Sustainable Food Guide: Produce

Information compiled by Gabrielle Petrelli

The best way to make sustainable decisions when it comes to produce is to eat local, seasonal and organic produce. Each of these criteria have their own benefits that complement each other when choosing produce that falls into all three categories.

  • Eating locally grown produce reduces the number of miles food has traveled to reach you, meaning fewer greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and ensuring the produce is fresher.
  • Seasonal produce is often cheaper, as more is being produced. It is also more likely to be produced locally, because if it is seasonal, it is grown during a specific season in your area.
  • Organic produce is non-GMO as a rule, and although there are no conclusive studies on the health effects of GMOs, organic produce is also grown without the use of pesticides, many of which are known to be harmful to human health and even carcinogenic. Organic farming methods has also been shown to protect biodiversity and maintain soil health while preventing the emergence of “super-bugs,” or pesticide-resistant insects and weeds.
Graphic by Brenna O'Dea

Graphic by Brenna O'Dea

            If you are looking to add organic produce to your diet, but cannot afford to make the switch on all fronts, it’s best to avoid conventional produce on Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list, which are the fruits and vegetables that consistently have the most pesticide residues on them. EWG advises that these products be purchased organically at all times. If you cannot obtain all of your produce as organic, the EWG also has a “Clean Fifteen” list, made up of produce shown to have the least amount of pesticide residues. 
            Local foods are defined as foods grown and produced within a 250 mile radius of where they are purchased/consumed, although some distributors, grocers and restaurants may adopt more strict criteria of their own. For the Chicago area, this radius includes much of the Midwest. Since the Midwest has harsh winters, local produce is generally only in season from March through November. While large chain grocers like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Jewel might supply organic, local and seasonal produce, the best places to find local and seasonal produce are farmers markets, which are numerous in Chicago and its suburbs during late-spring, summer and early fall. You can also find small organic, local and seasonal grocery stores, or visit wholesalers like Local Foods in Chicago.
            Finding such farmers markets and grocers might take some time, however. If you do not have the time to visit these places regularly but still want fresh, local produce, there are several online grocery delivery services that specialize in organic products. Door to Door Organics is a Chicago-based delivery service that delivers produce boxes right to your door on a weekly or biweekly basis. You can customize these boxes to your liking, and also order other organic products like meat, eggs, bakery items and dairy all from their website. Delivery is free, and you can also receive a discount by starting a “co-op,” in which 4 or more deliveries gets delivered to the same place for friends or neighbors to pick up.

Graphic by Gabrielle Petrelli

Graphic by Gabrielle Petrelli