Shifts in America’s food culture increase with organics and locals
The United States is changing its mind about what it likes to eat. It’s spitting out the mass-produced sludge everyone thought was brilliant a few decades back and is now reaching for locally produced, organic treats.
And treats they are indeed, packed with health benefits that have become a rarity in today’s food culture.
According to Owen Murphy, a CU nutrition instructor, produce that is locally grown and organic tends to contain more nutrients than conventional fruits and veggies.
“Organic means it contains no pesticides, which are toxins and poisons to the body,” Murphy said. “Local and organic produce may also have a higher mineral content and contain more antioxidants.”
Much of the produce found in grocery stores in this country is significantly devoid of these benefits. Consider the tomato for instance. Most Americans buy their tomatoes at their local Safeway in an effort to obtain the lycopene and Vitamin A it’s been advertised as containing. What they probably don’t realize, however, is that this tomato has traveled thousands of miles from vine to shelf, and that it’s lacking many of the nutritional benefits a tomato should have.
“Organic food is more nutrient dense because it’s been grown in soil that is alive, rather than soil that’s been depleted by chemicals,” said Anne Cure, owner and farmer at Cure Organic Farm in East Boulder.
Yet not all organics are created equal. Murphy emphasized the difference between industrial organic, which refers to large mass-production of organic foods, and local organic. It is important to make this distinction, he said, since local organics tend to be more beneficial for a variety of reasons.
Industrially produced food, even organic, tends to have a higher risk of malpractice. This can include cross-contamination with conventional fields, poor treatment of animals in meat production plants or improper harvesting practices that alter the taste and nutrient content of food.
“Foods are tastiest and the most nutrient dense when they’re at their peak of ripeness. When they begin to spoil is when they lose vitamins and quality,” Murphy said.
Because industrial farming usually requires extensive transport of food, growers often pick fruits and vegetables long before they hit ripeness. This stunts the ripening process, considerably inhibiting the item’s potential for quality flavor.
“Local food doesn’t have to travel as far. It’s grown in the same ecosystem as the people who are eating it,” Cure said.
By decreasing the need for extensive transport, local food ensures both freshness and quality. Yet it also serves other purposes.
“Another benefit of local food is the transparency,” said Murphy, explaining that consumers can be more aware of the practices behind their food. “It also encourages vitality in the community from the employment perspective, and of course lowers energy costs.”
Wellbeing for the earth is perhaps one of the more long-term advantages of organic and local food. To know more about food production, visit sites like stanfoodscareers.com.
According to Steven L. Hopp, co-author of Barbara Kingsolver’s acclaimed memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the average U.S. food item travels 1500 miles from source to consumer.
“In addition to direct transport, other fuel-thirsty steps include processing (drying, milling, cutting, sorting, baking), packaging, warehousing and refrigeration. Energy calories consumed by production, packaging and shipping far outweigh the energy calories we receive from the food,” Hopp writes on www.animalvegetablemiracle.com.
These warnings apply to produce as well as other foods like meat, poultry, fish and dairy.
“Industrial animal food production has one goal: to convert creatures into meat,” Hopp writes. Just as crops have been transformed from food to product, the practice of raising animals for food has become a flourishing business of mass-production.
According to Murphy, there are many problems with this trend.
“The production of meat poses immense ethical as well as nutritional issues” he said.
Consider beef, for example. To decrease costs to the producer, cows are fed grain instead of the grass which their bodies are designed to digest, and are kept in confined spaces where they’re unable to move. While this poses an obvious ethical dilemma, there are nutritional issues as well.
“The grain the cows are fed alters the saturated fat content, as well as the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. This adjustment has been linked to some of the serious health problems in the U.S., including cardiovascular disease,” said Murphy. “The concentration of animals in small spaces also increases the risk of food-borne illness such as E.coli, and the use of antibiotics in the animals’ food can decrease the effectiveness of medical treatments in humans.”
Meat production presents a multitude of issues that are linked with one another, and that the consumer buying chicken breasts at Safeway may not be aware of.
This is why, according to Murphy, it is important to support local agriculture.
“Supporting local producers prevents centralization. Not that this is a bad thing, but our capitalistic society has turned it the wrong way,” he said.
Writer Michael Pollan, in his article “Unhappy Meals,” examines this concern and applies it to the production of food.
“Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket,” he writes. “Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” This has become a difficult challenge in a society of Twinkies and Cheese Whiz.
From over-processing to soil pollution to animal cruelty, conventional production of various foods presents serious threats to both human health and the earth’s resources.
So why hasn’t everyone made the switch?
“If I could afford to buy organic produce and higher-quality meat, I would,” said Natasha Fischer, a sophomore political science major. “It’s just more expensive and not always worth it for me.”
Fischer has a valid point. Buying organic and local food is often considerably pricier than buying its conventional competitor. After all, mass-production of anything – whether it is automobiles, clothing, or vegetables – is always less expensive than small production.
For starving students, the product with the lowest price tag is often the most appealing choice. But is it the best choice? Although those discount apples may look delicious to the wallet, one must consider the real story behind them. There are almost always negative externalities that come with mass-production.
Another reason for the lack of response in certain areas of the country to the organic movement is plain unawareness.
“It’s just not a priority to some people. It’s hard to convince people that the food they’ve been eating their entire life is bad when they aren’t suffering any immediate health effects,” said Peter Cook, a sophomore chemical engineering major. Cook grew up in Colorado Springs, where he said people didn’t place as much emphasis on organic versus local and big versus small.
“Families there would shop for groceries at large warehouse stores purely for purposes of price and value,” said Cook.
Boulder is undoubtedly a pocket of the country where people are tapped in to the organic movement. Perhaps this comes with money, perhaps with education. Whatever it is, many believe it’s time to spread the wealth. Can one expect this to happen?
“If you’re starving, your first priority is caloric intake, not sustainability or organics,” said Murphy. “You have to consider where people are on their hierarchy of needs.”
So some parts of the country may not evolve in the same way that places like Boulder have. Yet both Murphy and Cure foresee positive change in the country’s future.
“The whole trend of organic and local food is spreading across the nation,” Cure said. Along similar lines, Murphy expects a “ground swell of awareness and inspiration.”
So perhaps all that is needed for further progression is a continuation of what’s already been happening. After all, when people grab hold of a positive trend, they are most likely not letting go.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Lauren Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org.