Note: This article was inspired by darcee’s awesome post on food with a conscience.
The many articles on this blog revolve around a single theme: eating real food.
People will ask me, “Just what the heck does that mean? Am I not eating real food right now?” as they down a fast food burger or suck back a Diet Coke. In a general sense, sure, you’re eating food. But it’s not necessarily natural. Natural is a big part of what makes real food real.
How about the rest of the blanks? What is real food? Real food has SOLE.
Sustainability is the general idea that what you do today doesn’t make tomorrow (and beyond) worse off. When industrial farmers use petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers, they’re taking a shortcut to higher yields. This is problematic primarily because it has lead to globalization of food production and the idea that we need to KEEP using pesticides & fertilizers to feed an exploding world population. So, we’re using a scarce supply of oil to grow food, and then even more oil to ship it around the planet.
Small, organic farms (in the traditional sense) tend to be sustainable because they use little more than solar power to grow food. Sound pasture management techniques can also advance soil fertility (whereas industrial farming erodes fertility which is why fertilizer is required in the first place).
No (or very little) pesticide or chemical fertilizer used in the production of the food. It doesn’t impact the taste (as far as I can tell), but pesticides can build up and stick around in your body, turning those trace amounts into something significant and potentially harmful.
Locally-grown food will be fresher and in season. It’s traveling considerably less distance between the farm and your plate than the average American meal.
Beyond that, buying locally-produced food keeps your food dollar in the local economy. For example, if every Michigan family were to eat one meal per week from foods bought at a farmer’s market, an extra $37 million dollars would stay within the state’s borders each week.
The ethics of food lie on a continuum: there is no binary state with one food being ethical and another not; you can only claim that one food is more ethical (relatively) than another. These food ethics derive from factors related to their production and transportation.
For example, consider a two carrots.
Carrot A was grown 3000 miles away on an organic farm in another country. Earlier this week it was picked, transported via jetplane, and delivered to your local grocery story.
Carrot B was grown 50 miles away, but with some fertilizer and pesticide. It was picked this morning and brought to the nearby farmer’s market.
Which would you buy? Each approach has ethical pros and cons, though in this case I would lean toward Carrot B.