Breakfast with a Calculator

Let’s face it, these are tough years to be a local/organic food purist. First there was the revelation that organic diets do painfully little to prevent the intake of carcinogens (a good strong cup of coffee puts back a year’s worth in a gulp). Then the claims that organic foods contain greater numbers of key nutrients were largely undercut. Then, just last week, yet another thread was removed from the reusable hemp-cloth grocery bag of organic consumerism with the announcement that locally produced foods don’t even have a lower environmental impact.

The reason of course is that there is efficiency in industrial-scale production and shipping. A ton of organic vegetables shipped via train or even airplane can (and frequently does) have a smaller “carbon footprint” than the same amount of vegetables driven to market by separate farmers in a hundred gas-powered vehicles. Of course there are no hard and fast rules here, but just the idea that a load of tomatoes flown in from Israel can actually be better for the environment that those grown a few score miles away has deeply shaken the faith of many an organo-warrior, and made more than a few 100-mile dieters look rather silly (at least to me).

What’s a concerned soul to do? At least where food is concerned, simply eat what tastes good to you and forget the rest. Want to eat all organic? Wonderful! All local? Great! Only what you can forage from your suburban back yard? Whatever blows your skirt up, pal. But don’t eat in attempt to change the world, for as we’re starting to see rather clearly, food and politics are a very poor combination (and almost impossible to pair with wine). Those who are determined to weigh every mouthful they take by its fossil fuel impact better bone up on their calculus, since enviro-eating is going to get quite a bit more complicated from here on out.

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