Posted on: February 27, 2017
Are you a health conscious consumer wondering whether it’s worth buying local or organic food? It’s a valid question without a simple answer. By Caryn Huneke, MS, RD, CDN, Northern Westchester Hospital
Let’s start with what the terms local and organic mean. While there are no government regulations defining “local,” it is generally referred to as food purchased or consumed within 100 miles of origin. However, this is a loose definition, as the concept of local is relative to where you live and your access to farms and fresh or salt-water sources. Local can be used to describe food produced anywhere within ten to 500 miles of your town, county, state, or general geographic region.
With organic, it’s a different matter. The National Organic Program (NOP) within the USDA strictly regulates which foods can bear the official USDA organic seal. To meet its standards, food must be free of antibiotics, growth hormones, GMOs, irradiation, nearly all conventional pesticides, and fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewer sludge.
For many, the greatest value of locally sourced foods is fewer “food miles” from source to consumption. As a result, food is fresher, often tastes better, may retain more vitamins and antioxidants (as foods lose nutrients over time), and has a much smaller carbon footprint. Shopping locally also supports fairer farm practices and the local economy.
The benefits of organic foods are also compelling. By choosing organic, you avoid unnecessary exposure to antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and other potentially harmful chemicals. And because the NOP emphasizes sustainable agricultural practices and bans most pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, it’s environmentally friendly as well.
While choosing local or organic has many advantages, they are often more expensive, subject to faster spoilage due to using fewer (if any) artificial preservatives, and they’re harder to find. Furthermore, local produce is seasonal so you have fewer options, and organic foods may be linked to more foodborne illness outbreaks. Finally, the research is still inconclusive (and ongoing) as to whether organically vs conventionally produced foods have a superior nutritive value.
Ultimately, choosing to eat local or organic is based on many factors, including cost, access, and personal values, so there’s no absolute right answer. While eating locally-sourced, organic food may be the ideal for many, it’s most important to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. There’s no free pass for organic chips and cupcakes; they’re still junk food and should be eaten in moderation. And remember, it’s not all or nothing. Start by visiting your local farmers’ market or only buying organic fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residue levels (hint: consult the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides).
What to Consider When Shopping, What’s Important to You?
• If health is your concern, pick organic over local to limit exposure to potential toxins.
• If you care about small business and the local economy, shop local at farmers’ markets, CSAs (community supported agriculture), or supermarkets that carry local farmers’ goods.
• If the environment concerns you, either one may be a good bet, but consider the overall carbon footprint. A local farm may use pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, but the energy spent shipping organic food across the country (or world) is often more harmful in the end.
Turnips and some mushrooms are still considered seasonal in February in New York – harvested in the fall but stored through winter, Try This Roasted Turnips and Mushrooms Recipe.
Ingredients: 1 pound baby turnips, halved
10 oz small white mushroom caps
2 tsp rosemary, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Directions: Toss 1 pound halved baby turnips and 10 ounces small white mushroom caps on a baking sheet with 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Turn the turnips cut-side down, then roast at 425 degrees F until golden and tender, 25 to 30 minutes.
Recipe From The Food Network
Onions are also considered seasonal in New York in February, try this Baked Chicken and Onions Recipe (Serves 6-8)
Ingredients: 2 roasting chickens, cut up
1 large onion, sliced thin (or two small onions, sliced thin)
2 cups sweet wine
Directions: Put the chicken in a baking pan and sprinkle with garlic powder. Top chicken with onions and pour the wine over the chicken. Cover and bake at 350F for 90 minutes; then uncover and bake for another 30 minutes to get nice, crispy onions, and a lovely glazed skin.
Recipe from The Food Network