Monday, August 10, 2009

In the Slow Lane of the Organic Highway

This is my desire: I want to buy the healthiest fruits and vegetables, milk, and oils that I can afford. I want to make sure that they are not coated with pesticides and fungicides and that they come from land that was treated with respect and compost rather than chemical fertilizers and herbicides. Whether they are “certified organic” is not as important to me as whether I can talk to the farmer who grew them and ascertain for myself the story of the lettuce or the carrots. (Candy from Oak Hill Farm talking to a customer at the Sonoma Farmers Market.) I want the produce to have been grown in my area and to have traveled as little as possible to get to me. I want to eat what is in season as much as possible. And I want this kind of food to be available to everyone at prices everyone can afford.

For this piece, I’m going to focus on the organic part. I’ll get to the other parts (eating locally and seasonally, promoting sustainable systems, and the politics involved in everything) in subsequent blogs.

Like so many others, I have been slow to recognize the importance of making sure that the food I fix is safe. When I was first learning to cook in the 60s and 70s, it never occurred to me that the food might not be safe. The standard produce looked really good, and maybe it was. In contrast the tiny selection of organic was pretty pathetic (shrunken and discolored oranges, limp and unappetizing lettuce) and cost a lot more.

So what moved me to change my buying patterns? What forces nudged me toward buying more organic?

1. Two friends, Karyn (to the left) and Lisa, suggested ever so nicely that I might want to consider buying organic for the sake of my health and those I feed. Karyn is a big fan of the Tuesday afternoon Farmers Market in Berkeley and showed me around a couple of times. She has two kids and it is particularly important for her to feed them well. She de-mystified the process, though I continue to feel as though I need an extra set of hands to negotiate the shopping bags, plastic produce bags, money and my store list. Lisa who is chemically sensitive told me a lot about the chemicals that get into our bodies from eating food produced by agri-business farms. I trust her knowledge and judgment. Thanks to their nudging, I started buying organic milk and butter and occasionally went to the Berkeley Farmers Market.

2. I also started gathering more information. Groups like the Environmental Working Group and the Organic Consumers Association have serious e-newsletters that keep me abreast of the latest worries in terms of legislation and threats to our food system. EWG has a list of the Dirty Dozen, the fruits and vegetables with the most chemicals, and a list of those with the least. I carry these lists with me to the market. I’ve also read enough articles and books by Michael Pollan and others to convince me that we are in danger if we don’t change the way our food is produced. Recently I’ve switched to Organic Canola Oil. Don't get me started on genetically modified stuff.

3. Finally I started going to the Sonoma Farmers Market on Friday morning or to The Patch farm stand whenever I am in town, store list in hand. Going to the Farmers Market is now part of my routine and I usually know what’s available and look forward to seeing what’s newly in season. I still feel as though I need an extra set of hands. When I’ve bought all I can, I go to my local grocery store, Sonoma Market, and buy the rest.

There are costs to switching to this new system. It takes time to stay informed. It takes more time to do the shopping; it is a two- or three-stop rather than one-stop shop. Right now I have the time to spend. And these beautiful fruits and vegetables are still more expensive, but I believe they contribute to my health and to the health and well-being of the farmers and the land producing them. So it's worth it to me.

My incremental steps have brought me a long way in the space of five or six years. Nudging from friends, educating myself, and making the new shopping practice part of my routine have really worked. I still have a ways to go. I don’t always buy organic. I still sometimes choose the cheaper alternative. But I am much more aware. I am in the slow lane of the organic highway, moving myself along, and I feel really good about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Katharine, I wholeheartedly agree with your testimony to the value of organics, and I want to add one more reason to eat organic -- taste. Organics tend to be so much more flavorful.

Thanks for this piece. It's helpful to learn about the reasons for your choices.