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Zaleski: The apple guilt trip was very short

I bought a couple of pounds of apples the other day and discovered they were Braeburns from New Zealand. New Zealand! Crisp and sweet, the imports were really good.

Then I took a short -- very short -- guilt trip. Isn't it fashionable these days, I pondered, to refrain from buying fruit and veggies that are grown far away? Isn't it the mantra of the foodie set that we should "eat local?" And furthermore, "eat organic?"

Nice thoughts, noble ideas. But such notions are about as practical as growing oranges in North Dakota. Find me a "local" orange in December, I'll buy it. Find me a "local" pomegranate any time of year, I'll buy it. Find me "local" anything that can feed a city like Fargo (other than wheat, soybeans and potatoes), I'll buy it.

It ain't there. It won't be as long as relatively well-off Americans demand diversity in their diets. Diversity means choice from all over the planet. Choice means a marvelous mix of regional, national and international foods: some local, some from distant states and some from foreign sources.

The imperious suggestion from haughtier haunts of the local/organic realm is that praising the diversity afforded by an incredible food production and delivery system is obtuse and ignorant. That's wrong. It's also a luxury well-fed and well-funded critics of the modern food system can embrace, which they do with rolling-eyes disdain for those who don't see the world as they do.

Most Americans have family budgets that cannot be stretched to pay for high-priced organic this or that. And be assured, nearly any organic food -- from milk to corn chips to cheese to lettuce -- is far more expensive than a nonorganic counterpart. A gallon of certified organic milk, for example, can cost up to $3 more than a gallon of Cass-Clay. A three-kid family of modest means isn't going to buy organic milk, even if they believe the propaganda that's it's better for you.

Before parishioners of the church organic gag on their overpriced romaine, I agree with the goals: nutritious, chemical-free foods grown in sustainable ways -- locally and regionally if possible. Where we part company is the practicality of their aims. Where we part company is in their elitist (yes, I know they disagree with that descriptor) assuredness they know what's best for everyone. They don't know. They can't know. Nor can I.

I'll buy selected organic stuff occasionally. I can afford it. A lot of people can't. I'll manage my beautiful garden as organically as I know how, but I won't condemn my neighbor's use of chemical spray on the bugs chewing into his tomato plants. And if the critters jump to mine, I'll borrow his spray.

That's just one microcosm of an immensely complicated food, health and economic debate. Sometimes organic religionists tend to simplify it.

Zaleski is the opinion editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum News Service. Email him at