Tracing a Tasty Origin

In times of deep concern, turmoil, or struggle, humans can be united by our love of food. We need food to fuel our bodies in the most simple sense, however, food has become much more. As humans we indulge, we crave, and we create unique dishes and flavors. Where does your food come from? “The grocery store”, you might say, and you are correct. As we dig deeper, searching for the origin of our food, we uncover controversy, ask questions, and discover the root of it all.

Planting the seed

The myth I plan to debunk — “Organic food is healthier for you than conventional food, and is better for the environment.” I am choosing this myth because I have extensive experience in agriculture. I have worked on an enormous mechanized conventional row crop farm in Salinas, CA, a small-scale community supported farm in Chico, CA, a USDA organic almond, rice, and pork farm in Hamilton City, CA, and various other livestock operations on the Central Coast. Through my experiences working, I have developed my own opinions about food and the type of food that I want to buy/eat. My hope is that my experience in the field will give me a different perspective of the topic. The urgency of this issue is reflected in the worsening condition of the planet. “Agriculture is a whole culture of how to work with the earth,” said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, which looks critically at land and agriculture investments around the globe. “When it’s driven by profit, it can be very dangerous.”

Is Bigger Better?

The reason that the generalization — “Organic food is better for you and the environment” is incorrect is due to the increased popularity of Organic foods. The market for organic produce is increasing every year, and growers are choosing to convert to organic farming, treating it as an investment. In the end, they can charge more for organic food, because we are willing to pay more. This means that the largest agricultural corporations on earth are now interested in growing organically, motivated by profit. This contrasts with the belief that organic farming is better for the planet. My argument and opinion on this tasty topic is that it matters less if the food is USDA organic certified, and matters more who grew it, where, when, why, and how.

Where it was grown is important because the farther away from you it was harvested, the farther it had to be transported. This transportation adds to the cost of the food and has an environmental impact due to the air pollution caused by trucking. When you buy food grown in your county, you support the local economy.

You should also care When your tomato was grown! Was it grown in Mexico last summer, and picked from the vine when it was green, destined for a storage facility where it would sit under artificial light and ripen? I’d prefer a tomato that was grown in it’s ideal season, it’s going to taste better, and have more complete nutrition. Real sun creates real flavor.

How did you grow that giant head of cauliflower? Maybe it was one in a million Monsanto seeds, strewn about a thousand acre plot of land by tractor, watered and harvested by the exploitation of cheap labor. In contrast, it could have been grown on a small local farm. The same hand that carefully placed that seed in the ground is the one you shake in transaction at the farmers market.

Why would anyone want to grow food? They have to get up early, go home late, and often times, are at the mercy of uncontrollable circumstances like weather. Growing good food from seed to harvest is rewarding, and is done with love. Those who care, create delicious food! When picking out your produce, ask yourself where, how, and by whom was it grown. Local grocery stores have even begun to embrace this ethic, The Chico Natural Food Cooperative agrees that sustainability includes supporting local agriculture and small businesses who share our vision of sustainable practices and growing methods, even if they are not certified organic.

Locals Only

Choose produce that is guaranteed to be grown locally. This label, “local” can be shifty. A 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that “though ‘local’ has a geographic connotation, there is no consensus on a definition in terms of the distance between production and consumption.” Unfortunately we must ask, how local is local? Some farmer’s markets are certified to be local, or have a specific section of the market dedicated to truly local food. At Safeway, however, a label containing “local” means about as much as a label that reads “savory.”

Final Harvest

Why does it matter to you? Well, with the population of Earth estimated to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, we have work to do. With this many mouths to feed, many are going to be hungry. Agriculture is going to increase to meet demands, and become even more profitable of an endeavor, but may fall short in becoming more sustainable. It is important that you, as a consumer, know the power of your dollar. Where you choose to spend your money, be it at the natural foods co-op or Walmart, has an impact. In the future, we must embrace sustainability. The way food was grown is more important than it’s government issued label. What can you do? Grow your own food or buy food with confidence in its sustainable origin. And please do… The Earth depends on it.