When it comes to food purchases, you're faced with a variety of choices every day. You try to choose the most sustainable options for you, your family, and the world — but sometimes the choices get a little complicated.
Aside from questions about ingredients, processing, and GMO status, you've probably found yourself wondering about where your food is sourced from, and how far it had to travel to get to you. If you had the choice between ordering Certified Organic food online and purchasing local, non-organic food from a nearby retailer or farmers' market, which would be the more sustainable option?
Let's break down the environmental impact of non-organic foods, and how that might compare with the impacts of shipping food — to help you make the most sustainable decision.
Local Food: Pros and Cons
In your community, there are probably a few local establishments — grocery stores, health food stores, etc. — where you can buy the basics like vegetables, eggs, milk, and beef. Depending on your location, you may even have access to farmers' markets during certain months of the year. However, local stores and markets may not consistently offer Certified Organic products. And some "local" grocery stores have their food shipped from far distances anyway. So how do you sift through the pro's and con's of getting local, inorganic food?
Pros of Local Food
Supporting farmers and stores. Local farmers are an important and valued part of the ecosystem. When you support local growers, you help keep money in your community, which can help produce a more sustainable local ecosystem. The same goes for shopping at local grocery markets and health food stores
Food often doesn't travel as far. When it comes to cutting down on your carbon footprint, there's definitely something to be said for local food. Instead of having to be transported vast distances, food at your local farmers' market just had to make it from the farm to the market. This cuts down on the amount of fuel used in the process — increasing its sustainability. However, it's important to keep in mind that many local grocery stores don't actually stock local produce and beef; instead, they order beef that needs to be shipped in.
Con's: The Problem with Local, Inorganic Food
When it comes down to it, local farmers who use conventional growing practices — especially when it comes to beef and cattle — are supporting an unsustainable practice that contributes pesticides, chemicals, and fertilizers into the local environment.
Conventionally-grown crops use a variety of pesticides to kill unwanted pests on their crops. Unfortunately, pesticides have far-reaching environmental impacts, including killing local wildlife like bees and bats, seeping into groundwater and rivers, and impacting delicate local ecosystems.
In conventional food production systems, it's often necessary to use chemical fertilizers to grow crops. For example, soy and corn are grown for non-organic beef often require tons of fertilizer. By contrast, grass-fed, organic cattle graze for the majority of their food and cut down on the need for chemical fertilizers.
Instead of being allowed to graze like organically-raised, free-range cattle, conventionally raised livestock is fed grain from monoculture crops like soy and corn. In a nutshell, this means that vast tracts of land are used to grow one variety of plant. This requires heavy pesticide and fertilizer use, uses extra water, and degrades the soil of nutrients.
If you're faced with the decision between local, conventionally produced beef and organic, grass-fed beef — grass fed is the clear winner for sustainability. Grass fed cattle graze on grass, which means that their feed doesn't have to be produced on harmful monoculture crops and shipped to the farm — requiring massive expenditures of fuel. Converting crops to grazing land can help offset the carbon emissions caused by cows.
Conventionally-raised cattle are raised on feedlots, which have massive environmental consequences in terms of waste production.
The Bottom Line on Local
Taking your family to local marketplaces is a great way to support your local ecosystem and connect with your community. If you're purchasing from local vendors who also happen to be certified organic, then it's definitely a sustainable option. However, it's important to recognize that local dairy, beef, and vegetables are often produced with practices that harm the earth.
In addition, no method of food-purchasing is going to be completely carbon neutral. You still have to drive to go to your local farmers market or health food store — and interestingly enough, researchers have found that traveling by car uses twice as much energy as flying.
Certified Organic Food from Online: Pros and Cons
Purchasing local food can be a great option in some situations. For example, many people swear by locally produced raw honey to moderate seasonal allergies. But when it comes to many of the vegetable, dairy, and beef products that you feed your family, it's clear that conventional, non-organic growing practices can have devastating impacts on sustainability.
For many people, this means that they choose to source organic food from online sources — that will then be delivered right to their doorstep. When taking this route, it's important to ensure that you're using a reputable vendor with clear Organic certification. Let's look at the pros and cons of purchasing organic food online:
The Drawbacks of Purchasing Organic Food Online
Shipped over far distances. It's undeniable: when you order food online, it's often shipped over vast distances to get to you. Although air travel is more sustainable than vehicles, ordering online definitely demands extra fuel resources.
Doesn't support local businesses. For many, it's important to support and patronize local businesses — which isn't accomplished when ordering food online. Though you will be supporting businesses with better growing practices when ordering certified Organic online, you still won't be putting your money into the local ecosystem.
The Pros: Certified Organic Is Simply More Sustainable
At the end of the day, the organic certification on your product highlights a commitment to sustainability from the company that you're purchasing from. Keep in mind, as well, that there are different levels of sustainability based on country of origin. For example, organically-raised beef in Australia has to adhere to some of the most stringent sustainability standards in the world:
- Feedlots — some of which can produce as much waste as a small city — are strictly prohibited.
- Cattle must be grazed for the vast majority of their lives, which supports soil sustainability by limiting the need for monoculture crops.
- Any feed that the animals are given must be organically grown, which cuts down on chemical fertilizers and pesticides on a massive scale.
- Chemicals like vaccines and antibiotics are strictly monitored for organically grown cattle, cutting down on the amount of chemical byproducts in meat and in our environment.
Choosing organically-grown beef is simply a more sustainable option. It cuts down on pesticides and chemical fertilizers. It ensures a higher standard of welfare and humane treatment for cattle. And it contributes to healthy, nutrient-rich soil — an invaluable resource.
If you're curious about the food that you're purchasing online, don't be afraid to check a vendor's certifications through their website or through speaking to a customer service representative. They should be able to tell you their status when it comes to organic, free, and grass-fed practices.
So, What's More Sustainable: Local or Organic?
For certain foods, it's a great idea to buy local. That's because some foods — like raw local honey — probably don't require pesticide use to be grown. In addition, you can always have a conversation with local farmers and grocery stores about their farming practices.
At the end of the day, however, it's important to shop organic for foods that have a huge negative impact when grown conventionally — like beef. Despite being shipped from afar, buying organic beef online helps cut down on damaging practices like soil degradation, chemical fertilizers, feedlots, and pesticide use.
At Cleaver's Organic, we're proud to produce the best-of-the-best when it comes to beef. All of our beef is Certified Organic with USDA, Australian Certified Organic, pesticide and herbicide-free, Non-GMO Project Verified, grass-fed, and free range. We embrace sustainability efforts in all we do, a commitment which is reflected in the quality of our products.