Dear Academy Q&A…
Dear Academy is where we invite you to tell us what is on your mind and ask us any questions related to food, cooking, nutrition, growing your own, smart shopping and sustainability.
Q. Buying organic vs buying local produce?
Lauren Lee, Sweden
HKA: The Soil Association define Organic as: ‘working with nature, not against it. It means higher levels of animal welfare, lower levels of pesticides, no manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers and more environmentally sustainable management of the land and natural environment. When you choose organic, you choose products that have been produced to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards.’
So what about Local?
Organic foods benefit from a concrete definition and a certified labelling program, but local food is a more abstract concept. Many define local to be within a certain geographical distance, such as 100 miles, while others point to a definition more rooted in ethics and community.
It is easy to feel alienated from the food we eat. Often we don’t know where our food comes from, how it is produced or when it is in season. Many people have turned to local foods as a more holistic and authentic substitute for organic. For some, food miles rather than organic labels are the representation of sustainability.
In fascinating research, a team calculated a shopping basket’s hidden costs, which mount up as produce is transported over big distances. The study found “road miles” account for proportionately more environmental damage than ‘air miles’.
The researchers say organic farming is also valuable, but people can help the environment even more by buying food from within a 20km (12-mile) radius.
There are many ways that we can benefit from eating locally, utilising farmers markets and local producers and therefore supporting our local economy. That way we build a relationship with the producers of our food, we eat more seasonal and local varieties that we wouldn’t find elsewhere. The food we buy locally is likely to be much fresher than food that has travelled many food miles and therefore more nutritious.
As we meet our farmers and talk with them about their produce, we may find that they are producing food that is actually adhering to organic principles, however, organic certification is an expensive and lengthy process to obtain and if they don’t have certification they are not allowed to call it such.
Conclusion: local food can provide freshness, reduce food miles, offer benefits to local farmers and communities and help reconnect consumers with the origins of their food. When consumers feel well informed, and have less alienation from food production it gives us a greater sense of choice, understanding and responsibility for our diet and ourselves.