Last winter, I signed up for a local organic fruit and veggie delivery service called Urban Organic. This isn't because I hate shopping or I'm lazy (well, at least not about food and cooking), but because the area of New York City that I live in has a dearth of offerings in this department during the colder months. Sure, I can find the occasional organic grape tomato or package of carrots, but other than that? Nada. Not only is my supermarket low on organics, they package much of their stock on Styrofoam plates with plastic wrapped around them.

So for the last six months, for $25 a week (which is a steal if you ask me), I get a bulging box of fresh, organically farmed produce delivered right to my doorstep every Monday. Living in the Northeast, there comes a time every year when you must bid farewell to local produce (at least the kind that doesn't grow in a hot house) and succumb to the conundrum of the GrEater Footprint in order to procure fairly fresh, nutritious options. I could live with that until about two months ago when my small but beloved local greenmarket re-opened for the season.

I lust over produce and cheese in the same way some women press their noses up against windows of Manolo Blahnik boutiques. By the end of this past weekend, I could barely close my refrigerator door. There was a beautiful Swiss chard, a quart of small but sweet strawberries and shell peas from upstate, deep fuschia-colored radishes, perky bunches of spinach, chubby red potatoes, onions, two bags of carrots, cherries, leafy green lettuce, and yellow green beans. In short, a whole hell of a lot of produce. 

Tomato and peach lust be what it may, this kind of bounty always proves to be a little intimidating to me. It makes me question--and maybe rightfully so--how instinctually gluttonous I am. Am I just buying to buy? Am I thinking about what I need versus what I want? Am I actually going to eat this? How can you try to live by a tenet of eating better and doing better for the planet if all you end up doing is tossing things in the trash and wasting precious food? And how far did that organic delivery have to come even before it was schlepped out to my home?

Turns out it's possible that some of this lapsed-Catholic guilt combined with the waste-not, want-not hammering imprinted on my conscience from my Depression-era parents may not be as hugely necessary when it comes to local, seasonal foods. A March 2008 report in the bi-monthly journal Environmental Science and Technology further bolsters the point that what you eat may well be as important in the long run as how far it's travelled: "Transportation as a whole represents only 11% of life-cycle GHG emissions, and final delivery from producer to retail contributes only 4%. Different food groups exhibit a large range of GHG intensity. [O]n average, red meat is around 150% more GHG-intensive than chicken or fish. Thus we suggest a dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household's food-related climate footprint than "buying local."

Good to know for my summer versus winter produce consumption (although certainly not music to my butcher father's ears, as it was meat that literally and figuratively put food in our mouths growing up), but footprints aside, supporting my local farmer is always a good thing. At the very least, I know those radishes I bought last Saturday were likely picked early that morning, or at lthe latest the day before, and the person who performed the task sold them to me. Best of all, they taste great. Full of flavor, bracing, and juicy--the hallmarks of freshly picked foodstuffs.

Meanwhile, the bounty on my counter and in my crisper is making me think further outside the bag and the box, so to speak. I'm eating better, I've actually shaved off a few pounds, and the miles that I seem to be logging most are between my fridge, chopping block, and stove. Those footprints are always OK.

Story by Amy Zavatto. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008