Food Miles Pt. 2: Is Organic Always Good?

Now that you know what food miles are, has your mind been blown? Just wait.

You’re probably thinking, but here on the east coast, apples are in season. Why would they be sourced from anywhere else, let alone thousands of miles away?

Because in the short run, it’s cheaper. Think about how often you eat apples. Is it only during the 2 months or so a year that they grow naturally in the northeast US? I’m guessing the answer is no. In countries like ours, we haven’t been conditioned to eat seasonally. What we have been programmed for is progress, speed, and consistency. We need to get from place to place – work, school, home, and the pit stops in between. Food is just one of those pit stops. Eating has become more about convenience and necessity than pleasure and nourishment. We’ve become too detached from our meals to the point that we’ve stopped caring about what we eat, as long as it tastes good and is easy, regardless of how it got on our plates. It’s what we demand.

If for the most part, Americans are satisfied with eating foods like McDonald’s – where one batch of meat could be a conglomerate of 100 different cows, all fed corn mixed with cow meat, slaughtered before reaching full adulthood with a bolt to the head – why would major food corporations take the time to raise cows grazing on grass in an open pasture? Do you know how many years that would take? And how many pastures? Americans want their food NOW. So the corporations cram thousands of cows in waste-filled pens, treating them with hormones to grow bigger, faster. Treating their meat with preservatives so it’ll last longer. Adding chemicals to give it that sweet, recognizable brand taste. A taste that is the same no matter which McDonald’s you go to; a taste that, when you think about it, doesn’t necessarily taste like beef, but somehow tastes good. This fast-paced agribusiness catering to our fast-paced world is deadly – to our bodies, to the animals, and to the environment. The methane from the ranches going into the air and local water, the CO2 from the slaughter houses and processing factories, plus the emissions from the trucks that carry the “meat” cross country; the animals and people who have died from contaminated meat; suddenly it’s not so cheap to eat this way.

Photo courtesy of Be Food Smart
Photo courtesy of Be Food Smart

I thought we were talking about apples? You say. I don’t even eat meat! And the apples I bought were organic!

Organic. The word has gone from an adjective to a brand. Yes, of course it is better to eat produce that was grown without harmful pesticides or weren’t injected with genetically modified organisms. But the produce food chain – even the organic industrial one – is no different than the fast food chain. Even for those who take the time to sit down and enjoy a meal, and an organic one at that, there can still be a heavy footprint left behind. Because when we have the time and money to eat whatever we want, we will. So again, the food needs to be available, to the masses, year round. But produce grows seasonally and regionally. To get the most of the seasonal yield, farms have turned to monoculture production – clearing their land to mass produce one crop. This degrades the soil over time and makes it so no other crop can grow nor animals sustain themselves on that land. And so there need to be monocultures for every type of produce. Soon all we have are massive farms with thousands of acres of the same crop – but all run by a small handful of farmers. And the farmers are actually just food corporations, and the same ones that make the McDonald’s meat. They’ve bought out the local farmers, for next to nothing, and will now run their organic farms with the same agenda as their conventional ones. When the weather makes it impossible to grow in one region, the same cycle occurs somewhere more temperate, but this time the final destination of the food is further away. It needs to be treated with preservatives to last the long ride cross country. And when it’s impossible to grow a type of produce in the country any time of year because of the climate, corporations turn to other countries.

So yes, the fruit is organic by definition and by USDA standards. But it ran thousands of local businesses to bankruptcy, made our country dependent on foreign  resources (though not always a bad thing…), and still created tons of emissions as it was sorted, packaged, and shipped to locations thousands of miles away, one of them being your plate.

Is this what you picture when you think "farm"?
Is this what you picture when you think “farm”?

This information is not meant to discourage you, although it should infuriate you; that corporations saw your demand for healthy, organic food, and used this plea as a chance to profit. This is all part of the dilemma that we face in a world where food is both scarce and abundant, both a necessity and a risk. It shouldn’t be such a struggle to differentiate the good from the bad; there should be an easier way. And there is. Stay tuned and I will share it with you!

Allison Beauregard

Allison is a New York City based writer with a focus on sustainability. Her work demonstrates how it is possible to have the “things” that make us happy without compromising the resources that provide these goods. With this vision, Allison sees a future where environmental degradation is reversed and the quality of human life is equally distributed. She is the Category Editor of The Franklin Report and was among the top 5 contributors for Elephant Journal in October 2014.

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