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Where to Buy

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These days, you can find organic products in almost every store almost everywhere; not only are all the big supermarkets devoting ever larger amounts of shelf space to organic food and drink, but even local convenience stores stock some organic products. But, if you cannot get what you want from the shops then you will certainly be able to from the Internet or a local box scheme.

When choosing where to buy your organic food you should run through a green checklist. This might include the following questions: How much fuel do you use to get to your retailer of choice and how much energy has been used to get the food on the shelves of that retailer? For example, when assessed on the environmental cost of their food distribution practices, supermarkets do not fare particularly well. Food is flown in from all corners of the globe and carrots grown by your local farmer will probably have travelled to and from a national distribution centre before reaching your local supermarket.

Consider your retailer's green credentials in other areas, too, such as the use of packaging, efforts to recycle, support for organic agriculture, and so on.

Beyond the environmental questions, there is matter of choice. It is perfectly possible to eat a totally organic diet, but can you get all you need from your chosen store? Supermarkets might suddenly have quite a few organic products on their shelves, but the range will not be as large as in a specialist organic store. Small, local organic producers making specialist varieties of food, such as cheese, cannot produce enough to the tight deadlines and strict specifications stipulated by supermarkets, so such local organic products are a rarity in these stores, even in the areas in which the producers are based.

Alternative sources of organic food are healthfood stores, farmers' markets, local box schemes and mail-order services, including those on the Internet. The numbers of each are rising all the time, so you may not have realized that a farmers' market has opened near you.

The advantage of most of these outlets is that they are generally a lot closer to the original source of the food they sell, so they are more likely to sell food that you can trust. In the case of farmers' markets, local healthfood stores and box schemes, you will also be supporting much-threatened local retailers.

TIPS

• Grow your own. There are no transportation costs for your food to reach you, no waste packaging, no polluting and dangerous pesticides, and, if grown using your own compost, then it is the ultimate form of recycling.

• Buy local. Support outlets as close as possible to where your food is grown or made, such as farm shops, farmers' markets, box schemes, local grocers and healthfood stores. Your food will have traveled fewer miles to reach you, costing less in terms of pollution, and you will know you are getting food you can trust. In addition, they are likely to be small businesses in need of your support.

• Buy certified organic produce. This way you know your food has been produced with the utmost care and attention being paid to its environmental impact and you will be sure that it has met stringent legal standards.

• Buy unusual varieties. You will be encouraging biodiversity and signalling to retailers and growers that there is a market for more than just Granny Smiths and Golden Delicious, for example.

• Buy loose. Avoid all the packaging that comes with your food by buying it loose - and not just fruits and vegetables. Look for bulk bins of rice, beans and pulses, dried herbs and spices, nuts and grains, most commonly found in healthfood stores. If you cannot find it loose then choose a brand with as little packaging as possible, preferably one that uses recycled and biodegradable packaging materials.

• Wise up on labels. Learn to spot ingredients that are likely to have been genetically modified, look for organic certifying marks or numbers, and look for country of origin and local producer information. Avoid generic, mass-produced, poorly labelled, non-organic products.

• Buy and eat seasonally. By doing so you will be sending a message to retailers and growers that it is not necessary to fly strawberries around the world in winter and you will be discouraging the use of energy-guzzling hothouses to grow summer fruits in winter.

• Keep processing to a minimum. Look for food as close to its natural state as possible, without the addition of colourings, preservatives, flavour enhancers, bulking agents and so on, which has not been through many stages of manufacture. And at home, eat as much raw food and do as much home cooking as possible rather than buying pre-prepared and cooked food.

• Eat low on the food chain. It takes less input and energy to produce grains, fruit and vegetables than it does meat and fish, and of the meats it takes less grain and water to produce pork or chicken than it does beef, for example. By mainly eating a meat-free diet you are opting for the most energy-efficient diet.

• Support your local and national organic and green organizations. They are working to guarantee you a supply of good-quality food produced in a sustainable way. They will keep you updated on availability, campaigns and threats to your right to choose.

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