Organic vs. Local. Which is Better?
By Jennifer Bartoli
One of the top ethical questions in the cooking world today centers on how we should nourish our bodies. In a world where more and more of our food is industrially produced using chemical enhancers and pesticides, many have turned to an organic diet. Organic products are grown free of chemicals and therefore taste better, richer and more like nature intended. However, chefs and restaurateurs might have to rethink their loyalty to organic produce. Sure, living in moderate climates such as California makes it quite easy for some restaurants and chefs to obtain organic produce from their farmer's markets and local providers; but the same cannot be said for places further away from natural food supplies.
How Far Will You Go for Organic?
Fruits or vegetables that travel long distances to get to their destination not only use a lot of fuel to get there (which, of course is not very environmentally sound), but they are also generally picked before they are perfectly ripe and sold long after being harvested. The best solution, of course, is to buy local and organic whenever possible. In doing so, you get the best of both worlds: delicious, naturally-grown produce with no foreign toxic chemicals to be wary of, and food that was grown near to its selling point, thus reducing our carbon foot print, supporting our local communities, and eating in season.
Hard Choices: Organic or Locally Grown?
Unfortunately, the problem of ethical eating extends beyond the boundaries of southern California to more problematic climates. Take Montreal, Canada for instance. Here, cooking organically means having to purchase produce that's been shipped from far away. Restaurants that want to purchase organic strawberries before local varieties are available have to resort to shipping strawberries from distant climates. Sure, the products might be pesticide free and meet FDA organic standards, but the issue of the carbon footprint that results from the shipping process needs to be taken into consideration.
As Michael Pollen so aptly remarked in the Omnivore's Dilemma, "in what sense can a plastic box of salad on sale in a Whole Foods store thirty-five hundred miles and 5 days away from its origin truly be considered organic?" Reducing our carbon footprint has come to the forefront as one of the ethical dilemmas that one must consider when working in the food industry and is one of the reasons that eating local has been likened to the "new organic".
Think Seasonal, Think Local
Older generations will tell you the pleasure they had growing up and waiting for tomato, rhubarb, or asparagus season. Today, more and more produce is available year-round; consequently, restaurants offer produce from around the globe. It might be time to step back and re-think our attitudes toward food. Perhaps, rather than simply serving the latest culinary trend, serving seasonal, locally-produced products should be enshrined as the backbone of a modern culinary approach.