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Eco-living: save the planet and reap the rewards
Aida Gil Pérez, thinkSPAINtoday , Monday, June 9, 2008

Is it worth spending six euros to buy a kilo of tomatoes? What does synthetic fabric feel like on the skin? Are cities the best place to live? Environmental associations differ in the advice they dish out, but they all agree that organic and planet-friendly products are consumed more and more these days.

IN EVERY town and city there is, and always has been, a herbalist who traditionally practiced as a doctor specialising in natural medicine, giving remedies for illness based on plants. These are either applied directly – taken orally – or indirectly, on the body – balsams and creams, for example.

These establishments have grown in number and popularity and nowadays they are more like small natural-product supermarkets where you can find almost any product that bears the label ‘organic’.

However, what many people don’t realise is that buying on the market can be as healthy as making your purchases in these shops, and reading labels is not a sign of being a hypochondriac, but that of being responsible both for your own well-being and that of the environment.

Healthy food is directly linked to healthy people. Those who are careful about what they put in their mouths are less likely to be ill and if they are, recover quicker. But not all tomatoes are the same and not all make-up has the same effects.

Every time you buy anything, you should read the label. In the case of fresh produce, it is not always necessary to go to the herbalist to do your shopping since in the market and in greengrocers’ shops they are obliged by law to display the origins, calibre and as much information about the product as is necessary to help you weigh up the pros and cons of buying it.

And in addition to this, you should think about the cost and method of production. That is, bananas from Costa Rica may be all well and good and perhaps their taste is as good as any other, but you should work out the cost to the environment of transporting them over such a long distance, and whether the crops from over there are grown in environmentally-friendly conditions. And then, of course, you have to consider whether the household budget will stretch to it.

If there’s anything that is painfully obvious within all this, it’s that eating healthily is not always synonymous with eating on a budget. But at times it is worth making the effort to analyse the cost of secondary factors.

Here’s an easy example. A kilo of oranges in a local supermarket might cost, say, 80 céntimos. The label indicates that they come from Morocco. They come in a red net and they taste extremely tart, so to make juice with them you’ll probably end up adding sugar.

If you work back from the point where the oranges are displayed in the supermarket, taking into account the fact that they are still very acidic when you get them home, you can more-or-less work out that they were picked off the tree at least two weeks before being put on sale. The result is that the juice doesn’t taste the same, with or without sugar.

Also, the level of vitamins will never be the same as oranges picked at the height of ripeness, and you don’t know how they were produced and packaged, or what happened to each orange before you take them off the shelf.

Oranges bought off the market are more expensive – sometimes, they cost almost double – but they taste better, don’t need other ingredients added to them, do not require transport time, and storage time is reduced by half because they are locally-grown.

The cost to the environment is considerably less because not so much combustible fuel is used and their handling time is reduced, since from farmer to consumer there are, at most, two middlemen: the co-operative, the packager and the market place. And if you buy them in a village, you might find they are sold directly from the farmer.

In summary, someone who is a bit short of cash will have no choice but to buy oranges at the lowest price.

But everyone else should consider that not all oranges are the same given that, taking into account the nutritious content, environmental cost, taste and production methods, oranges from local orchards are a better investment.

This doesn’t mean the same rules should apply to all products, neither is every household budget the same, but it is worth putting it to the test and making an effort, where possible, to improve the quality of your diet.

These days, more and more organic, macrobiotic and health-food products are being sold and the demand is forcing production to increase, something that could even, ironically, eventually hinder the process and lead to a health-food recession. This is why it is vital to pay attention to detail when it comes to the contents of your shopping basket.

The same is true of almost all products, even cars and bikes. A bike, which in itself is an environmentally-friendly form of transport, also has production costs – both the cost to the environment, and that of shipping it.

You can have no idea how bikes from Asia are manufactured but they arrive in huge container-ships – they could be made in factories that allow their waste water to flow into a local river, polluting it.

For this reason, therefore, it is not always wise to seek out the cheapest option – and also because it may not last as long. If it breaks easily, it will turn out to be false economy.

The upshot is that you should try to strike a balance, a middle ground, since it’s obvious that you cannot control the production of everything nor obtain everything you are looking for.

Many people do not buy from the market or cannot travel by bike, but in these cases you should pay attention to other areas of your daily life, like recycling household refuse where you can.

At the end of the day, it’s a question of trying to live a healthier lifestyle and this is why it is important to monitor your grocery shopping carefully – where the items come from and how they are produced.

A good diet is of little benefit if your stress-levels are high, for example; neither is it much use going for a long walk in the mountains if you smoke at the same time.

A healthy, environmentally-friendly lifestyle, particularly being highlighted at the moment in heavily-populated areas, is more geared towards reaching a balance; you can’t always take the time to read labels, correct your posture, buy organically-produced paint or use low-emission, fuel-efficient cars.

This is why organisations like the José Navarro Foundation, or your local herbalist, offer advice about how to eat healthily whilst protecting the environment, and without having to give up living in a city.


Spain has a regulatory committee for organic farming. The member companies guarantee that production processes, from the very beginning through to the point of sale, follow procedures that do not involve the use of pesticides, fungicides or chemical fertilisers. Only products with the organic farming stamp are guaranteed to have been produced completely naturally.

Created by the herbalist José Navarro, the foundation started in 1771 and now has 20 shops throughout Spain where
experts can give you advice and help about how to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Herbalist franchises selling all the products you need to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Organic Farming Committee in the Comunitat Valenciana.
Natural products for sale on-line.
Environmentally-friendly shop based on co-operatives, with its head office in Barcelona.

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