Organic v. Local: Which Is Best for the Paleo Diet?

Best of both worlds? Organic vegetables at a local farmers’ market in Argentina (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

I’m a member of a couple of very informative, supportive Facebook groups which are based around the paleo diet.  Members post their paleo experiences enthusiastically on a daily basis: weight-loss success stories; delicious recipes; testimonials of changes in health and mental state; and – perhaps most usefully of all – questions about the paleo lifestyle.  The discussions and answers received from fellow members can be nothing short of inspiring.

Increasingly, however, I’m noticing several people raise an important concern: the challenge of going paleo on a budget, and the affordability of organic produce.

It’s a real quandary.  Is going organic really that important?  Well, to be truly paleo, it’s not a stretch to suppose that organic does matter.  After all, in Grok’s day, animals and plants weren’t filled with hormones, antibiotics and pesticides.  To get as close as possible to paleo, it’s a good idea to go for options that are devoid of the nasty residues of modern high-yield factory farming.

Nonetheless, pursuing a purely organic diet can be very pricey.

What to do if you’re on a budget?

The question reminded me of a few useful articles which look at whether  it’s best to go organic, or alternatively, to just buy local - whether the produce is organic or not.  As you might expect, there isn’t a simple answer, but some broad guidelines do emerge:

1. Organic is better for you, but may not be so good for the environment.

Organic food obviously has physiological benefits. The Soil Association’s standards for organic produce mean it must contain: no chemical pesticides and herbicides; no artificial fertilisers; no genetically modified crops, feed or ingredients; no routine antibiotics or worming medications in rearing livestock; no animal cruelty.  Great stuff!  But check the label.  Where is your organic produce sourced from?  If you live in London, and your organic blueberries have been flown in from New Zealand, you’re clocking up quite a few food miles

2. Local is good for the environment, and may be better for you, too.

In June of this year, The Ecologist website commented on the local v. organic question, and noted: “local is usually a better bet.”  You can read why they think so here.  It’s worth considering some other reasons for the benefits of buying local.  First, it supports local farmers.  They really need that support – check out our previous article on the current pressures faced by family farms.  Second, it’s more likely to be seasonal.  In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, there’s evidence that seasonal food is better for us too, since our ancestors evolved to eat what grew within their local area at any given time of year.  We chewed the fat about that topic recently, too, in our article Seasonal Eating and the Paleo Diet.  Third, it’s often cheaper – since it comes with less packaging, and fewer marketing costs.  Here’s your solution if you’re trying to go paleo on a budget.  And fourth, sometimes local is organic, even if it doesn’t say so.  See point 3, below.

3. The ideal is food which is local and organic.

It’s obvious why this is best.  Not only will food miles be cut down, but the produce – whether it’s fresh fruit and veg, or a juicy grass-fed steak – won’t be adulterated with nasty chemicals.  Encouragingly, the useful UK-based website, Natural Food Finder, reminds us that “there may be local food producers who do farm to higher welfare standards (but) who do not carry organic certification. This is a winning situation if organic, local produce cannot be found.”  In other words, some local produce won’t be labeled organic, but will be produced to organic standards.  Don’t be afraid to ask your local farmer exactly how he manages his produce.  This may well be your best bet if the budget is really stretched.  Read more here.


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Brian Cormack Carr is a professional life and career coach, writer, and advocate of a real foods diet.
His home on the web is where you will find more articles, a free newsletter, and information about his online career-creation programme You can follow Brian on Twitter: @cormackcarr


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