Locally produced and organic food is available everywhere; two experts give their opinion on its benefits.
Does an apple a day prevent doctor’s visits? Or should it be organic? Actually, the answer is that “it is impossible to know at present”.
Why? First of all, almost nobody eats only organic food or only conventional food, so it is impossible to separate consumers into two groups for comparison. There are similarities, and when two groups that are supposed to be different look a little bit alike, the results also look alike.
So there is no evidence that organic foods are better for health? That’s not what we said. There is a growing diversity of large observational studies that compare consumers who reported eating organic food regularly and willingly with those who did not.
As of the date of this article, in the most recent study, which is from France, researchers found a significant difference in cancer incidence between people who regularly eat organic food and those who do not. (The lowest cancer incidence was in the group that eats organic food most often, as expected.)
Well, doesn’t that mean that organic foods are better after all, since they prevent cancer? It happens that the study is not really conclusive.
Phew, why not? Maybe the difference between the two groups is the overall level of care they put into their health. It could be that people who eat organic food have access to better health care, more money to spend, a better quality of life, that kind of thing.
In general, organic food is more expensive, so it’s more likely to be preferred by wealthy people, those with better health care and generally better living conditions. That’s why we still don’t know for sure. But at least we have established for the first time a solid connection between the regular consumption of organic food and an important effect on health.
If I see organic apples next to conventional ones in the supermarket and I can’t afford the organic ones, what should I do? Eating a conventional apple is better than none at all and better than most other options. Rinsing out conventionally grown vegetables reduces pesticide residue, so you could say that it reduces the difference between organic and conventional. So, yes, buy the ones that are not organic and wash them well. You could almost say “you should never let an apple go by”.
What if I try to eat locally produced food? That’s a relatively new trend, but it’s an old style of eating. Locavores” eat or try to eat locally produced food, although of course the word “local” is very vague. Before food was transported, everyone ate local products.
Now the trend has taken on a deeper meaning: what you eat is important for your health, and the quality and composition of what you eat in turn depends on how the vegetables are grown, how the animals are fed, and where they come from.
Why is it worth investing more time and overall more money to eat local food? There is no doubt that reducing the carbon footprint, supporting the local economy, eating seasonal (and fresh) food, knowing where it comes from and how the food is produced are all positive aspects and are all characteristic of local food. Only a fanatic could eat only local food, but focusing on these attributes would mean eating better, more ethically and more sustainably.
If you know that the vegetables you buy are grown on a local farm where no agrochemicals are used, you know that you are avoiding those substances. If you know that the soil receives the proper nutrition, you know that it contains a lot of nutrients. If the food you buy hasn’t been in storage or transit for days or weeks, it will have a much higher level of natural nutrients when you eat it.
So does buying locally produced food mean that the food has more nutrients? In general, yes. However, if you are buying locally produced corn, then probably not. It is logical that there is a relationship between agriculture and health, there is no way around it. So the more information you have about how and where the plants are grown, the more you can trust their nutritional quality.
Does the composition of the soil also affect animal products? Without a doubt. This issue is even more important when we consider the food that comes from animals. The nutritional composition of meat is deeply related to the animal’s diet and exercise program.
For example, when animals exercise more, the meat is leaner and has less saturated fat. The composition of meat also varies according to the diet of the animals and the nutrients of the plants they eat, which in turn are influenced by the soil.
Does that mean that if the soil is healthy and nutritious, the meat will be too? When animals feed on pasture instead of grain, they keep the soil healthy and produce better meat.
And pasture-fed animals can present a lower risk of industrial food calamities, such as E. coli 0157:H7, a strain that can cause severe intestinal infections and even kidney failure. It originated in the intestines of livestock, particularly of animals fed grain rather than grass. Therefore, if the arguments for animal rights and the environment do not motivate you to buy local products, remember that it is also important for your own health.
Having said that, it is of course possible to produce poor quality or nutrient-poor local foods. But one of the main advantages of buying local products is that you can see or know how your food is produced and make that judgment more easily. It can also be said that the diet of “locavores” does not include food products of national distribution that are made in some factory, which practically excludes junk food.
Does this mean that if I buy local products I can eat what I want – locally produced pasture-fed beef burgers and cheese all day long! Not exactly. It is still important to follow a diet that contains mainly vegetables and is balanced and varied.