Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Tale of Two Tortillas: Local vs. Organic

There is always something of a tension for a local food advocate between supporting local products that may not be organic or free of genetic modifications and supporting more distant producers of foods that do have those qualities. I made a point recently of asking the Just Food staff for local tortillas, since I am trying to keep my food as local as possible in general and in particular during the Eat Local Challenge, which runs through September 15. Responsive as always, the co-op soon thereafter had white corn tortillas from Faribault's Aztlan Tortilleria in their refrigerator case, and I'm aware that they have offered these in the past as well. They sit side-by-side with Sonoma brand organic tortillas from California, which I've also purchased before.

In the case of tortillas, I feel the "eat local" advantage is mainly economic: I'm supporting a local business that adds to the economic health of its owners and this region. I don't know what their source of corn is. Given how much corn is grown in the Midwest, I would hope it is a relatively local source. However, information published by the Corn Growers of America, in response to the suggestion that the diversion of more U.S. corn to ethanol production has raised tortillas prices in Mexico, states that very little -- only about 1% of production -- white corn, as opposed to yellow corn, is produced in the U.S.

Thus, it seems likely -- though I hope to learn otherwise if it's the case -- that the corn for my locally produced white-corn tortillas may actually come from Mexico, perhaps farther away than the organic corn tortillas produced in California. I want to support farmers anywhere who pursue organic, sustainable production. I also want to support my local economy. It looks as if in this case the difference in "food miles" between the two may be inconsequential -- a conclusion that should probably tilt my decision most often toward buying the organic tortillas. However, I do see value in supporting our local businesses. As a result, I'll probably be relatively happy supporting either product, depending perhaps on my mindset on a given shopping day. The tortilla producers that will see less of my purchasing dollars are those that are neither local nor organic.

I welcome your thoughts on where you come down on weighing local vs. organic sources when a choice between the two is presented.
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