Is it better to buy 'Local' or Organic?
The first thing to clarify is what ‘local’ actually means regarding food production, which is immediately where things begin to get confusing because as of yet, there is no legal definition set by our government of what ‘local’ is.
So the responsibility of food labelling falls to the retailer and producer of the food. Obviously this isn’t great because without a general consensus of what ‘local’ is, interpretations can range massively. What’s local in my eyes, may not be considered local in yours.
It’s important to have clearly defined terms in commerce and food labelling because, as with almost everything in society, it prevents inequality. By this I mean, if you’re illiterate or indeed find reading difficult, as many do, or don’t know (quite a bit) about geography, don’t own a computer, have little time to read and research each food you’re buying and consuming (so…everybody), you’re at a tremendous disadvantage to nerds like me who have and make the time to learn about this. This is exactly why I am now set on making this info more accessible. Nobody should eat in the dark.
In a society that is built around immediacy and relentless rapidity, where people are given 30mins, if that, for lunch, we cannot then ask the consumer to take time out to ponder: how far away actually IS Dorset from London…?’ (The answer is approx 123 miles by car btw).
So, in the current system based upon interpretations and connotations, the question still remains: is it better to buy South African Organically produced Raspberries, or conventionally grown British Raspberries?
To make some logical ‘local’ rules to follow, that don’t require me to work out milage, and so that we have some form of foundation of consensus to work from in this post...here is what I personally consider to be local as a UK resident living in London, and how I navigate my buying:
Made, grown and sourced in the UK - root veggies are especially easy to find in the UK that comply with this
‘Made in Yorkshire/ Sheffield’ - products made, produced and sourced in your own town/ county
Educate yourself on what foods are in season in the UK each month* and buy accordingly. Plan your meals around produce and not just off what you fancy
Not ignoring the ingredients in junk food! I.e. unsustainable palm oil grown in the Amazon Rain Forrest in ‘vegan’ products???? Que? Or picking up a chocolate bar and forgetting that that bar has conventional milk in it and probably not from or made in the UK.
So, back to the Raspberry conundrum…Using the ‘guidelines’ above, I’d say go for the locally grown Raspberries, because no.1 it will (most likely) be in season*. Which in turn leads to another question: should we be eating food that is geographically not avaliable to us without excessive food miles and CO2 emissions? Probably not. Where we can, we should definitely try to be shopping in line with nature as much as we can, and build our plates around what is avaliable and not simply what we fancy.
Within reason though of course. It’s important to be healthy and enjoy (literally) the fruits of life, even supporting at times global food importation. I would love to one day be so puritanical about food that I personally only eat food grown in the UK, or perhaps even to be self sufficient…but for now I think we can enjoy being part of a global food market and bare no shame surrounding that, but ensure that we are mindful of not over-consuming imported foods. Simply endeavour to be as local and informed as possible.
Our natural wildlife, flowers, hedgerows and other British Habitats are an integral part to the health of our eco-system, without which, the sustainability of ALL life will, eventually, diminish. We want to reduce the decline in wildlife as much as we possibly can and protect the complex system that is nature. Intensive, non-organic agriculture can massively fuck with that system. And it’s not okay to just not care, or be too busy to make an informed choice about what you buy.
It is our environmental and social responsibility to be an active participant within society and take part of decision making and policy crafting. But you don’t have to wait for polling day to demand kind, humanitarian and climate conscious policies. You can vote with your pocket; each time you chose where to put your money, supply and demand shifts. I chose to put my money in good places.
So is it better to buy local or organic? The answer is both. Buy organic (which I have written about just that here) and local if you can. Stick to seasonable eating as much as you can and allow seasonability to be your main guide in food buying. If your shop doesn’t provide organic produce, speak to them and/or try another shop, you will not just be helping yourself, but EVERYBODY. According to a press release in 2015 on gov.uk, ‘4 in 5 people think we should support our local food producers’ and ‘almost 80% of people see buying local food as a top priority’. I don’t think that people’s desires to shop local are likely reflected in their actual buying (yet), but by spreading information about food miles, the environment and indeed the lives of local farmers etc, it all helps to make more conscious and mindful consumers.
P.s. You may have noticed that I have not spoken on animal products…With regards to animals and meat, I strongly believe that we should eat exceptionally limited amounts of meat, dairy and eggs for environmental reasons (will talk about that in a different, very contentious post). And for this reason, if and when you eat meat, regardless of the cash in your pocket, it should be organic and local.
*UK food in Season in the UK in May (from vegsoc.org):
Artichoke, Asparagus, Aubergine, Beetroot, Chicory, Chillies, Elderflowers, Lettuce, Marrow, New Potatoes, Peas, Peppers, Radishes, Rhubarb, Rocket, Samphire, Sorrel, Spinach, Spring Greens, Spring Onions, Strawberries, Watercress.