. To him, global dominance of industrial organic foods is a goal.

                        He represents one side of the coin, the other is found a few paragraphs down in the same article, the couple who run Butterworks farm in Vermont, a small dairy farm producing limited quantities of local product.

                        If you live in New England, they're both in the grocery store, and sell for fairly similar prices. It's up to you to educate yourself on which one to choose.

                        In either case, you will be getting a much better yogurt than a lot of what you find on supermarket shelves.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: andytee

                          I disagree with half of your last sentence. Stoneyfield Farm is the reason I DON'T buy organic in the grocery stores. Buying their yogurt is NOT a much better yogurt than, say, Yoplait, and their heavy whipping cream has the same carageenan (and flavor and texture) as the Mayfield/Kemps/local megadairy. His yogurt and heavy whipping cream have the same crappy adjuncts that the huge corporate non-organic dairies use, and the products taste and feel just as bad. So why pay extra for the "organic" label if it's not an improvement in quality or helping a small local farmer?

                          Anecdotally, the worst-tasting eggs I've ever had were local small-farm organic. The problem with *some* organic farmers is that they (like corporate agribusiness) can cut corners to save costs, and if you feed your chickens organic garbage, the eggs are going to taste like organic garbage.

                          My chowspouse and I talk about this a lot. She is of the I-don't-care-how-much-it-costs-I'm-buying-organic-at-Whole-Foods category. I'm not, preferring to find good quality stuff in the better (and cheaper) grocers, whether organic or not. Our compromise is that we haunt the several farmer's markets and "ethnic" grocers (mostly Asian, Indian, and Central American) for alternatives to non-organic corporate food for most of our food. It helps that the closest Whole Foods in our town absolutely sucks compared to the one we left behind where we used to live.

                          So I DO agree with your admonition to all of us to ensure that we know what we're buying, being organic vs. not, or the good local farmers from the not so good. I think that's the best advice. We shouldn't assume that there is some moral or ethical high ground in buying organic.

                          1. re: Loren3

                            Loren -

                            I was talking only about the plain whole milk yogurt from Stoneyfield. I pretty much hate / dont buy their other stuff. Actually, I rarely even buy their yogurt, but it will do in a pinch. Their milks / cream etc? Yuck.

                            There is some really good non-organic yogurt out there too, for sure, but I still think Stoneyfield's plain yogurt offers a cut above a lot of what is on the market in supermarkets.

                            I think me and my chowspouse shop a lot like you and yours. We both hate Whole Foods and the general marketing of the "Organic Lifestyle", and though we do shop there for a few items (locally, the are one of the best seafood places, though expensive) we try to limit it.

                            Food is complicated. I'd love for food choices to be about anything but the moral high ground, self-rightousness is bad for digestion. I think there are lot of good reasons to buy some things organic, but if I were to preach about anything, it would be re-localization. And even that, I really ought to keep my mouth shut. My yogurt of choice lately is imported from Germany of all places, I buy it from an Armenian bakery. Armenians are serious about good yogurt and as long as we are not making our own (which we do sometimes) I think its worth the long trip. And, organics and GMO's aside, I buy lemons and limes and corn tortillas from a small Salvadorean grocery, the prices are dirt cheap, the food is tasty, and I like the ongoing relationship that shopping there fosters.

                            1. re: Loren3

                              Some of the nastiest eggs we've ever eaten were in Chile where the laying hens had been fed fish meal. The eggs tasted like fish. You are what you eat. Chickens had a decided fishy taste as well. We joked that if they could get the hens to eat bacon, it would save washing another pan after fixing breakfast.

                              I think a lot of the confusion over labels and consumer willingness to buy something blindly just because the label says "organic" is because we have been so far removed from the farm for so long. Few people really know about agricultural methods and sound farming "best practices."
                              Not all organic is good, nor are all local farms. It takes a great deal of work and scepticism to shop and eat wisely.

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                I'll second that.

                                1. re: andytee

                                  3rd.

                          2. Guilt - I love food, and I tend to eat a lot of luxurious crap (I don't mean frosted flakes, but rather fois gras and Bordeaux and chocolate and things that are really not sustainable as lifestyle choices).

                            So, day-to-day, I tend to be quite fastidious about buying organic and clean eating "clean" so that this can offset my foodie indulgences.

                            I know it's all wrong...

                            1. As far as organic foods go, they are a bit more expensive, true, but you have to do your research. Are you buying your organics from a 25, 000 acre "organic" corporation? Or are you buying your produce through a CSA farm member. When it comes to the reasons behind buying organic, you need to know the how and how to's of organic product certification. Get to know the products that you buy. I good book to take a look at on organic foods, GMO foods, pesticides and the effects they have on the body. "Aisle by Aisle, Morsel by Morsel: The Real Food Revival, bu Sherri Brooks Vinton and Ann Clark Espuelas. A very interesting book to say the least. It has truly opened my eyes to the pros and cons of buying organic, buying local, and getting to know how and where your food is produced.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Cilantrochef

                                I buy organic exclusively for my daughter, and will do so for my son. Today's mass produced genetically modified pesticide infused crops are relatively new and only recently are the effects of these phenomena becoming apparent.

                                I just don't see what is to be gained from consuming chemicals. WHat does it matter that it was approved by the government? So were many drugs which later proved to cause birth defects, etc. Should even one of the theories be proven correct (the hormones in meats triggers early puberty, the antibiotics in meat contribute to our resistance levels, the pesticides are responsible for the skyrocketing rates of asthma and allergies in children, etc.) isn't it worth the extra 2 dollars? It is a luxury, and that is why I sometimes buy non-organic for myself, but for my children, I feel it is an investment in their health.

                                and then just the fact that organic farming demands responsible environmental practices is another good enough reason for me.

                                1. re: alex8alot

                                  "organic farming demands responsible environmental practices "

                                  Never was a more dishonest statement written. Please read Omnivore's Dilemma and other books on the subject.

                                  I do agree with you, however, that GMOs and non-organic pesticides/herbicides and the steroids used in farming are probably not good for our health. Note that some regulations on organic chicken farming, for example, allow for non-organic feed to be used if the organic feed tops a certain price.

                                  1. re: gourmanda

                                    Actually, I believe that the clause allowing non-organic feed was slipped in in 2002 (as a part of a much larger bill, it was "slipped" in by a representative from Georgia), but it was repealed shortly thereafter after significant public outcry.

                              2. I buy whatever tastes good, be it "organic" or otherwise.

                                1. I shop for sustainable, local, and organic foods in that order. I buy directly from famer's as much as possible and not all the farmer's are certified but I understand how their crops are raised. Some things have such high level of pesticides that I won't purchase them if they aren't organic (berries), some items are poor in quality if they aren't local and seasonal (stone fruit), and some organic businesses have unacceptable practices (mega-dairy Horizen). Imported organics are especially suspect because of the petro-chemicals involved and the poor sanitary conditions.

                                  I try to know where my food comes from and make the best choices I can. I volunteer with Slow Food because it helps keep me connected to the sustainable choices. If you don't have time or inclincation organic labeling is a good substitute. Price isn't really an issue for us because we live in an area where good food is available at a good price for most of the year if we shop carefully.

                                  Even if I knew for sure that organics where no more healthy for my body I do know they are better for the earth and the ocean and our petro-chemical use.

                                  Finally, I was lucky to spend a lot of time with my grandparents when I was a child and have a good understanding of who their diet was structured. They grew their own food, baked their own bread, and had a share in a cow and a pig raised down the street. All most great-uncles and aunts lived similiarly. They ate large portions as a result of their energy expenditure. The average age of death has been more than 95 with almost everyone living fully, in their own homes, well past their 90s. Their children (obsese from poor diets of cheap processed food) have serious health conditions (hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stressed joints) that are causing them to die off in their 60s.

                                  It is the American condition summed up in one family.

                                  1. Something just dawned on me and I don't even know the answer to this. People "Going out of their way" to buy organic (Going to WF instead MM) or buying off farmers directly and things of that nature. Most cite that it's better for the earth to do such things.
                                    My question is, is it better to drive out into the country or half way across town to buy eggs/fruit/whatever or walk or a short drive to the local store??

                                    It's nothing more than a thought that just popped into my head. Just wondering if anyone else though of this and what the think of it.

                                    DT

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: Davwud

                                      Yes, I think about it. I like to buy organic fair trade coffee but if I'm somewhere where you can't buy it, where there is either organic or fairtrade but not both and I have to drive a distance to get it, I'll get whatever is available(the environment would probably be better off if I waited but the world near me is better off if I have my coffee--trust me). I pull my trips together. Going to WF isn't any farther than going to Safeway, for me. I would love to go out to the farms and buy my meats and all but I don't think it's worth driving 2 hours to do so. But, their bringing it to the masses via farmers markets makes it better all around. We do have a hybrid, though.

                                      I don't think there is a generalization that xxxx is best. I try to take each situation as it comes. Is organic better? Not if it's trucked in from far away and there's a local farmer at the market. Is local better? Not if it's Smithfield farm which isn't too far away.

                                      1. re: Davwud

                                        Another poster had earlier made the (very valid) point that there is a dilemma in buying organic if it means that the product had to have been shipped from across the country or farther to get to the store, when some conventionally grown local product was readily available as well. It sort of neutralizes the argument that the purchase is in any way "better for the Earth."

                                        Good thought.

                                        1. re: formerlyfingers

                                          yes, a good point, but if we choose locally grown apples rather than grapes flown in from chile in the winter, it's a good choice for the earth. also organic farmers use about 30% less petrol fuels in food production-- that's not counting the petrol/fertilizers they DON'T use, or the petrol used to ship the fertilizers, so it is a much more complicated issue. layers of organic ag and layers of conventional ag are much like their respective onions. as others have pointed out, most americans have no connection with the sources of their foods. how about a req. that schoolkids volunteer at their local farmer's market?

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            However, and there's always however, organic methods of farming, as a general rule produce less per acre than conventional methods. The last thing we want to do is clear wooded land to convert it to farmland. Preferably, we should stop the conversion of open land to subdivisions or discourage people removing land from farm production.

                                            1. re: MakingSense

                                              um, nope-- organic & sustainable ag averages 79% higher yield per acre than conventional. additionally sustainable farmers use less petrol fuel and less water, with a higher profit going directly to the farmer because of fewer purchased inputs (fuel, water, petro & nitro fertilizers, pesticides and gmo trademarked feeds). additionally sustainable crops can withstand drought and other enviornmental curveballs with less chance of failure. additionally taxpayers do not pay cleanup of local land & water, hospital care of farmworkers, farm families, neighbors, etc.

                                              http://www.organicconsumers.org/artic...

                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                So paying more for organic really is a scam then??

                                                DT

                                      2. I can't speak for anyone else, but on my end, Coop, Stop n Shop, Whole Foods, Farmer's Market and CSA Distro are all pretty much in the same area - no big travel issue.

                                        Walking across the street to buy a Mango from Ecuador vs. driving 30 minutes for a local apple? There's pros and cons to each side, I suppose. But the simple fact that you didn't drive a long way to get your food doesn't mean it hasn't used any petroleum in getting to the store.

                                        I do, once a month, make a 30 minute drive out to a farm to pick up a winter CSA share from a root celler. In the summer, they come into town, but in the Winter, shareholders pick up. The maybe 20 people making a 30 minute (or less, I'm one of the longer drives) drive to pick up maybe 15-20 pounds each of procuce that prior to that day, has travelled maybe a few hundred feet I think is well worth the drive.

                                        At the end of the day, I don't think there is any one right answer, any one "best" way to shop and eat. Life is complex, and so is food. Doesn't mean we can't think about it, and do the best we can, whatever that means to us.

                                        1. The label 'organic' does not mean much to me - in Canada there is not a recognized certification body so producers just have to pick one (or, perhaps, not - just use the label). Even with methods conforming to a certification, whether food is organically grown or not is only one factor in food quality - freshness, handling and processing are also factors. The smaller the farm, the larger financial burden involved in certification so many small farmers choose not to do it. I like to know as much as possible about the provenance of what I buy, but the label 'organic' does not carry much information - I like asking about where and how things were grown, when they were harvested/butchered, etc.

                                          1. i recently posted about an interesting and confounding issue with some "organic" spinach I bought. Seemed relevant to a lot of the issues I discussed here, so if you are interested in reading more, check it out:

                                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/374726

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: andytee

                                              Andytee, the BusinessWeek article that you finally get to from those links is really informative. Too good to miss so here's a shortcut http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/...
                                              I guess it all goes to what a lot of us believe - you can't just grab something because it says "Organic" on a sign or label.
                                              Beyond that, as Pollan points out, the cost of transporting food has to play a part in our decisions too. Some of have the luxury of shopping at small markets and directly from farmers but so many don't, particularly in large cities where supermarkets are the norm and people are so busy. Seasons have become non-existent and asparagus and peaches are offered in the dead of winter.
                                              I guess if more of us buy seasonally and locally we can have an impact. "Organic" may turn out not to be the Holy Grail. It may be Common Sense.

                                              1. re: MakingSense

                                                As I mentioned previously, it does seem ludicrous to buy organic food that's coming from the other side of the continent, let alone the other side of the world. I've also been quite leary about buying organic produce from countries in Central America that are known to use pesticides indiscriminately and whose organic certification I question, regardless of the fact that Whole Foods stocks it.

                                                Living in Ontario where, other than hothouse vegetables and stored fruits, we must import most of our produce during the winter, I am forced to buy vegetables grown in the southern states. But come summer, I do like to support our Ontario growers.

                                                1. re: FlavoursGal

                                                  Reading Michael Pollan started me thinking about how my grandmother must have eaten before we could get things from other regions of the country out of season.
                                                  What did people in Ontario do several generations ago? Of course, we don't have to live exactly like that because it would certainly be monotonous but there were different possibilities once I considered it.

                                                  Once I began to think that way, my winter table began to include more whole grains (barley, quinoa, farro, wheatberry), beans, root veggies (parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, beets, carrots, potatoes), relishes of summer veggies and all sorts of things that dried and stored well like onions and cabbage.
                                                  My grandmother canned produce from her summer garden and life is easier for me because I have the freezer and good quality canned and frozen products to recreate those same winter dishes that she made.

                                                  My winter table is completely different than my summer one. Even when the same product appears. The summer fresh peaches for example will show up in winter as brandied peaches for dessert or pickled peaches alongside meats. None of them come from Chile. My green beans in summer are lightly steamed but in winter are long-cooked as they would have been if they had been canned.
                                                  My grandmother served pickled beets with onion as a salad in winter when there was no lettuce.
                                                  Just a different way of living with the seasons.

                                            2. I'm a grad student on a limited budget but a dedicated foodie, and also have the joy of living and food shopping in LA. For produce, the most important thing is to try to get local things from the farmer's market (I'm blessed with many very close by), and within the market I try to choose organic, but it's not a deal breaker. When I'm getting produce at the grocery store I'm less likely to choose organic, I don't have a great reason for that, it just that once it's packaged and wrapped in plastic, it doesn't seem as organic anymore. I prefer organic because pesticides just don't seem healthy, it will probably become even more important when I'm cooking for kids. When it comes to meat and dairy, I usually lean towards "hormone free" "not treated with RBST" "steroid free" and "antiboitic free." I'm less concerned with whether the animals are eating organic vegetables than whether they are pumped full of antibiotics, hormones, and steroids. I find that on my budget it seems to make the most since to buy a Trader Joe's "no hormones, no antibiotics" chicken instead of the organic one. And it's hard to justify the price for organic milk, when I can at least know that my regular TJ's milk is from cows not treated with growth hormone.
                                              This is by no way my final decision I'm sure, as more and more choices become available, there are a lot of factors to balance.

                                              1. It seems to me that, if we can get the message across to the masses, supporting the movement towards sustainable agriculture and buying local will become more important over the next few years than the word "organic."

                                                I've just returned from attending a Slow Food conference in Toronto, during which, aside from an informative and inspiring panel discussion, a number of local growers, producers and foragers showcased their products. It was wonderful to speak to these fascinating men and women, to learn about their growing methods and, in some cases, sample their wares. I felt particularly joyful to meet someone whose farm grows the Roma tomatoes used by my favourite brand of canned organic tomatoes.

                                                Having also been fortunate enough to attend a lecture last spring given by Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc, who regaled the audience with such passion about his drive to serve only home-grown or locally (within 100 miles) raised products at his renowned inn and restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire, England, I can foresee a dramatic shift from the trend towards organics to a movement towards local, sustainable agriculture.

                                                The winds are shifting. And kudos to former President oops - Vice-President Al Gore and the producers of "An Inconvenient Truth." May the masses, and the governments, take notice.

                                                1. Here is a good article from Time mag about organic vs.local (conventional).
                                                  http://www.time.com/time/magazine/art...

                                                  We are lucky to have good farmers markets close by, but it is important for consumers to ask those sellers/farmers about pesticide use. I discovered many of our local farmers do use pesticides, but it is often only on the plants before they flower. We have large crops of strawberries and apples, etc. grown locally, and most times the plant/tree is sprayed before the fruit flowers, so I consider that pretty safe.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: Lazy Susan

                                                    Wow, where do you live that they aren't spraying after flowering? Most apples are laced with organophosphates pesticides that are detectable after harvest, many apple diseases are treated from petal fall to harvest rather than prior to flowering. Conventionally grown strawberries are treated with Captan up to one day prior to harvest to ensure a uniform red color. Both of these fruits are on most lists of "Most chemical residue" lists for consumers. They're in the top 10 for carrying chemical residue to the consumer. So, I agree it's very important to know your grower, but you need to know more than just accepting a statement that they don't use chemicals during the growing season. That's just not accurate, based on personal experience and research into fruit production.

                                                    Obviously, from my handle, I am an organic advocate. Currently, I inspect organic farms and food processing plants, and consult with start-up organic facilities so that they know, understand, and are able to implement the USDA National Organic Program. So, it may be tempting to dismiss my thoughts as one-sided. But my background is in conventional agriculture, and part of the reason I'm good at my current job is that I know when to schedule inspections so that if someone's trying to "cheat" the system and apply prohibited materials, it's more likely to be found. I have to know the commonly used pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in conventional production so that I will know when someone that's trying to make an organic claim falsely can be found.

                                                    1. re: OrganicGal

                                                      And added to that, there's the issue with the workers who are exposed to it, plus the run-off to the environment. It's not just about what affects your plate immediately.

                                                      1. re: OrganicGal

                                                        Interesting, I do know some of the farmers, especially apple farmers, and I will have to ask some more questions. Thanks for the info. I think, given our small community and small, family owned farms, I tend to take farmers' answers about pesticide use at face value. It's really nice to know that when I go to our local farmers market, that many of the fruits and vegetables I am serving my family were on the vine/tree/bush that morning.
                                                        We are also lucky enough to have an organic farm that delivers. www.grindstonefarm.com/ (for any CNY-ers)

                                                    2. I started eating organic, stopped drinking bottled water, and stopped storing and heating any food in plastics after I had a terrifying medical problem that they were sure was going to kill me: 12 tumors in my liver the doctors were convinced were cancer (I'm 35).

                                                      Turns out they are more than likely estrogen related (birth control patch for several years) and in the past three years I've kept them completely stable and the multiple fibroadenoma in my breast tissue have all decreased and one has gone away completely. This is from my choices to get back to eating as close to the dirt as possible.....pesticide free dirt, that is. I am very careful if I buy any packaged products to buy those whose labels look like 'flour, eggs, salt, sugar' or similar.

                                                      Politically it's a statement - we call it voting with our dollar - and since I do the shopping, I am careful to avoid the big organic companies, to research who owns the products I buy (meaning parent companies - Wal-Mart organics are not interesting to me) and to buy as locally and small farm organic as possible. At first it felt like a lot of work but I was passionate about it because I was afraid: even though the tumors were benign, if they grow they could rupture, cause internal bleeding, and still kill me. Now it's the way we live and we're lucky to be able to afford it.

                                                      1. well, simply put, it was the giant green onion drama at Chi-Chi's and the spinach revolt of 2006 that did it for me. That's just produce though.

                                                        1. I favor organic foods, but just because something is organic does not mean it has no effect. Many organic pesticides and fungicides are dangerous and/or have a negative impact on the environment. In California, sulfur poisoning is one of the most common instances of pesticide poisonings of agricultural works. Fortunately, it is of low toxicity. Prolonged use of copper as a fungicide leads to heavy metal contamination of the soil Rotenone is moderately toxic to humans and highly toxic to fish.

                                                          Does this mean that organic foods are bad? Not at all. I personally believe that they have less of a negative impact than non-organic foods. However, they still have a negative impact. All I'm saying is that we should be aware of the consequences of our decisions, whatever they may be.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: raytamsgv

                                                            My husband and I switched our lives to organic four years ago and there has been no turning back. We both suffered from numerous health problems and both of our doctors were stumped. After the 4th attempt to "heal" us with new rounds of meds and lousy suggestions, we gave up on them. I did a ton of research (and I continue to do so) and we threw out everything in our house that was processed or manmade or non-organic. We switched to homepathic healthcare. We only bought organic produce and meat and grains and wild fish. Much of it from local sustainable farms. We cooked everything ourselves from scratch. We limited toxins we put on our bodies. We stopped taking medications. We trippled the size of our garden and grew much of our own food. We joined farm organizations.

                                                            In an amazing short 4 weeks both of us were cured- as in the problems never returned- from our various ailments and we never looked or felt better. We slept better, had tons of energy, stopped getting sick, and both of us felt like we were 16 again. It's no fad.

                                                            AND we never ate better in our lives. No bland tofu and sprouts in our house! We cook amazing meals from scratch that are simply mouth watering and we've learned so much about cooking! (Like alternative ways to make standard dishes without flour or sugar but with all of the taste.) And we've discovered some amazing restaurants because we've become picky about what we allow ourselves to eat and thus will only dine at places that use fresh organic or local ingredients.

                                                            Organic food is no joke. It's SO MUCH better for your health, the environment, the farmers involved, the animals involved, and it tastes better!

                                                            Saved our lives. Quite literally.