SLO Food: Seasonal, Local, Organic

farmers market

Not to be confused with the admirable Slow Food movement [1], SLO is an acronym to bear in mind to help you shop for the tastiest, healthful and most environmentally sustainable food. SLO stands for Seasonal, Local and Organic, all of which are important for the nutritional quality of your food, its freshness, and its impact on the environment through agricultural input and food miles.

In the modern world we are used to having any food we choose at any time of the year. Summer satsumas from Japan? I’ll just get them. Strawberries at Christmas? No bother. I remember as a child that part of the joy of strawberries, and other soft fruit, was their brief appearance for a few weeks in summer, to be enjoyed in copious quantities, then the long months of absence until the following June. Aside from that novelty factor, food produced and consumed with regard to its usual seasonality has several advantages.

Fruit and vegetables that appear on supermarket shelves out of season are usually the product of one of two things - either they are grown somewhere nearby in artificial conditions, or else flown halfway around the world from somewhere where the season is right. Both require the input of a lot of energy, so your winter strawberry will be having a much greater impact on the environment than its summer relative. Further, strawberries grown under the sun and picked only when they are ripe will taste much better than those produced under artificial light and shipped thousands of miles across the country.

Local food is related to seasonal. From a practical perspective, food grown nearby will usually be fresher than food that is shipped from a distant location. In addition, the money you spend will return to your local economy and the environment will benefit from the savings in fuel needed for transportation (also known as Food Miles [2]).

The benefits of organic food are many, indicluding the absence of both artificial fertilizers and pesticides that are so damaging to the environment and, in the case of pesticide residues, to human health. The simplistic approach to conventional farming that uses just three main nutrients for fertilizer (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium - the ubiquitous NPK of fertilizers) also means that many of the micro-nutrients essential for human physiology are missing. These trace elements are present in much higher levels in organic food, grown in less depleted soil.

For years, however, organic has been treated in isolation as the gold standard of food production. Whereas there are clearly great health, taste and environmental benefits from organic food, how much of these benefits would be negated by eating an organic apple that is grown out of season and/or shipped from a far distant orchard?

farmers market

Michael Pollan, in his thought-provoking book "The Omnivore's Dilemma" (which is essential reading for anyone interested in how their food is produced) also points out that the vast majority of organic production is carried out on an industrial scale, which involves mass transportation of compost and food, with livestock conditions little better than factory farming. This is the case with much organic produce bought from the supermarket shelves.

So, how can you ensure that your food is seasonal, local and organic? The answer is to get as close to the food producer as possible. Farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) are both great ways to do this, and the Local Harvest website [3] allows you to search for community food resources near you, as well as other useful information.

There is, of course, no need to move wholesale from your usual way of shopping to local produce if it is difficult for you, but the more of your money that finds its way into seasonal, local and organic produce, the better it will be both for your own health and the economic health of those trying to grow and raise nutritious and ethical food.

Andy McLellan

[2] Food miles

 Top Photo: Kristin Smith
Middle Photo: Shantel Ruiz
Photo: Chris Austin

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