Does Sustainable Food Taste Better?

March 18, 2011

Editor’s note: We recently asked farmers, food producers, and other sustainable food advocates: Does sustainable food taste better? Here’s what they said.


Of course sustainable food tastes better, because by definition sustainable food comes from healthy soil. And healthy soil contains a whole community of organisms and is chock-full of nutrients in a way the traditional industrial farm soil is not. It is this complexity of nutrients and compounds that plants incorporate from healthy soil that makes them taste bright and full of life. We can taste the difference in our mouths and feel the difference with our bodies after we eat them.
– Aaron French, Chef at Sunnyside Café and author of the forthcoming The Bay Area Homegrown Cookbook (Voyageur Press, 2011)

Only if you think it does.  It’s placebo effect. Well…let’s say it’s epiphenomenal.  Organic or at least highly attentive farming tends to produce better-tasting fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, and so on. But it’s the attention, the care, that makes it taste better, not the absence of pesticides or artificial fertilizers. “Sustainable” farmers also tends to choose more difficult varieties — that is, those that require more care, that have to ripen on the vine or that yield fewer pounds of meat per pound of feed — and those are the ones that tend to taste better. So it isn’t sustainability itself that produces better-tasting food: it’s that sustainable practices virtually accidentally result in better-tasting food. But that’s good enough for me.
Tom McNamee, author of Alice Waters and Chez Panisse

Of course it does! Sustainably produced food is most often freshly harvested at the peak of flavor and brought to market in optimum condition.  If it looks good and smells good, it will taste good!
Bruce Cole, editor of Edible San Francisco

As I tell folks about pickles: your Grandma’s always taste the best! Why? Because you feel the love in her kitchen. Although I think it’s over-the-top when “love” is included in ingredient lists, it is true that small, invested producers directly care more about their production than larger, less personable companies.  
  Todd Champagne, owner/preserver at Happy Girl Kitchen


If we believe in how something was made or grown — meaning organic, handmade, farmstead, family-farmer-grown and -sold, environmentally-sound — I do believe that makes it better!
Donna Pacheco, cheese maker at Achadinha Cheese Company

When I eat sustainable foods: 
I taste that the earth is treated with kindness,
I taste that animals are cared for in a humane way,
I taste that social justice is an important part of the mix,
I taste that economic viability is the foundation that helps it happen, 
and all of these tastes combine to form a deeply rich satisfying experience on my pallet and in my soul. 
Kirsten Olson, farmer at Hunter Orchards

In certain instances, sustainable foods surely taste better. Anyone who has compared an imported plum (organic or not) to one picked from a local tree can attest to that. But, there are other times where (to my taste buds) the difference is harder to detect. When covered with salt and spices, even the most evil foods can be made palatable!
Antonio Roman-Alcala, urban farmer at Alemany Farm

My mother recently noticed that the food I brought her had a special zing to it. I bring her food from my farm, but also special onion garlands from Maine, nice cheeses, choice citrus from across the country. She arrived at the perception, or the sensibility for those foods which have a strength to them, a heartiness, a density, a quality of being fully formed and fully expressed. It is hard for either of us to properly describe, but she’s come to appreciate the specialness of these humble foodstuffs, and the thoughtfulness of their bearer. I no longer have to explain it; she can taste it when it’s good. 
Severine von Tscharner Fleming, farmer, activist and founder of the Greenhorns   

You can’t taste fairness. You can’t taste good wages for the backbreaking work of hand-harvesting and packing strawberries. You can’t taste the absence of cancer and the lack of pesticide residues. You can’t taste the coastal ecosystems suffering from fertilizer runoff, nor can you taste the higher margins coffee farmers receive from an equitable supply chain, or the joy a farmer feels when her work produces food that is healthy and nourishing and fresh. So no, sustainably-produced food doesn’t taste better. But it is better.
Stephanie Ogburn, agriculture journalist and editor at High Country News

Sometimes, but not always.  I believe, support, and teach about the superiority of taste of, say, a Riverdog Farm carrot over its distant industrial relatives. But it’d be disingenuous not to admit that sometimes the best tasting foods are the products of a sudden craving, or cooked in a frenzy after a rush of childhood nostalgia; for some, that might be tomato soup from a can on a rainy day or hot cocoa with tiny freeze-dried marshmallows on a camping trip.  For me in this moment, it’d have to be the grape, cucumber and Bulgarian feta sandwiches my mom would make us at the beach before dragging us home at sunset. If I made one in Berkeley tomorrow, not much about it would be sustainable, but I’d be willing to bet I’d think it was delicious.
Samin Nosrat, writer, cook, teacher and founder of Pop-Up General Store 

Honestly, I can’t say that I’ve done specific testing to prove that it does – and I do know that I have had the occasional conventional produce that did, in fact, taste amazingly good. All that said, the knowledge that the choices I make with my food help pave a road to a better future for the planet is the best seasoning there can ever be. 
– Sean Timberlake, founder of Punk Domestics

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