[the following post was written by Vanessa Rodriguez. Vanessa is a nutrition expert and shares her thoughts on organic and locally-grown foods. Check out Vanessa's blog here, and read more about her at the end of the article.]
I find most runners eat well. And many are very picky about their nutrition. The question of whether to eat local or organic is an advanced one, beyond just getting in your fresh fruits and veggies. It’s for people who have a good nutritional base and know the importance of food as it relates to their performance.
Local vs organic is a tough personal choice that depends on your circumstances and priorities. But it should be an informed choice. Here is what I’ve learned about both, what my choice has been, and why.
WHAT IS ORGANIC FARMING?
Organic food is grown the old-fashioned way, without the use of heavy treatments on the plants or the soil. The sale and push towards “organics” is fairly recent, but there’s nothing really new about it. Farmers have been growing this way for centuries. It really is more of a return to what was never broken in the first place.
Organic farmers believe that not every insect is a pest. Not every uncultivated plant is a weed. And that we must care for and feed the soil in order for it to produce. Organic farmers are conscious of the environment because they depend on it. It takes longer to grow organic produce, and the workload is higher.
While most farmers these days can spray their fields of crops from a plane, the organic farmer walks among this crops and must resort to natural ways of caring for his plants. These include growing cover crops (planting different crops side by side to enrich the soil), spreading animal manure, mulching (placing loose leaves at the base of a plant to protect it from extreme temperatures, suppress weeds, preserve the soil, and maintain moisture), composting, crop rotation (changing the location of his crops each year to deter pests and spread the soil’s nutrients), intercropping (staggering the heights of his crops so the roots grow at different depths), and using kelp meal or seaweed for natural nourishment.
TOP 5 REASONS TO BUY ORGANIC
1. More vitamins and minerals.
Non-organic fertilizer contains a large concentration of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium (an NPK mix). Plants need these elements to grow, but they also need 17 other trace minerals that are not included in this mix. As humans, we also need these trace minerals in our bodies to function optimally. Buying organic significantly increases our chances of consuming them.
2. Preserve soil health.
Organic farming involves long term planning. It takes care of the earth and aims to replenish everything that is taken from it. There is more organic matter (living things) in the topsoil of organically grown produce. Mainstream fertilizers (the NPK mix) cause the soil to become very dry. They also throw off the soil’s natural pH balance by overwhelming it with Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium.
3. Less environmental impact.
Gases and pesticides don’t really disappear. They get into our air, our ozone, and our water. Pesticides are made up of a bromine compound responsible for the holes in our ozone layer.
4. Less animals die.
Fish die when excess nitrogen from mainstream fertilizers is transported via rain into our waters. Pesticides kill the earthworms that help transport minerals to our plants.
5. A moral choice.
This choice would be based on protecting the environment, our animals, and our health. It would stem from a belief that natural is better.
TOP 5 REASONS TO BUY LOCAL
1. More nutrients.
Because food has less distance to travel, it is left on the vine/in the ground for a longer period of time. It is more likely to be allowed to ripen naturally instead of with spray in the back of a truck en route somewhere. This gives the plant more time to absorb nutrients.
2. Preserve food variety and diversity.
As more food products are owned by less companies, everything is starting to look and taste the same. Today, 30,000 items on our grocery shelves are produced by only 10 multinational companies. Out of those 10 companies, 140 board members are making all the decisions on what we eat. We are now getting the same food everywhere we go, and certain food varieties are becoming extinct.
The company Monsanto is the second largest owner of seeds across the world. These are seeds that have actually been patented and “owned” by this company. The company then has a right to decide if they want to keep the seeds around, or dispose of them. If they feel a certain variety of crop doesn’t sell well, they can get rid of the seed. Because they have a patent, nobody else can grow it.
Since the patenting of seeds, 4,000 different types of plants and seeds have become extinct. We see the same 5 or 6 varieties of apples in the grocery store today because 86% of apples are now extinct. These varieties were not harvested because someone decided they weren’t turning a high enough profit. Similarly, over 23,000 varieties of pears are now extinct. And 96% of our consumption of green peas comes from only 2 varieties.
In the Arctic there is now something called the Noah’s Ark project. It was established to store and protect as many seeds as possible from extinction “in case disaster should befall us.”
3. Preserve our food sovereignty.
Food sovereignty refers to our ability to feed ourselves. When the NAFTA agreement was signed, Mexico’s primary crop was corn. The US immediately flooded Mexico with cheap corn, and many local corn producers went out of business. After an economic downturn, the price of US corn rose dramatically, and Mexicans could no longer afford it. When they turned back to look for their old corn producers, they found they longer had any more local farmers. Norway has resisted membership to the European Union Free Trade because they want to block the importation of foods during their growing season. We want to keep local farmers around.
4. Less environmental impact.
Lower transportation costs mean less environmental pollution. Less fuel is burned. Less carbon dioxide is released into our environment.
5. A moral choice.
There are currently more prisoners in the United States than there are farmers. Farmers also hold the highest suicide rate, as they are quickly losing their ability to employ sustainable farming practices. They are having trouble feeding themselves and their families. A moral choice to support local farmers would be based on the belief that we must help our own before helping others.
HOW DO I KNOW IT’S REALLY ORGANIC?
“Organic” is just a word in the English language that anyone can slap on a product, so make sure you look for the actual organic seal from a certifying body (varies, depending on where you live).
When it comes to produce, look at the food sticker. Each sticker contains a product number. The four-digit numbers starting with 3 or a 4 are non-organic. Five digit numbers starting with 9 are organic. Genetically modified produce numbers start with the 8. I would NOT under any circumstances buy genetically modified produce.
HOW DO I KNOW IT’S LOCAL?
Farmer’s markets are growing in popularity and they’re amazing places to shop. Grocery stores also post where the food is coming from. Look into Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) such as Momma Earth, Front Door, Fennings, etc. Community gardens and rooftops are also amazing, often coming hand in hand with a sense of community.
MY PERSONAL CHOICE
Wherever possible, I choose local. For me, it’s a moral decision. I strongly believe in community and my priority is to fix what’s local before trying to change the world. Family before friends. Friends before local strangers. Local strangers before distant ones. I don’t have to travel to a third world country to find malnourishment or hungry children. I believe in taking care of my own. And once that base is strong, it’s time to expand the borders and take on more.
Vanessa Rodriguez is a Holistic Nutritionist committed to guiding you through your journey to better health and wellness. She holds a journalism degree and blogs at vanessaruns.com. She also writes for Vitality Magazine and is a regular blogger at Holistik Health. Vanessa specializes in weight loss, optimizing energy levels, and sports nutrition. In her spare time, she trains for ultra marathons. She can be contacted for nutritional counseling at firstname.lastname@example.org. Online services and sessions are available. Mention Jason’s name for a 20% discount.