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Organic options for everyone

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Author tracks down organic stores, restaurants across B.C.

Author Marya Skrypicajko, a former Whistler local who moved to Nelson six years ago has written and published a new book on organic foods titled: "The Organic Way: Where to Find Organic Food in British Columbia."

After applying for and receiving a government grant to produce the book, she spent the last two winters writing and researching the content. It was published a few weeks ago.

She wrote the book out of a desire to share her beliefs in the importance of organic food, and used her energy to search out the progressive people in B.C. who work hard to supply the province with organic food.

The book is intended to be a guide for people to locate organic foods and food producers It directs readers to cafes, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and grocers that use at lease 20 per cent organic produce in their food.

Most of us are aware by now that buying organic food is the best option for our health and the environment, but often these foods are more expensive than those that aren’t certified organic.

If money takes priority when purchasing your groceries, perhaps some of the facts and ethical considerations outlined in "the Organic Way" will help you to reconsider where your priorities lie:

"Conventional’ agriculture relies on synthetic fertilisers, pesticides herbicides and fungicides."

This is relatively common knowledge, but the types of chemical compounds, and the possible illnesses they can cause may not be. Some unintentional ingredients include industrial waste such as lead and mercury, which aren’t required to be labelled on the product.

DDT, now banned in North America may find it’s way back to your dinner table in the form of imported food from developing countries that still use DDT that they, ironically, import from North American companies.

Toxic residues on food are strongly linked to cancer, and diseases affecting the immune, neurological and reproductive systems.

Little is known about the safety or potential side-effects of genetically modified foods, but according to Skrypicajko’s research, it is estimated that at least 60 per cent of "conventionally farmed" foods in grocery stores contain genetically engineered crops. Like lead and mercury, it’s not currently mandatory in Canada to label genetically modified ingredients.

Organic agriculture prohibits genetically modified organisms in any step of the growing or producing process.

Grocery items that have been irradiated are also potentially harmful and not required to be labelled as such. Food irradiation is a method of food preservation, in which foods are exposed to election beams, x-rays or gamma rays to increase shelf life.

According to "The Organic Way" these foods should be labelled because they may pose inherent risks to consumers. It states that, during the process of irradiation, some vitamins and enzymes are destroyed and free radicals are created that may react with cell membranes and cause the cells in your body to function poorly. Hence, organic standards also prohibit food irradiation.

Potential health problems aside, the book states that recent studies in North America, Europe and Japan confirm that organically grown foods have a higher levels of vitamins and trace elements that are beneficial to our health.

The author suggests that buying organic also helps to support your local economy, as well as the environmental integrity of the people who participate in every step of organic food production, such as farmers, processors, distributors and organic seed retailers, to name just a few.

"Many of these people have chosen to earn a lower income than those working in similar ‘conventional’ professions but make their livelihood in a way they can be proud of," states Skrypicajko.

Environmentally speaking, organic farming prevents water contamination and conserves water.

"Pollutants used on conventional crops leach into the water through pesticide drifts, infiltration into ground water and run-off from the farmlands.

"Organic agriculture forbids the use of chemicals, and also uses lower amounts of water per square acre of farmland by building healthier soil that retains water more readily," Skrypicajko says.

Pesticides used in conventional farming do not only kill off "pests" but also small animals and insects.

"Pesticides are killing off species of insects, birds, and fish throughout the world" Skrypiczajko writes, "Organic agriculture supports biodiversity by observing the natural rhythms of each insect or bird in nature by integrating that role into farming practices."

Skrypiczajko visited organic poultry, sheep, pig and dairy farms when doing research for her book and spoke with certification officers who visit and certify organic livestock farms.

"What I have seen has honestly seemed quite idyllic to a non-farmer. By that I mean animals looking healthy, grazing outside, spacious barns, and often being treated like pets," she said.

She then researched the treatment of animals on conventional farms.

She found it "a shock to read how many animals being raised for ‘conventional meat and dairy products are confined to unacceptably small spaces, mutiliated without anaesthetics and fed pellets of animal remains and growth hormones, all to be a profitable product for the industry."

So it appears the organic way is not only a wise decision for consumer health but also as an ethical option, supporting those who farm with ethics and give consideration to the environment, native flora and fauna, and domestic farm animals.

If the expense of your grocery bill still takes precedence over these considerations, here’s some food for thought.

While the production of organic food relies on manual labour, livestock and light machinery, conventional farming relies heavily on the energy of fossil fuels to spray synthetic herbicides and pesticides.

The mass consumption of fossil fuels can only cause the price of this non-renewable resources to increase, which will in turn increase production costs. The real costs will one day be passed on to the consumer.

Conventional farming can also take its toll on the environment, polluting waterways with pesticides, herbicides and biological waste, and promoting soil erosion. It also impacts on local wildlife habitat.

When these problems occur, and some areas are already dealing with the fallout of factory farming, the cost of rehabilitation projects is often passed off on the public.

So are the costs of medical care for illnesses caused from years of consuming contaminated produce.

Neither of these costs are included in the price of groceries at your local supermarket.

"In Canada these costs are paid out of our tax dollars and thus conventional companies can offer to charge less for the food they are producing," Skrpicajko states.

Buying organic can be seen as an investment in your health and environment for the future. By paying slightly more today, you may be saving yourself a lot more in the long run.

"At first glance, organic food can seem expensive, but when all the short or long term externalised costs of the food system’s impact on the Earth are considered, it appears quite reasonable," Skrpicajko suggests.

"The Organic Way" believes that conventional food prices only represent a fraction of the true cost of producing and eating food.

"Conventional’ food prices do not reflect the government subsidies given to ‘agri-business’ in the way of tax breaks or sums given to them to buy up their unwanted surpluses.

"The cost of organic food is the true cost of growing food and supporting a food system with the safe, ethical and labour intensive techniques with which we envision food to be produced," she writes.

It is possible to stretch your dollar further when buying organic. Avoid packaged and processed food that is imported and out of season and take the time to shop around for local produce that is "low on the food chain". This is food in its simplest and most unprocessed form.

Skrypcizajco believes that choosing to buy local organic food each day is a simple way to make a difference and continually vote for what you believe in.

"We eat three times a day and that shapes our lives and affects all those involved in producing that food."

In Whistler, we are near enough to farmland and organic growers that a wide variety of locally produced organic food is readily available through the summer months at the weekly Farmer’s Market.

At least 50 per cent of the available produce is certified organic and the opportunity is there to talk to the farmers about how they operate their businesses. The market is located in Whistler’s Upper Village, and is held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Sunday until Labour Day.

"The Organic Way" lists restaurants and cafes that use organic products in their menus. In Whistler, that list combines fine dining and casual dining experiences.

Chef Bernard’s has the highest content of organic produce on it’s menu at 60 per cent.

"It has developed a reputation for serving fresh "farm gate" cuisine with unique preservations. Often mentioned as a culinary landmark, Bernard attributes This success to that of his strong belief in supporting the local farming community."

Araxi has an organic food content of 45 per cent. "Its internationally acclaimed cuisine features the best of the Pacific North West with organic ingredients sourced from local farms and fisheries."

Ingrid’s "…is a Whistler landmark. For 15 years, locals and tourist have flocked to the café for its variety of veggie burgers, European-style schnitzel sandwiches, hearty soups and healthy salads."

The Bearfoot Bistro "designs their menu around what local organic growers and foragers are bringing in, the wild fish and game in season. ‘We use organic food as much as possible because we believe that organic food complete with it’s dirt, worms, flavour and politics, is the real food’."

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