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Is Organic Always Better for the Environment?

Last week, as I bounced through the halls of Whole Foods with a $25 gift certificate in hand (thanks to the boy’s efforts — he drove a Subaru Forrester as part of a marketing gimmick to win the certificate), my mind turned to an article in Wired I had read recently about organic foods.

According to the piece, organic farming sometimes results in lower yields that conventionally farmed produce, resulting in more land needed for agriculture. Environment loses.

Plus, when organic produce is flown around the world so that Whole Foods can stock organic tomatoes from New Zealand next to organic butternut squash from Israel, lots and lots of fuel is consumed in the process.

So what’s a greenie to do? Is it a lose-lose situation or can you be green and eat pesticide-free food?

It is, as always, not an easy solution. The best thing, without a doubt, is to buy local. Shop at the farmer’s market and buy local produce — even if it is not organic.

Don’t turn down genetically engineered foods — GE foods often raise yields, meaning less land has to be used for farming.

And eat seasonally. If you’re buying tomatoes in the dead of winter, whether they are organic or not, they are likely being grown in either a greenhouse or halfway around the world.

Cut down on dairy and meat. Cows are big emitters of greenhouse gases (methane, anyone?).

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Posted by on June 19, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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Stick it to me: Stickers on Produce

Ever come across those tiny stickers on an apple or peach just as you’re about to bite down on the peel? Turns out those little stickers are used for much more than just letting your supermarket clerk know how much to charge you. Those stickers reveal how the food was grown and whether it’s been genetically modified.

I’m not opposed to GMOs. I think the big hoopla about the monarch butterflies was based on incorrect science data (and after a quarter of Plant Genetic Engineering at Stanford, where we carefully dissected the research, I can tell you a lot more about that if you’d like) and I believe that GMOs have a place in modern agriculture — with more research, of course.

That being said, I do think people need to know what they are eating. Fortunately the food companies are giving consumers a (subtle) clue if they care to know. According to Vegetarian Times magazine…

  • Stickers with 5 digits starting with an “8” show that produce was genetically modified.
  • Stickers with 5 digits starting with a “9” show that the fruits and veggies were organically grown.
  • Stickers with 4 digits show that fruits and veggies are just plain ol’ conventional.
 
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Posted by on May 20, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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Plant carrots, save the world (or at least avoid pesticides)

I had just finished transplanting my heirloom carrots from their egg carton home into planters outside when I came back in and browsed through an article in the New York Times about the revival of the kitchen garden. People freaked out about the spinach E. coli scare, the numerous strawberry-Hepatitis A incidents and the Humane Society video showing animal cruelty at a meatpacking plant have been turning to their own backyard as a source of nourishment.

Quite likely as a result of my parents’ own hippie tendencies (they make their own soymilk, and, before cow’s milk became déclassé, they had a cow and made their own yogurt), I’ve always been interested in growing and making my own food.

My first real taste of urban agriculture, however, took place at Fairview Gardens Farm and the Center for Urban Agriculture in Goleta, Calif. This place is a haven for organic fruit and veggie lovers. I worked as an intern for three weeks, helping to sow the seeds, weed the rows, harvest the fruits and vegetables and eat a few in between 🙂 What struck me was just how, well, difficult it was to keep the pests and weeds away. No wonder we turned to pesticides. But at what cost?

I also helped to coordinate the Community Supported Agriculture program, where people came each week to pick up their “share” of the farm — a basket filled with fruits and vegetables all harvested only hours earlier.

This was years ago, before the explosion of the locavore movement, before Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food” books, and before organics were regulated by the USDA.

Now, it seems like everyone’s jumping on the wagon. Kitchen gardens are now chic and shopping at the farmers’ market has become uber trendy. CSAs are becoming increasingly common and eating local has become an obsession for some.

But you don’t have to jump in all of the way to enjoy some of the joys and benefits of tending to your own garden. You can plant a few herbs by your apartment window (egg cartons — the former home of my carrots — make wonderful little pots for seedlings) and join the local movement. I’m currently growing some cilantro and basil. All it took was a quick trip to Home Depot for a few seed packets and a bag of seed starer mix. The article had a great website — kitchengardeners.org — that has tons of tips on how to grow your own garden.

So come on, join us. After all, everybody’s doing it.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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