Organic, local, seasonal, free-range, grass-fed, pasture-raised – these words are thrown around a lot. Is it about marketing? Trendiness? Are they just buzzwords? Nope! Choosing organic, local, seasonal and free-range ingredients actually makes a difference for the taste, your personal health, and the betterment of this beautiful planet we live in. And here's why…
Organic farming endorses environmentally sustainable and socially responsible practices, with mindfulness for soil regeneration and water conservation. Produce and grains are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and processed foods are free of chemical preservatives or synthetic additives. The reason for all this is that fruits and vegetables absorb everything around them as they grow, so it’s not enough to simply wash the skin. If you bite into a non-organic apple for example, you are ingesting all the dangerous chemicals that were sprayed on it to kill other living things. Furthermore, when soil is not properly maintained and is over-farmed and over-irrigated, it becomes mineral deficient. We can all agree that one of the main reasons why we eat fruits and vegetables is for their awesome vitamin and mineral content, but if they’re not grown in the right way, you’re basically eating a bunch of chemicals mixed with some carbs. The thing is, organic farming isn’t some new phenomenon. Really it’s how humans grew fruits and vegetables and raised their livestock for most of our existence - right up until the very recent arrival of pesticides and fertilizers in the last century. A big milestones here was the introduction of chemicals like DDT and ammonium nitrate in WWII. People discovered that these literally deadly weapons could be used for cheap pesticides and fertilizers in addition to the growing popularity of hybrid plants, monoculture crops, large-scale irrigation, and heavy mechanization. All things that totally ruin the nutritional content of the foods we eat, as well as the planet that we live in!
Buying local means sourcing products from the community you live in. There are many motivations to being a loca-vore; firstly, locally grown food has more flavour, as well as greater nutritional content! Local crops are picked at their peak ripeness, otherwise they’re harvested way too early so that they can be shipped and distributed to your neighbourhood grocery store. Many times produce at local farmers’ markets has been picked within 24 hours of your purchase, as opposed to a weeklong journey in transit. Another reason to choose local sources is that it’s great for the economy. The money that is spent on local farmers and growers all stays close to home and therefore is reinvested into the community. Purchasing locally grown foods also helps the environment by decreasing transit emissions and maintaining important farmland and green spaces. Furthermore, it allows us to know more about the food we’re putting in our bodies, by speaking directly to local farmers and investigating how they grow and raise their produce and livestock. Finally, keeping it local simply ensures a safer product. Many countries have more laid-back policies when it comes to food handling, and food grown in distant locations has the potential for contamination at harvesting, washing, shipping and distribution.
Seasonal means that the fruit or vegetable has been picked at the peek of the season it would naturally grow in. As mentioned in the local-lesson, this ensures the highest quality in flavour and nutritional content. But as mentioned above, even if it’s “seasonal” in another country, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for you. It could be contaminated, poorly regulated (even if it says it’s organic, some countries have very lax laws on the topic), and of course the distance it travels affects its freshness and is harmful to the environment.
When adhered to properly, free-range should mean that the animal is allowed to roam free in a natural setting, giving it appropriate exercise, fresh air, socializing, and access to its preferred and native diet. Not only is it simply more humane, but without all these important elements the quality of the meat, milk or eggs goes seriously downhill. You are what you eat, right? So, if the animals are stressed, depressed, poorly nourished and immobile, they will have poorer quality protein, distorted fatty acids, diminished vitamins, and decreased absorptive properties. You’ll then get all of that terribleness on your plate, and ultimately inside your own body. Who wants that? Conversely, properly raised animals and their products provide high quality amino acids, healthy fats, a whole slew of vitamins that can only be obtained through their animal carriers, and some seriously yummy flavours that make the foods you eat, the best they can possibly be!