Organic vs Local / Wild vs Farmed: What to Choose?
It can be difficult to shop for food in today’s marketplace. The lives of the products you buy for yourself or your family aren’t just what you see on the shelf. Every product now has a back story that may or may not fit into your own moral or ethical point of view. This can lead to stress and confusion. What is better? Local, organic, wild, farmed? I’m not going to pretend I have the holy grail of answers, because I don’t think there is one. The answers are all shades of grey based on our own personal, variable needs. My needs are different from your needs, but here is my take on these issues, formed from years in the foodservice industry, as well as being a consumer with a young family. I’ll also offer a few links to websites where you can find more information on each section.
Organic anything would seem to be the healthier, more natural choice, and for the most part it may be. It used to be the only option until brilliant minds figured out how to make just about everything from petroleum. If you are buying based on health concerns, organic is your choice. Foods grown without pesticides or growth hormones, health care products without paraben or phthalates, etc. are all just a little bit better for us. Where organics can run into trouble is in the amount of petroleum used, especially in shipping and packaging. Bringing in that piece of organic fruit from California or New Zealand may be a little healthier, but it creates a large environmental impact getting it to you.
By definition, choosing local means your food travels less. Selections of foods from local farms are becoming increasingly more available where ever you may be living. The reasoning for buying local is that 1) if your food travels less (fewer “food miles”) you are using less oil (unless the produce is conventionally grown with petroleum based fertilizers), and 2) buying local keeps dollars in your community. This is especially true of farmers markets where farmers may charge a premium and can put more money in their own pockets by cutting out the middlemen. 3) by purchasing local produce, you have increased your chances greatly of buying something that has just recently been picked, therefore it should contain more vitamins and minerals, as these can break down quickly. For these reasons, I think local foods can be a better choice over organics. Now if you can get both together – even better.
Wild – seafood
In most cases, choosing wild seafood is the best option as long as it is caught in a sustainable manner. A few years ago here on the West Coast, there was a big push to only use wild salmon. Everybody jumped on board. What happens then when we put that kind of strain on a species? It simply won’t be available to us in the future. One good way to figure out if that wild seafood product is the right choice is to follow the Ocean Wise guide, from the Vancouver Aquarium. For the majority of seafood choices, wild is your best choice…..for now.
Farmed – seafood
In some cases, buying farmed seafood is the better choice. Great farmed choices include tilapia, Arctic char, catfish, abalone, mussels, trout and sometimes salmon. Farmed fish can sometimes get a bad rap. I believe because of the pressures we put on wild fish, especially salmon, we’ll see that farming fish, in a sustainable way, will be the future. This will most likely happen on land in closed containment systems. One important thing to remember when purchasing seafood anywhere, the question to as is not whether its wild or farmed, but whether its been caught or grown in a sustainable manner.
I guess no matter what we buy, no matter organic, local, farmed or wild, we should really make our purchases with sustainability in mind. Is this product grown or produced in a way that is fair to consumers, producers and the planet?
What are your views? Where do you spend your dollars? Let me know, I would be interested in hearing them.