For the conscious consumer, grocery shopping can seem like a word hunt: is that apple organic? Are peas in season? Were the chickens that laid those eggs vegetarian-fed, free-range, and humanely raised?
In terms of ecological impact and (let's be selfish for a moment) flavor, there's one adjective to put on the radar: local.
That Argentinian avocado may be organic, but the petroleum required to cool and transport it to your neighborhood Whole Foods makes for a hefty carbon footprint. Local produce, dairy, and meats require less refrigeration, shipping, and handling -- and, since they can be harvested closer to their sale (often within hours), you're more likely to get a product that is at its freshness and flavor peak. Many places that feature local producers (farmer's markets, local natural foods stores) offer organic foods from your own area. So your purchase supports not only the reduction of pesticides in the environment in general, but fewer pesticides in your own community. Eating local keeps sales profits local as well, giving consumers a direct means of influencing local agricultural practices. Plus, farmer's markets offer lots of samples. :-)
ANYWAY, there's a group that is putting on a 2007 Pennywise Eat Local Challenge to get people involved in consuming more from their local foodshed. The "challenge" is to go one week (April 23-29) eating only products originating within 100 miles of your residence. Since I live in the Bay Area, the year-round epicenter of local deliciousness and progressive food values, I have no excuse -not- to try it. I expect there to be some work involved -- but there are good websites on Bay Area food producers and where to find their wares. Forcing myself to seek them out will make incorporating local items into my cooking inexcusably simple from here on out!
You can read more about the challenge, the value of eating locally, what to eat in the Bay Area, and other brain food at these sites: Eat Local Challenge, Locavores, and The Local Food Wheel.
I'll keep you posted on this little experiment. I'm going to be cranky without coffee (sigh), so we'll see how long I last!