Do you know where your food come from? I know, I know – no one likes being put on the spot. It’s a question the sample guy asks you at Trader Joe’s mid-bite, and it puts you very uncomfortably on your heels. No one wants to feel guilty about the food they eat. We’re all just getting by the best we can. We spend our money on what tastes good, what we can afford, and what’s convenient. We hear words like “sustainable” and “organic” and they’re repeated so often and in so many contexts that their definitions have been twisted and contorted to a point that they’ve lost all sense of meaning. So let’s talk about what sustainable food really is, beyond the semantics, beyond the ambiguity. This is the Garden State after all, naturally grown food is sort of our thing as it is.
What makes food sustainable?
Sustainable food is produced using farming techniques that protect the environment, takes better care of animals and livestock, and maintains a higher standard of cleanliness throughout. Industrially produced food is more liable to contamination and being exposed to harmful bacteria that can ultimately make us sick. Sustainable farms don’t rely so heavily on toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or other things that risk poisoning their soil or water sources. To sum it up briefly, sustainable food is food that is grown more naturally, free from the suspect practices of modern industrial production.
The kicker with sustainable or organic food (organic meaning food grown without nasty pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, etc.) is that they’re more expensive than the non-sustainable and non-organic competitors. While there may be little evidence to prove that organic produce contains higher nutritional content than its non-organic counterpart, that really isn’t the point, as this widely-cited article from The Atlantic explains, “…to buy organic is to respect the land your food came from. It means taking pains to ensure that your farms remain bountiful and productive, even decades from now.”
So what does that mean? The article does a great job of breaking down why sustainable and organic food – while perhaps not more nutritious – is certainly healthier than food that is not. It sees health and nutrition as two separate things.
Industrial farming techniques exhaust the land, depleting the soil of nutrients and rendering it degraded and nearly unusable after relatively short periods of time. Farming organically ensures that farmers will be able to increase the shelf life of their land for decades. The land is healthier. The animals are healthier. They eat what they’re supposed to eat to be healthy, not just what will make them fat and desirable to slaughterhouses. The farmers and field hands will be healthier with less exposure to the gross chemicals and pesticides. Plus, by spending a little extra you’re directly supporting the local farmers and producers instead of the billion-dollar global conglomerates.
Later this year, in July, SJ Hot Chefs will be hosting Farm to Fork Week, our weeklong celebration of sustainable South Jersey food. If you’re interested in seeing what the Garden State is capable of bringing to the table, then we recommend that you circle the week of the 16th to the 22nd on your calendar. We look forward to seeing you there!