The food world has been reeling in the wake of a recent Stanford survey concluding that “organic” food may not be as special as it’s cracked up to be. Many have rightly pointed out shortcomings in the methods and data involved in the study, but it has certainly sparked debate.
Among certain food world vets, however, the question at hand was answered some time ago: While organic is always preferable, buying locally produced food is more important than buying items that meet certain FDA regulations (the fact that neither model is sufficient to feed billions of people is another can of worms altogether). How do we know that this isn’t a new debate? “Locavore” was Oxford’s word of the year for 2007.
Think about it: Plenty of produce and other food products that are mass-produced and shipped across state or international lines still qualify as organic. If your primary concerns are quality, freshness and taste, not to mention environmental impact, then buying local is more important than buying organic, because local farmers will, by definition, only offer produce in season—and those seasonal selections are generally higher in nutrients.
The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof did publish an endearing profile of an all-organic dairy farm over the weekend if you’re interested in why organic farming is generally preferred. Also: Check out this report if you want to read a formal research paper discussing the ways in which Stanford researchers missed the point.