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Do you buy organic food, or is shopping locally more important for you? We take a look at both sides of the debate.
One of the buzzwords of the 21st Century, "organic" is found on everything, from coffee packets to apple crates. Heath food magazines insist that organic means better for you (In fact, 51% of us buy organic produce because we think it's more nutritious). But do you actually know what it means?
Technically speaking, "organic" means "relating to living matter". In this sense, all fruit and vegetables (and even you!) are "organic" (in the sense that they are living things, not inorganic compounds such as plastic).
When we're talking about food, "organic" is used to describe produce grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals. In many parts of the world, you need to be certified in order to use the word "organic" to advertise your produce or product.
Organic doesn't mean pesticide free
One misconception we see a lot in the media is that "chemical" means artificial or "bad". In fact, everything is a chemical. So be a little bit sceptical next time someone says that a cleaning/beauty product is "chemical free".
Contrary to what most believe, organic farmers are allowed to use a wide variety of chemical sprays and powders on their crops, as long as they have been produced by nature without any human intervention. For example, Rotenone is a naturally occurring chemical found in the seeds and stems of members of the bean and legume family. It's widely used in organic farming as an insecticide and pesticide.
For traditional farming, synthetically produced pesticides are more widely used. This means that you won't find these pesticides naturally occurring in the environment.
The truth is that pesticides are a bit of a grey area. The main issue with synthetic pesticides is that we often don't know exactly what effect they will have on our bodies if we ingest them, so this is why some people steer clear from them and only buy organic.
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The benefits of local
Regarding the pesticides issue, buying locally-grown produce means that you're more likely to come into contact with the person who grew your food. If you have the luxury of being able to buy at a local growers market, then have a chat to your farmer about how they manage their crops and what kind of pesticides and fertilisers are being used.
It's also worthwhile bearing in mind that some farmers or producers may not be able to afford certification, even if they don't use artificial chemical pesticides. This is why you're generally better off asking how food is produced rather than just looking at the label.
Buying local also means that you're more likely to be accessing seasonal (and fresher!) produce, and you can also support your local economy. As one study determined if each household spent just $10 per week on local food, it would generate $207 million for local farms and $93 million for local businesses in a particular community.
Plus, less distance between the field and your plate means fewer food miles.
Issues with local produce
When you're buying locally, you're more likely relying on word-of-mouth and the grower's own claims. In a supermarket, certifications mean that you can be pretty sure if something really is organic/fairtrade etc. Plus, there's a number you can call if you have a complaint!
If you're lucky enough to be able to develop a relationship with your local producers, you can have a better insight into what's really happening to your food, but if you're just passing through a market, you should keep your wits about you.
The bottom line
Ask questions about where your food comes from, eat fresh and in-season, and shop local wherever possible.
Images: Pixabay and Unsplash
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