As if knowing what kinds or amounts of food to eat hasn't proven to be difficult enough, we are also faced navigating the labels of organic versus conventional, and locally grown versus imported. There's a lot of contradicting information out there, and even as a student in the field, I was confused. as. shit.
But after you face the overwhelming phase of information-overload, it's a matter of practically digesting the information and applying it in a way that makes sense for you.
What someone else eats or buys or does with their life will be different than what you do, because guess freakin' what? They have different values, goals, education, experience and financial status than you, just to name a few. And while I seriously admire unique individuals, we all have a few things in common:
We all need to eat to sustain life
What we eat affects our health
Our health affects our ability to perform well and enjoy the things we love
So, beyond the foundational principles of eating a balanced diet of fats, proteins and carbohydrates, and eating real, whole foods like fruits and vegetables, what level of quality do we consume to maximize our health?
Well, here we go again with the universal response to 99.99% of nutrition questions: it depends, but here's my perspective on how to select the best produce:
At the top of the nutritional pyramid sits local and chemical-free (organic).
If you have access, and can prioritize the funds (sometimes required), go big. I am not here to determine what you can and cannot afford or tell you exactly where to put your money, but the fact that you are reading this on your own smartphone or laptop makes me think you likely have some money that can be spared to prioritize better quality food, and the fact that you're reading this proves that you are interested in the thought. Now, the best way to find this dynamic duo is at your local market, local farm store or neighbourhood CSA programs. Sometimes produce isn't considered certified organic, but can still be chemical-free. Through a quick trusted conversation, you can learn that a farmer chooses not to pay for the expensive certification but still prioritizes sustainable, chemical-free processes. Like any personal improvements, you don't have to make a complete turnaround with quality or shake up your entire budget, but you can start with one area and build from there. You can find quality food for good prices by going directly to the source of your food (market stands or the farm) and avoiding any upcharge. Win-win.
Then, go local.
Deciding between local and organic is tricky, but when I weigh the benefits, local wins. Buying food nearby (within 100km-ish radius) means less transport time, fresher food, higher nutrient content and most importantly, better understanding of where your food comes from, or what I consider food connection. Beyond all of these wonderful reasons to go local, there are sooooo many other advantages that serve you, your community and the future of the food industry in the long run. Now, if you are purchasing local food grown with the assistance of pesticides or chemical fertilizers, do what you can to remove the residue and give it a good wash, especially if the produce is listed on the Dirty Dozen.
It still helps to get to know the farmer's practices, not only from a nutritional standpoint, but also to truly trust the food you're eating and increase food connection. Perhaps there are local farms that don't have the best practices, but again, learn as much as you can and go with who and what you trust. Small farms and local farmers typically aren't doing it for the money. They care about their craft, and want you to reap the benefits, too.
Next up, go organic.
If you can't get local and organic, and you aren't going local, your next option is organic from afar. Organic agriculture can be defined as "an integrated farming system that strives for sustainability, the enhancement of soil fertility and biological diversity whilst, with rare exceptions, prohibiting synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, and growth hormones." The benefit to organic is of course no chemicals foreign to your body and soil fertility, however, sustainability is far more than just the growing practices. If the food is being delivered thousands of kilometers away, known as food miles, and consumed long after picking, a degree of overall sustainability, nutrition and food connection is lost. And hey, I'm not here to overwhelm you, but sometimes organic can actually still contain non-approved chemicals and pesticides if they are neighbouring other farms that use them. Wind, for example, can affect the residue on your organic goods. In addition, the growing popularity of organics has led to "Big Organic," industrial-sized operations with the purpose of high output instead of the original community-based initiative. Once again, food connection is lost. Like I said, the more you know where your food comes from, the better off you'll be.
Then, go conventional.
No local? No organic? Cool, we can still work with that.
Go to the grocery store, and my goodness, just buy some vegetables and real, whole foods. You can begin to practice awareness around your food sourcing by checking the posted signs. If you don't typically check where it's from but now, because of this blog, you begin to notice you've supported farms from your province, state or country, celebrate that win, too.
OKAY, THAT'S ALL I HAVE. THANK YOU FOR READING.
Wait, no it's not. If you're feeling like holy-shit-this-is-a-lot-to-take-in, here's one quick reminder, repeated from above..."after you face the overwhelming phase of information-overload, it's a matter of practically digesting the information and applying it in a way that makes sense for you." Little by little, we can improve our habits, and little by little, we can change the food industry along the way. Thank you for being a part of it.
THE III TIPS
The same applies to your animal products, if applicable: get to know the source. After all, "you are what you eat, eats."
Want to go chemical-free but not sure where to start? Check out the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen (I recently posted on Instagram)
Find a friend and check out a market or farm store together as a social outing this spring or summer. Enjoy fresh coffee, local veggies and good conversation.
Cheers to a brighter future,
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