L.O.S.T. Foods stands for Local, Organic, Sustainable, Traditional Foods. But what do these words mean? Without a governing body for most of these, there is either a dearth of meaning or an overabundance. In this age of buzzword marketing and diminutive attention spans, it is worthwhile to take the time to define what is important and why.

Local. Food grown or produced close to where it is consumed is often better for myriad reasons than food grown or produced far away. In terms of produce, local food is usually more nutritious. These foods are harvested at peak ripeness and therefore have fully developed vitamin and mineral levels. In terms of processed foods, buying locally helps retain more money in your local economy, particularly when the producers buy their ingredients from local farmers. Strengthening your local economy in turn provides more job security and stronger community development and cohesion. In terms of both produce and processed foods, local foods often (though not always) have a lower environment impact, including a reduction in carbon footprint.

Organic.  The USDA’s National Organic Program has its own definition of organic that attempts to standardize growing practices. That certification process is important to help us make informed decisions, particularly when dealing with producers with which we are unfamiliar, but it is not the whole story. The spirit of organic is to enrich the soil, in essence leaving the earth better than we found it. Ideally, this also means we are limiting our ingestion of the largely petroleum based chemicals used in “conventional” farming.

Sustainable.  This is perhaps the easiest to explain, but the hardest to determine. Is product X sustainable? In our definition of sustainable, we can continue to produce product X in the same manner for the next 100 years without detriment to future generations. Sustainability is a goal that must guide all our actions. Future generations are depending on us to make the right choices today. On the plus side, the best way to increase the sustainability of most heirloom fruits and vegetables and heritage meats is to eat more of them.  And so the right choice is often the most delicious!

Traditional.  These foods have withstood the test of time. Relying on tradition, in conjunction with good judgment, can be another way of making a sustainable choice. Taking your time in food production often leads to more flavor. Food traditions run deep in every culture. When we are mindful of these traditions, we connect with our past. When we learn about food traditions in other cultures, and share our own, we break down many of the artificial barriers that separate us as people. Traditional food is as much about spiritual health as the others are about physical and mental health.