"Local" is not "organic," necessarily

Even consumers paying attention to where their food comes from and how it is produced are confused, one conclusion that can be drawn from a study published this month in the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review that says that 1 in 5 consumers thinks “local” means “organic.”

I see other examples of this not seldomly, such as when I see “organic cane sugar” on a processed-food label, as if the goodness of organic cancels out the … whatever of processed sugar.

So, a primer: “Local” means it didn’t travel too far to get to where you are. Among the advantages of buying local are that your purchases are supporting neighbors, many of whom benefit relatively more from sales than a multinational does; relatively less fossil fuel has been burned to transport your goods than, say, Chilean peaches; you have a far greater chance to interact with your producer, a valuable relationship to have.

“Organic” means, among other factors, that no synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers have been used in the food’s production.

All things being equal: organic is better than non-organic. And local is better than non-local.

But just because something is local, doesn’t mean it wasn’t doused with Roundup or other chemicals during its growth. And just because something is grown organically doesn’t mean it wasn’t relentlessly processed after harvesting, or that workers weren’t exploited during its life cycle, or air-shipped from Togo.

And overindulging on organic chocolate is still overindulging on chocolate. You may get a few virtue points, but you’ll still see the results on the scale at your next weigh-in.

One of the morals to draw is that we live in a gray world “better” and “worse” are far more common than “good” and “bad.” Another is that there are no panaceas in the battle for personal health.

[Hat tip to foodnavigator-usa.com, where I read about the study.] 


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