the REAL difference between local, organic, and conventional food.

What kind of food do you eat?

Where does your food come from?

It kind of all boils down to those two questions. The first part, what kind of food do you eat, is the question that gets really complicated for a lot of people. There are people in every corner telling us what we should and shouldn’t eat.

For me, the question of what to eat got a lot easier when I heard this quote from Michael Pollan.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

And I really do believe that’s the secret to good health. Eat real food, mostly plants. Figuring out what to eat is the easy part, eat plants.

The second question is actually the hardest. Where does your food come from?

This question really only has three possible answers. You buy conventional, organic, or local. If it’s not one of these three, you grow it yourself, which is about as local as it gets.

Just like everything in the world, there are pros and cons to each of these three options.


Conventional

Pros

  • A wide variety of fresh produce is available at your local grocery store 24/7.
  • Conventionally grown produce is generally the cheapest option.

Cons

  • Conventional growing methods generally use a high quantity of pesticides, herbicides, and growth stimulants.
  • Conventional farming usually means that one or two crops are grown on a huge area of land, leading to nutrient loss in the soil.
  • Produce is often grown in other countries and require high transportation costs to get to your local store.
  • Produce that is transported over longer distances often lose some of their flavor along the way.

Organic

Pros

  • Different types of pesticides, herbicides, and growth stimulants are used on organic produce. The products used must be non-synthetic.
  • Many grocery stores carry organic produce alongside conventionally grown varieties, so they’re readily available.
  • You get to brag about eating organic.

Cons

  • Conventional farming methods are still employed for organic produce. One or two crops are grown on a huge area of land, leading to nutrient loss in the soil. This varies and some large organic farms are beginning to move away from monocultures.
  • Organic produce is still transported over seas or across the country.
  • Produce that is transported over longer distances often lose some of their flavor  and texture along the way.
  • Organic produce comes at a premium.

Local

Pros

  • Produce is often grown using traditional farming methods of crop rotation, organic pest management, and choosing varieties that will naturally thrive in the local area.
  • Most local produce is grown organically, though it often doesn’t have an official organic label.
  • Locally grown produce is generally harvested a day or two in advance of the market and sometimes it’s harvested that morning. The produce you’ll receive is as fresh and flavorful as if you picked it off the plant yourself.
  • If you have any concerns about pesticides or farming techniques, you can talk, face-to-face, with the person who grows your food.
  • You’re directly supporting your local economy by buying locally grown food.

Cons

  • Locally grown produce can be more expensive than conventional, though not always.
  • Markets are available on certain days, at certain times. You have to plan ahead.
  • Fruits and veggies are grown seasonally. If melons aren’t in season, no one is going to ship them in from another country and sell them at the farmers market. Eating local definitely means eating seasonally.

I definitely believe in doing your own research and making the choices that are right for you and your family. No one can have the final say in what you should eat except for you. This post is meant to gently nudge you towards being a little more intentional with your food choices. Even those of us who make a living in health or food can benefit from checking in with our choices and seeing how closely our reality lines up.

This is my opinion based on what I’ve seen and learned over the last year of eating veggies: If you can’t eat local, eat organic. If you can’t eat organic, eat conventional. Just be sure to “eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

If you’ve already planted your flag in one of these three camps, wave it proudly in the comments below!