Buying organic food vs. reducing energy use

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Looks like today is a trip through the ole blogroll. Parke Wilde (who originally tipped me off to Kate Steadman and Healthy Policy (see below)) has an interesting post up about the different methods eco-friendly shoppers can use to satisfy their particular princples. Wilde starts off with a selection by Slate’s Field Maloney entitled Is Whole Foods Wholesome?:

In the produce section of Whole Foods’ flagship New York City store at the Time Warner Center, shoppers browse under a big banner that lists “Reasons To Buy Organic.” On the banner, the first heading is “Save Energy.” The accompanying text explains how organic farmers, who use natural fertilizers like manure and compost, avoid the energy waste involved in the manufacture of synthetic fertilizers. It’s a technical point that probably barely registers with most shoppers but contributes to a vague sense of virtue.

Fair enough. But here’s another technical point that Whole Foods fails to mention and that highlights what has gone wrong with the organic-food movement in the last couple of decades. Let’s say you live in New York City and want to buy a pound of tomatoes in season. Say you can choose between conventionally grown New Jersey tomatoes or organic ones grown in Chile. Of course, the New Jersey tomatoes will be cheaper. They will also almost certainly be fresher, having traveled a fraction of the distance. But which is the more eco-conscious choice? In terms of energy savings, there’s no contest: Just think of the fossil fuels expended getting those organic tomatoes from Chile.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t buy enough produce (or other food, for that matter) that was grown locally — that’s something I hope to remedy this season. However, Maloney raises a good point, and Wilde is happy to rise to the occasion:

The truth is that the alternatives to the conventional food system offer a wonderful selection of options to satisfy your health and environmental principles. Depending on which principle you prioritize, you can select the appropriate option.


You see where I’m going with this. No matter what your goal, you can find the right place to shop — and chances are, if you a person of principle, you can do better than the traditional supermarket format.

Even in a place like Grant County, where we don’t have a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, there are still options for those don’t want to buy whatever came off the truck at Wal-Mart and Albertson’s. Maybe some reader out there can tell us in comments when the farmer’s market will get going again downtown, or can enlighten us as to other options besides the produce aisle at the local supermarket.

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