Food production and food quality are the broiling issues rubbing shoulders today with other weighty topics such as healthcare and job creation in the United States. Like these politically dividing issues, food is also undergoing its own great political divide. The Harvard Political Review examines this complexity with food issues in America by taking a specific look at governmental priorities around national food policies.

With so many debates around food, there are many definitions floating in the ethers. It becomes confusing for novice and connoisseur alike to tease out what is actually being said. One such confusion involves the food designations of eating local and eating organic. These terms are often inaccurately coined together. While foods grown locally and foods grown organically may in fact follow similar practices, the two terms are not interchangeable. To make the best personal food choice, it is important to know these food term distinctions.

In The Locavore Way, writer and food activist, Amy Cotler, differentiates between these two food terms. Organic foods are grown under very specific federally mandated rules; however, these rules do not capture the holistic web of integrating natural cycles s for long-standing sustainability. These federal mandates are further heavily influenced by active lobbying efforts from Agribusiness whose intentions may focus more on profits and ease of practice rather than quality assurance for safe foods. 

On the other hand, locally grown food is often grown with safe and sustainable practices but may not be organic certified. Some local farmers decide not to officially become organic certified, because they already engage in practices that are equally sustainable to federally approved organic practices and do not want to undergo the arduous process of becoming organic certified. Other local farmers may choose not to become officially organic, because they have built trust with their customers, rendering certification unnecessary. Then again, local farmers (who often tend to be small farmers) may shy away from federal organic mandates, since the system tends to support Agribusiness over the small farms. Some local farmers even use other labels such as Certified Naturally Grown and choose to use their own eco-sustaining practices rather than be confined by federal organic standards.

In the end, the choice to eat organic or to eat local is a personal choice made by each one of us about the lifestyle we most want to lead. If organic food is of utmost importance, then staying informed about ever-changing conditions in the organic food industry will enable an informed decision about organic food. If eating local food takes precedence, then having conversations with local farmers about their practices and also staying informed of latest food industry changes will best support this lifestyle. Then again, the choice to buy organic or local need not be a divergent choice like the political arena is trying to create. The two worlds can be blended to ensure that we are supporting healthful and sustainable practices in the expanding organic world and at the local level.

*Ring Toss image from Stig’s Gallery of Climate Change

*Eat Organic Image from e-commerce

*Eat Local image from Do512