Making the Best Health Food Choices for Wellness and the Environment Organic foods are big business, and for good reason: they are safer, easier on the environment, and often more nutritious than their “conventionally grown,” pesticide-laden counterparts. In recent years, however, locally grown produce has become a competitor for organic food, prompting the question: Is local or organic food a better choice for the average consumer? Local and Organic Foods: Definitions Organic meat, produce, and packaged foods are sold with the guarantee of their organic label – a government-regulated certification that says that these foods and their ingredients have been grown without dangerous pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, or any other artificial agents. Local produce means foods that have been produced locally, usually by small family farms rather than big agribusiness. Local foods support the local economy and may be fresher or cheaper than foods that have been shipped cross-country or from overseas. Organic Foods and Health Most people buy organic for the sake of their own and their families’ health. Dozens of studies have highlighted that there are very serious risks associated with pesticides, from hormone disruption to birth defects, cancer, and autoimmune disorders. Organic foods are free and clear of any chemical additives that might pose a risk to health. Studies show that organic produce has an additional benefit: organic fruits and veggies are often higher in nutrition (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants) than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Organic Foods, Local Produce, and the Environment Another important aspect of organic farming is the care taken in preserving the earth’s ability to grow food crops and support health ecosystems. Run-off from pesticides can kill animals and disrupt the food chain near conventional farms, but organic farming doesn’t poison the land. However, organic produce is usually shipped significant distances before being sold – using fossil fuel resources and creating pollution as it travels from farm to table. Local produce avoids this evil if it’s grown, sold, and eaten within a few hours’ drive (or less). The shorter travel distance also means that local produce is fresher – and often less expensive – than fruit and veggies that are grown across the country. Local vs. Organic and the Impact on Local Economies Proponents of local food believe in supporting “local economies” by buying from your neighborhood strawberry farmer instead of an organic strawberry giant down in California. The concept of social responsibility plays a big role in the organic vs. local food debate. Finding Food that is Healthy, Local, and Organic Which natural food shopping pick is best for health, budgets, farmers, and the environment? It’s not an easy question to answer. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to enjoy fresh, local, organic produce all at once and all the time. In the real world, it’s sometimes possible to find food that is both (by asking around at farmers’ markets, for instance). Often, though, the choice between local and organic produce is a personal decision based on many factors. Organic food isn’t always available, and neither is local food (especially if you live in a large city). The best anyone can do is learn about the issues and follow his or her own conscience.