Folks, I just made up this acronym for wise food choices. OWL. Organic, Whole, Local. I think it’s a winner. You?

To elaborate…

Think OWL for wise food choices

A little boy asked his dad how the lights go on. He got a lecture on electricity. He asked his mom. She showed him the light switch.

Eating well feels like this. Too many terms, poorly defined. Or TMI – too much information that can’t be verified.

Is there a way that parents and professionals with little time or money to spare can pick the healthiest food for their families.. Here’s a handy acronym for wise food choices: OWL.  Organic. Whole. Local.

Organic standards have been hard won and hard defended. 100% organic means all ingredients are certified organic. To have a USDA organic label 70% of ingredients must be certified –  and no GMOS, no irradiation or sewage sludge used.  Certification is a long and rigorous process. It’s often expensive for a small scale producer. That’s why the other two – whole and local – are important.


Whole means food that is unprocessed and unrefined – as close to its natural state as possible. While there is no standard for “whole” it implied that the food is not only right from the farm to you, but is also free of additives and artificial substances. Clearly fresh foods are whole. A beet is a beet. A carrot a carrot. An oyster an oyster. Whole plus organic food is even better. Every year the Environmental Working Group publishes their dirty dozen, foods grown with pesticides. Apples, strawberies and grapes are at the top of the list. Buy organic for sure. They also publish their clean 15, the foods least likely to be pesticide tainted. That includes corn, onions and pineapples.

Local is about people, place and culture. The USDA defines local as 400 miles from point of production to point of purchase. Locavores might put a tighter constraint: 100 miles. Hyperlocavores look for 10-mile food. Local isn’t about labeling, though. It’s about trust. Knowing your food is good because you know the farmer personally or by community reputation. It’s also about fresh. Whole and organic foods aren’t necessarily picked the day they are sold. Whole organic blueberries could be flash frozen. It’s about flavor – because it’s fresh, adapted to your region and grown for taste rather than ease of shipping, there’s nothing like a local tomato! It’s about community, the bonds that grow between eater and farmer, between family and friends who eat together.   And it’s about independence from utter reliance on the corporate industrial food system to feed your family. Small scale market gardeners often can’t afford the time and money to certify, but claim to meet at least the 70% standard. In community food systems, reputation monitors practices often better than the USDA.

So remember OWL. Organic, whole and local. even one of the three will help you choose wisely for yourself and your family.

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