The alternatives: Sustainable, Organic & Local Foods - Upload Knowledge

Okay, so the good news is that there are alternatives to mainstream food products that are healthier for the environment and healthier for your students!

But what exactly do the terms “sustainable,” “organic,” and “local” mean as they apply to food? Doesn’t one sometimes imply the other?

“Sustainable” food

Sustainable agriculture is the production of food in a way that doesn’t use too many resources or pollute the environment. It attempts to use a responsible amount of water and not degrade the health of the soil or surrounding land so that future generations may also be able to grow nourishing crops. Common practices of sustainable farming include protecting biodiversity on the farm, preventing soil from eroding, recycling plant nutrients, conserving water sources, using less tillage, and integrating crop and livestock practices where they can benefit each other.

For more on any topic related to sustainable farming, check out the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service!

“Organic” food

The word “organic” is tossed around a lot in today’s society whenever a product seems to be environmentally-friendly. Many people use “organic” to refer to products that are labeled “natural” or “chemical-free,” etc. The term “organic” is not necessarily synonymous with other feel-good environmental words, so it’s important to be a skeptical consumer. If food is actually organic, it means it’s produced with less fertilizers and chemicals than traditional food products, according to the
BBC. As a result, it often wastes less energy and also depends heavily on sustainable farm practices like the ones described above.

In the United States, food products labeled as “certified organic” have to meet strict environmental guidelines determined by the USDA in the way the food is grown, processed, and handled. Click here to learn what exactly it takes for a food product to be “USDA certified organic.” After reading the guidelines, you’ll understand that there may be quite a difference between food that simply claims to be “natural” but doesn’t explain how it’s natural and food that is actually “certified organic.” Furthermore, there are also different levels of organic depending on what percentage of a product’s ingredients are organic. Sometimes products are 100% organic and sometimes they’re not. Read this page by to learn more about the distinctions.

If you’re interested in the background of the National Organic Program, click here.

“Local” Food

Local food is often viewed as a healthy alternative for you and for the environment because of many reasons.

First, sustainable agriculture, whether officially labeled organic or not, often sells food locally. The
National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service explains that this is because sustainable farming practices are often better suited for small, family-scale farms, and smaller farms often sell locally because they can’t compete in a larger market. Therefore, local food in this case means healthier food for you grown with less pesticides, and a healthier use of our environment because sustainable agriculture uses ecologically-friendly farming techniques.

Secondly, although sustainably-grown or organic food is best for the environment, local food doesn’t necessarily have to be sustainable or organic to at least have some positive impact on the environment and your health. By being transported only short distances, the food carries less food miles. The overall carbon life cycle of the food could also be much less because a shorter distance between producer and consumer means less energy is needed for processing and storage. This food may also be healthier for you and your students simply because less preservatives are required if the food only needs to last a short amount of time.

Although local food is usually a better choice for you and the environment, remain a skeptical consumer. It’s possible that if your local food uses too many pesticides or relies on energy-intensive processing techniques, it may not actually be the best choice. Do your research before your school supports a certain food source.

For a deeper explanation of any of the reasons why it’s important to get food from a local or sustainable source, check out the Sustainable Table. It offers a detailed page on each issue, including additives, economics, hormones, pesticides, air pollution, waste pollution, etc. Just click on a topic that interests you in the right-hand toolbar.