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Why choose organic in a recession? Here’s a few reasons. Part II

September 24 2010 at 16:20

This is the second part of a two part blog from Dr Oliver Moore – please feel free to comment

Click here for part one


The time and the space to shop around:

It is also the case that with the recession people are shopping around more. People now really want good value. But remember, value is about price and quality combined – its not just price.

Sometimes only one family member is earning due to unemployment, so shopping around, back garden growing, allotmenteering and so on all become more possible.

Here’s the silver lining: this opens up the opportunity to access good basic wholesome organic ingredients from a variety of shopping outlets: discounters, farmers’ markets, specialty shops and supermarkets.

All offer organic now, some offer organic with many brilliant socio-cultural and environmental bells and whistles, others only offer basic organic, but in general the recession has opened up and allowed for shopping around in a way that was far less possible during the boom.

With necessity comes ingenuity – who knows, you could even end up with a stall at a local farmers’ market selling your own organic produce in a couple of years.

Nature doesn’t have a voice: you do

Research cited by Teagasc in November 2008[i] suggested that in every significant area, organic scored better than conventional in terms of environment. They used six overall categories, and three sub categories within these. There was not one of these 18 areas where conventional scored better. Not one. So for biodiversity, climate change,  pollution – you name it – organic scores better.

But guess what? Nature can’t vote. Nature can’t speak.  Each year, countless millions of ‘non-target’ flora and fauna, and tens of thousands of third world farm labourers, die from the side effects of conventional farming[ii]. These are hidden voices. But by buying organic, you are taking the first steps towards softening the incredibly heavy carrying capacity of the western diet.

Organic is also future proofed farming: with oil running out and with climate change, by investing in organic farms, you are investing in the farming of the future. Plants, including grasses, on organic farms are both more abundant but also deeper rooting – they have to be deeper rooting as they are seeking nutrients, rather than having them applied to the surface. This makes the farms less likely to flood, and more all round resilient. Likewise with the plant diversity; animals need a varied diet, and a complex grass sward for cattle to munch on gives them a suitably balanced diet.

Organic farms are also less fuel dependent, as synthetic fertilizers, in their construction and transportation, are copious users of fossil fuels[iii]. Organic farms also sequester (lock away and make safe) carbon[iv]. By investing in organic, when times are most tough, you are investing in an infrastructure that can cope with peak oil and climate change.

As it happens, this recession is coinciding with these other massive realities; climate change and peak oil. Investing in organic, by choosing organic foods, is an investment in future proofing the agri-food system.

Of course long distance transportation of highly processed organic foods is a problem: on the one hand, organic should offer an alternative to all conventional food, even the globalised and processed. That way, there is always an alternative. That way, you build a genuine alternative to all areas in the agri food system. However ,you don’t have to buy the far flung and ready made organic: it is possible to can minimise here too. In other words, organic can be part of your ever improving food story, along with elements like local, fair and slow.

What does it all mean?

Things are tough now, so refocusing, and reprioritizing are the order of the day. That does not necessarily exclude organic, it just means thinking a little differently about what organic means and how it might fit in.

Organic might be part of a general move towards growing a bit more, baking a bit more, cooking a bit more and wasting a lot less. Plus, it is possible to source organic seeds and organic ingredients for these new culinary endavours. Organic might fit in a more savvy shop around – whether through necessity or desire, organic bargains can be found with a little effort.

In the final analysis organic is about a core life defining and life affirming question: how should we feed ourselves and our families? Its about how we spend our money. Its about knowing what our responsibilities are, in light of knowing the objective truth about government spending patterns, climate change and environmental destruction more generally.

So, what are you going to do?


[i] Kasperczyk, N and Knickel, K. (2006). Environmental Impacts of Organic Farming. In: Organic Agriculture: A Global Perspective. 259 – 294

[ii] See: http://library.fws.gov/Pubs/mbd_pesticides-3-00.pdf accessed at 11.15am on 13/09/10

[iii] See: http://www.organicmattersmag.com/features/276-adapting-the-weapons-of-war accessed at 11.16am on 13/09/10

[iv] See http://olivermoore.blogspot.com/2009/12/radical-rupture-or-radical-realisation.html accessed at 11.18am on 13/09/10

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