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Outpost's Board of Directors will use this blog to discuss issues the board is exploring as it envisions Outpost's future. Can't make it to a meeting? Check here frequently to read what the Board is up to. Your current Outpost Board of...
Your Board

Sustainability: Local vs Organic

Board Beet
By Your Board on October 14, 2015

“Sustainability.” When most people hear this in a food context they think of fruits, vegetables, or animal products grown in a way that does the least amount of environmental harm to our planet. They think “organic.”

But I want to remind you that there’s more to it. Sustainable food is actually like a three legged stool.

The second leg of sustainability that many overlook is economics. Food producers have to be able to generate a profit or at least meet their expenses. The fundamental rule of business lives here: Buy low, sell high. When farmers, food producers, or food retailers buy high and sell low, they aren’t economically sustainable.

The third and perhaps most overlooked leg of this stool? Social sustainability. Food has to be produced in a way that does not create or perpetuate inequality, or sow the seeds for social blowback that will come back and haunt our grandchildren.

I think we can all think of food products or food practices where the stool is off kilter.

Take convenience foods. They’re profitable because they’re made from inexpensive ingredients and will never spoil, but are they produced and brought to market in a way that doesn’t harm the environment? Are the people who make the food paid a living wage? Probably not.

Another example: Pre-Civil War American agriculture. It was environmentally benign (relatively speaking, as the truly nasty pesticides hadn’t been invented yet) and it was certainly profitable. But for 400 years it exploited millions of people and birthed social issues that we’re still grappling with today.

So how does one eat sustainably? I think you study the issues and try, as best as you can, to balance these three aspects so that the stool is more or less level.

Sometimes it involves compromise. I remember a couple of years ago when I had less than twenty minutes to purchase and prepare a meal for my son before his big orchestra concert. I ran into a grocery store and found myself staring at frozen pizzas made by one of the mega-conglomerates. Was it economically sustainable? Well, someone was making money. Was it environmentally sustainable? Probably not. Was it socially sustainable? Also probably not, but I knew from past experience that if I didn’t get some calories into him we were headed towards a huge meltdown, which would lead to me losing my temper, which would lead to the loss of anything social between me and my son. I bought the pizza.

A more serious purchasing decision that could involve compromises: purchasing from local farmers versus out-of-state organic farmers. For me, local trumps organic almost every time. I believe that the small farmer that I see every Saturday and knows me by name probably cares more for me than a big and impersonal organic farming corporation will. I want that small Wisconsin farmer to make a living. I also think a tomato that travels 30 miles tastes better than one trucked to me all the way from California, organic or not.

Yes, it’s all very complicated. Yes, you could simplify things by only purchasing products with the ORGANIC label. But from my perspective, eating is like voting and as the best voters are informed voters, the best eaters are informed eaters. I eat three meals a day, Warren Buffett eats three meals a day. If we vote with our forks by eating the foods that reflect our values, and if we convince enough of our friends to follow suit, the food system will bend towards justice and sustainability. It has to.

Be Well. Eat Well. And thank you for supporting Outpost.


Young Kim

Outpost Board of Directors



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