There’s a certain amount of debate on the subject of what makes a food nutritious. Is it best for us to use organic? Is it best for us to buy only local foods? If so, how far is local? One hundred miles? Two-hundred? Your own backyard?
A great approach to sorting this issue out is to use awareness and your own common sense to make a decision. It’s important to note that although organic and local foods are all well and good, hunting these foods down should not turn into a chore or source of stress. Eating nourishing foods should not create the very thing (distress) that we’re trying to avoid (disease).
Good advice to follow on the topic of what to eat is to first understand the basics of what makes a food healthy (and yummy). The presence of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (plant-based antioxidants) make a food healthy. Research has proven this for decades. When foods are processed, these naturally occurring and beneficial substances are altered or lost in many cases. Processed foods where key elements have been removed (think enriched white flour versus whole-grain flour or instant, quick –cook oats versus “old-fashioned” oats) are different and just not as full of nutrients as foods that have not been altered.
We have understood for a long time, that there is some relation between soil health and plant quality. There is also a relationship between allowing an animal to roam freely (free-range) and eat what it likes and higher levels of beneficial nutrients in its flesh than animals force-fed and caged. Lastly, there is a well-documented (and logical) relationship between foods grown with pesticides, antibiotics and irradiation and poor nutrient-levels and possible disease-promoting elements.
*The first detailed scientific analysis of organic fruits and vegetables, published in the Food Additives and Contaminants Journal, shows that organics contain a third as many pesticide residues as conventionally grown foods.
Lastly, there is a relationship between how far a food (especially produce) has to travel before it is eaten and how “healthy” in an overall sense the food is. Food that is picked just days (versus weeks) before it is eaten, not only tastes better, but likely has more nutrients. In the memoir Coming Home to eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, the author says “ If you send it halfway around the world before it is eaten, an organic food still may be good for the consumer, but is it ‘good’ for the food system?”
No matter how you slice it. Buying and eating organic when possible is best and eating foods produced regionally makes sense. Given these guidelines for choosing healthy food, it’s important to be aware of where your food comes from and to do your best to include fresh, whole foods somewhere in your daily diet, but don’t distress over it.
There are farmer’s markets in many communities (go to booths that promote organic and local) and CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) which are local farms that offer produce subscriptions where buyers receive a weekly or monthly basket of produce, flowers, fruits, eggs, milk, coffee, or any sort of different farm products. A CSA is a way for the food buying public to create a relationship with a farm and to receive a weekly basket of produce. By making a financial commitment to a farm, people become "members" of the CSA. A CSA season typically runs from late spring through early fall. The number of CSAs in the United States was estimated at 50 in 1990, and has since grown to over 1000.
"The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a Natural History of Four Meals"
by Michael Pollan
“Study Finds Far Less Pesticide Residue on Organic Produce.”
The New York Times, 5/8/02