Green Gimmicks

12 Aug

Have you seen the picture from the Harris Teeter produce section, in North Carolina that says “local” tomatoes? If you look closely at the picture you can see one of the stickers on the tomato, the sticker says Canada on it. Canada is local for some Canadians and possibly some Americans. But not for North Carolinian’s. It’s sad that words quickly lose their meaning because they are used to increase sales. I understand that it is idealistic to think that people will never stretch the limits in order to make a sale. But can you blame me for wishing that my ideal was actually the reality?

The debate continues about whether or not organic foods have any health benefits. As I am sure you have read, a report released in the UK last week stated that organic foods did not contain any nutritional benefits over their conventional counterparts. Organic Center and others have argued that these results are not accurate and that the research was bias.

Then Erza Klein, from the Washington Post weighed in. He said that organic foods are not healthier. He also said that mass produced organic foods are determental to the environment. He believes the best option for the environment is for consumers to buy local products, buy small farmers that use small amounts of pesticides.

So who is right? Honestly… I do not know. I think it is important to understand who the players are and what the terms mean. It’s important to know that local foods do not have to be grown in an organic fashion. Some farmers use pesticides and other chemicals. They are legally allowed to use hormones and anti-biotics. However, if they have polyculture crops and use sustainable practices they may use less of these inputs than an a large scale farm. Or they may not.

Organic farming is when farmers do not use synthetic chemical inputs. Organic farmers must follow specific guidelines to be certified. If you think about it, farmers throughout history have been growing crops and raising livestock in an organic manor. This is in contrast to conventional methods, which included chemicals and were adapted in the 20th century. These methods have lead to a huge increase in the amount of food produced and greatly reduced the price of food.

Then specific industries have other labels. Livestock can be grass-fed, which means that they are feed grass based diets, which their stomachs are naturally designed for. If they are not fed grass based diets then they are fed corn based diets, which increase the grow rate of these individuals.

Free range is also for livestock. It means that the animals were given a larger area to move around.

Some labels like organic refer to the chemicals involved in growing the food. Others like free range and cage free refers to how the animals were housed. Grass-fed refers to the diet of the animals and local refers to how far the food traveled to get to you.

It is unlikely that you are going to find a product that is all of these things and if you can find one product, it is nearly impossible to find enough food and varity to sustain yourself. I guess if you were a farmer you could manage, but most of us are not. So, you need to figure out what you are looking for. Educate yourself before you buy food so you can made an informed decision. People are going to try and sell you their product and if they can stretch the truth to make the sale, many times they will.

One great way to know what you are getting is to get to know the farmers. Farmers’ markets are a great way for people to meet and speak with the farmers. They will answer questions about their products.

Good luck avoiding the gimmicks!

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Posted by on August 12, 2009 in Sustainable Agriculture


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