I was asked a question the other day that caught my attention:“Are all sustainable food products organic?” It seems like a simple question, but it made me think deeper about some growing buzz words: “sustainable” and “organic.” What do they really mean?
The short answer to the question is “NO!” Not all sustainable food products are organic. Let me explain…
What is Sustainability?
One of my favorite definitions of sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The idea is to live and encourage a lifestyle that minimizes our negative impact on the planet and future generations.
Sustainability can take many forms. You’ve probably been told to “go green” by using energy efficient light bulbs or by reducing your use of plastic water bottles. You can also live sustainably by choosing to buy certain products that reduce waste, preserve resources and preserve ecological systems. That’s where sustainable food comes in.
What is Sustainable Food?
Take the idea of sustainability, and apply it to this one aspect of our lives: food.
Many consumers and environmental advocates are pushing the food industry to produce food and food products in a way that minimizes their negative impact on the planet.
What is Organic Food?
Organic food production is based in part on the idea of sustainability, but sustainable food and organic food are not the same thing.
In short, organic food can be seen as a small segment of sustainable food.
Why is organic food sustainable?
Although organic farming got started with the concern over pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, the focus of organic farming has broadened. Now, organic farming has just as much to do with sustainability as it does with pesticides… maybe even more.
To become organic certified by the USDA, crop and livestock producers are required to follow strict and robust certification requirements. The requirements include everything from the way the farm is mapped out, the use of fertilizer and compost, the source of seeds, the rotation of crops and animals on pastures, animal feed, and more.
The purpose of these guidelines is to “foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biological diversity.” (USDA Guide for Organic Crop Producers). Thus, the guidelines require certified organic food to be more sustainably produced.
Sustainable Food vs. Organic Food
To summarize, sustainability is a broad movement, and purchasing / supporting sustainable food is only one small way to contribute.
Choosing to purchase certified organic foods vs non-organic foods can contribute to sustainability efforts. Why? In order to become certified organic, food producers must follow strict guidelines that ensure more sustainable production.
If you do not buy certified organic foods, however, that does not mean that the food you are eating fails to contribute to the sustainability movement. There are many ways that food companies can create more sustainable products: One example is to package products in reusable and recyclable packaging instead of, say, Styrofoam.
Now go forth and support sustainable foods!
Do you have an opinion about organic and sustainable food? If so, we’d love to hear it! Comment below.