Sustainability without Sacrifice Series: Food

The face of organic and sustainable food is changing.

Several years ago, Costco began carrying an organic salad mix, which consisted of a few types of organic lettuce. But they didn’t mention that the product was organic, because consumers associated the label with high cost and low quality (ie smaller, less colorful, oddly shaped).

Today, Walmart is the largest buyer of both local and organic produce. Consumers are realizing that agribusiness, industrial farming methods, and concentrated animal feeding operations are simply not sustainable in the long run. Sustainable food is healthier for our bodies and for the planet, but it doesn’t have to break the bank.

So what food is really sustainable? Each farmer will give you a different answer. But there are some qualities they can all agree on: Food grown locally, in season and organically by workers earning fair wages is where it begins. For thousands of years, humans have grown food sustainably, and with a shift in mindset, we can return to sustainable growing without sacrifice.

Most people consider organic food to be a luxury good. Costs associated with more workers and the administrative costs of attaining the “organic” label can make prices seem steep, but compare those prices to the Gold 19 meal plan.  For a cool $1,830 per semester, you get 19 meals worth of food each week.  That translates to spending over $100 dollars per week on dining, which is more than you would need to spend to eat organically.  For example, through Community Supported Agricultures like Dominion Harvest, a Richmond-based food program — that delivers to Williamsburg, in case you’re interested — you can get 10-11 types of produce, meat, cheese, bread and eggs for $67 dollars.  If you’re willing to spend a few minutes preparing a meal, you can save big bucks and help save the planet to boot.

So how does Dominion Harvest, or any other sustainable food distributor, have lower costs than our supposedly high-value meal plan? They sell what’s fresh. Food that’s in season doesn’t need to be imported from around the globe or treated with preserving chemicals. Sustainably grown food doesn’t demand the huge capital expenses of conventional farming, reducing the farmers’ financial burden.

Sustainable food does not have to be a luxury good.  You can eat sustainable foods on a budget by going to farmer’s markets, joining a CSA, or shopping at farmer-focused grocers.  You can even grow your own if you’re so inclined! What it really comes down to is being open to a simple habit shift — one that requires little to no sacrifice and will result in higher quality food, better personal health and a happier planet.

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Senior Staff Writer Taylor Chamberlin '13 is a marketing major with an entrepreneurship concentration and an environmental science and policy minor from Irvine, Ca.


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