Eating Organic Outside a City Center

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Before getting into the heart of the issue on how to eat organic outside a big center, it’s worth mentioning that I haven’t always eaten organic (as much as possible).  In fact, for most of my life it was far from a priority.  In youth, spare cash was better spent on dying my hair a fiery shade of orange or pink, or on laundry.  When you’re having trouble getting ends to meet, where your food comes from and how it’s grown is a pretty moot point.

Later on, as I stumbled my way into the mainstream between hangovers, there was still very little interest in improving the quality of what I consumed.  After all, when you’re fuelled on coffee, energy drinks, cigarettes, alcohol, uppers, downers and John Fluevog shoes, it’s a little ridiculous to make an issue about the food you’re eating.  And all those things eat a neat hole into any salary, no matter how much it’s growing.

As I approached thirty, like so many who’ve come before me, I cleaned out and calmed down.   The Fluevogs were swapped for runners and hiking boots and the dance clubs for a yoga mat and exercise videos.  Coffee gave way to herbal tea and the how my body felt within became more important than the appearance it had without.  At this point I began to eat more healthily, but provenance and pesticides were still not particularly on my mind.

Pregnancy and childbirth is what changed things.  When you put another life into the world you instantly stop being the center of the universe and confer that privilege onto your progeny.  As another’s needs become the navel of your world instead of your own, you reconsider a lot.  It made me far more aware of what was going on outside the little bubble of my own ego.

Psychology aside, my son’s birth also coincided closely with my reading of Marie-Michel Robin’s ‘’Notre Poison Quotidien,’’ Rachel Carson’s ‘’Silent Sprint,’’ and Theo Colborn’s ‘’Our Stolen Future.’’  Ignorance is bliss.  When you are unaware of a problem, you can ignore it without any use of doublethink.  Once you know about it, you either have to willingly choose to forget it, or act as a result of that knowledge.  I chose at that point to eat organic (as much as possible given finances and availability).

On the surface, the decision is health-based: limiting the chemical load borne by our family from products we do have a choice about such as food, home care and body care.  Under the skin however, any act of consumption is also a political decision, supporting certain agendas while negating others.  Although my own personal purchase is but a drop in the sea of our GNP, that drop supports organic growers and licensing rather than their conventional agricultural counterparts.

Only once there are enough drops to turn the tide (read as: once it becomes evident that there is profit to be made for the big mega-corps by investing in organic production) will chemical-free food become a large-scale and affordable alternative for all.  It is incredibly sad that those who can even consider if they want to shell out for organic food or not are speaking from a place of great social and financial privilege.

Currently, availability and expense are both major factors to consider for those who do want to reduce their exposure to herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and chemical additives.  For rich city folks wanting the simplest shopping experience, organic groceries are becoming more widespread.  Montreal for example counts at least a dozen on the island.  For those living out in the boonies however, it can be a bit more challenging.

And so we move into the main point of this article.  How do you go about eating organic when the nearest health food store is about an hour and a half’s drive away?  And the local grocery’s idea of organic is a couple of bags of Nature’s Path cereal and some Natura soy milk at a stupid price (which I’ll admit is at least a start and far more choice than a couple of years ago)?

The answer is not universal.  There are a combination of strategies can be used depending on what is possible in any given community and for each individual family.  Below are a number of ideas to work with either alone or in tandem:

Pre-purchase Food Baskets from Local Organic Farmers

This is my personal favourite when it comes to getting fresh fruits and veggies since it bypasses the stores entirely and permits a small, local farmer to earn a living.  Out here, these little enterprises may not be officially certified as organic farms, but those that adhere to the principles of sustainable and ecologically friendly farming are usually proud of it and will gladly take the time to show you around their land and explain to you how they work.

Usually, you pre-pay prior to the start of growing season for a set number of weekly deliveries of a pre-determined variety of produce.  As a bonus to supporting individuals rather than oligarchy: even during a bad year, the grower isn’t dependent on agricultural credit to cover loss since it’s agreed upon that the amount of vegetables received is dependent on the success of the crops.

1 – Have an Organic Garden in your Own Back-Yard

If you have the time and inclination, this is a wonderful way to go about supplying organic vegetables at a reasonable price.  It does take some research and determination to set up shop in a sustainable and organic manner but it’s also quite rewarding and does provide a healthy sense of personal pride.

Even the brownest thumb can usually manage some of the hardier and more bug-resistant plants like swiss chard, carrots and beets.

2 – Create or Join an Organic Community Garden

Some municipalities have a small lot of land devoted to community gardening; others have a small green-house established for the purpose.  Do take the time to check on their policies and see if they’re organic in methodology or not.  If they aren’t, or if such a set-up doesn’t exist where you are, start one up!

3 – Shop at the Local Farmer’s Market

Just because it’s at market doesn’t mean it’s local or organic – take the time to take to the vendors prior to purchasing.  At harvest however, it’s a great place to get large quantities of produce to can for the winter season.

4 – Eat Your Weeds

By wildcrafting edible weeds, wild vegetables and berries, it is often possible to come up with quite significant quantities of fresh and chemical free food during the summer season.  Fireweed shoots, lamb’s quarters, chickweed, purslane, dandelion leaf and root, burdock root, wild parsnip, wild carrot, blueberry, blackberry and raspberry all come to mind.

When collecting herbs in the wild however, proper identification is critical since some of these plants (particularly those of the apiaceae family) have toxic dead-ringers or caustic sap.  Furthermore, it’s important to ensure that collection isn’t done in close proximity to sprayed agricultural land.

5 – Know Where it’s Worth Shelling Out Extra for Organic

Not all fruits and vegetables taint alike when it comes to chemical residue.  Some crops are heavily contaminated such as apples, grapes and potatoes.  Others generally have very little residue from pesticides and herbicides – here we’re talking about pineapple, avocado and mango.  Keeping up with the Environmental Working Group’s studies on the subject can help those on a budget decide if and where it’s worth buying organic: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php.

6 – Home Canning for the Winter Season

It’s a very old-fashioned way of doing things, but it does mean that you can survive on the summer’s crop and spend less at the grocery store once you’ve made the initial investment of Mason jars and a pressure cooker.  It does require time and initiative as well as a fair amount of storage space.

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7 – Create or Join a Purchasing Group

When it comes to beans, nuts, grains and other bulk staples in the diet, the most cost-effective alternative is usually to join or create a purchasing group with other like-minded individuals.  Each group works in a different manner, but at its simplest, when someone is ready to place an order they contact everyone else so that a minimum dollar amount or minimum volume to have access to wholesale pricing can be met.  Shipping costs are then divided proportionally amongst the buyers.

8 – Order On-Line

Some other purveyors of organic foods offer free shipping after a certain minimum order amount (Mumm’s sprouting seeds comes to mind: http://sprouting.com/) allowing even those in remote locations to enjoy!

9 – Buy Bulk When Visiting the City

Once you know which staples you use a lot and do want to buy organic, stock up when circumstances do direct you into a larger city center.

10 – Read Labels

Just because it’s labelled organic doesn’t mean that it isn’t full of fillers (albeit organic ones), sugar (also organic) or salt (organic again).  Buying ‘’organic’’ doesn’t necessarily make it healthier or more nutritious than conventionally grown food – it just mean it has less chemicals and pesticides (it usually still has some – we’ve poisoned our air, water and soil to that point).  To ensure that what you’re consuming is healthy you still have to read labels and make wise dietary choices.

11 – Cook Your Own Food

It may be long to do, but cooking your own food from scratch really is the only way to know for sure what’s on your plate.  To save on time, make large batches ahead of time and then can or freeze for future use.

Cooking fresh produce and dried beans and grain from start to finish allows you quality control and usually results in a far better finished product than the store-bought varieties thereof.  Home cooking also has neither the host of preservatives nor the uncertain age of grocery-freezer fare.

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