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America’s Growing Food Revolution

An Insider’s Guide by Lisa Marshall to Sustainable Choices

and organic foods are up by double digits. The once-obscure Locavore (eat local) movement has become a national phenomenon. Community supported agriculture (CSA) initiatives and farm- ers’ markets are proliferating. Even the federal government and some of the country’s largest grocery retailers have jumped on board, with First Lady Mi- chelle Obama helping to plant the first garden on White House grounds since World War II, and Walmart vowing in January to double the percentage of lo- cally grown produce it sells to 9 percent. The statistics are motivating indeed:


According to University of Wisconsin researchers, produce travels an average of 1,500 miles from farmland to plate today, up 22 percent from 1981. Half of our land and 80 percent of our water is used for agriculture, reports The Ameri- can Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and pesticide use has increased 33-fold since the 1940s. Meanwhile, health problems associated with agricultural chemicals are on the rise. “We have been through 100 years of industrialization of our food supply, and consumers have begun to wake up

14 East Bay Area |

e’ve heard the buzz. Amer- ica is in the midst of a food revolution. Sales of natural

and realize they have no idea how their food is made,” says historian and food policy writer James McWilliams, an as- sociate professor at Texas State Univer- sity. “Historians will look back on this time as momentous.” But with every revolution come tough questions—and fiery debate— on how best to participate. Is it better

Is it better to buy

“organic,” “natural” or “local”?

to buy “organic,” “natural” or “lo- cal”? Is shopping at a farmers’ market inherently more green? Are there other ways, such as planting a garden or es- chewing meat, that can make an even bigger impact? In reality, there are no easy an- swers, but, “Consumers need to be pre- pared to take on a bit more complexity in how we think about food, and not fall so easily for simple mantras (like Eat Local and Buy Organic),” advises McWilliams.

The Case for Organic Ask Rodale Inc. CEO Maria Rodale

what consumers can do to improve their health and environment, and her answer is unequivocal. “If you do just one thing—make one conscious choice—that can change the world, go organic,” she writes in her new book, Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe. Rodale’s grandfather founded

Organic Farming and Gardening magazine (today’s Organic Gardening) in the 1940s, jump-starting an organic movement that by the 1960s was nearly synonymous with environmentalism. But today, Rodale concedes, the organic industry faces a public relations chal- lenge, as consumers trade from USDA Organic-certified foods to “locally grown” or cheaper “natural” options. One 2009 survey by The Shelton Group found that out of 1,000 shop- pers, 31 percent looked for the “natural” label, while 11 percent looked for “or- ganic.” “There is a giant misperception among consumers that somehow natural is the word that is regulated and organic is not. In fact, it is actually the other way around,” says CEO Suzanne Shelton. Law mandates that U.S. Depart- ment of Agriculture (USDA) products labeled organic be free of pesticides,

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