Most of the produce on the East Coast comes from the Central Valley of California. We're taking organic lettuce, grown with great care, terrific cultural practices, and we put it on a truck and we keep it cold from the moment we pick it, 36-degree cold chain all the way across the country for three to five days, and that takes 56 calories of fossil-fuel energy to get one calorie of organic lettuce. Now technically that product is organic. In any meaningful sense of that word, if you think back in the values embedded in that word and its history, I have trouble calling it organic. So organic has become less sustainable as it's gotten bigger.Pollan makes some very interesting and thought-provoking points about the energy costs of the ways in which we process and transport our foodstuffs.Say you live in Boston and you want to buy organic. You can buy that lettuce and support the care of some land in the Central Valley of California. If you buy local you can support some land on the outskirts of Boston. So if you're motivated by environmental considerations, you may find -- and I'm not telling anybody what to do, I'm just trying to give them information so they can make their own decisions -- you may find that more of your values are supported by buying local than organic. Because that local buying decision is also an act of land conservation -- you are protecting farms in your community from sprawl by keeping those farms around.
I am as delighted as anyone with the ability to buy fresh strawberries year-round, but there's more to the cost of that than the ruinous price you pay for a pint of strawberries at the grocery store on a cold January morning in New York.
"Eat The Press" - Interview with Michael Pollan (Grist magazine, 31 May 2006)
Hat tip: Carrie