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Should Americans be Buying Olive Oil Made in the U.S?: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how the demand for inexpensive olive oil in large quantities is causing environemental problems in some of the world’s largest olive oil producing countries including Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal.

It’s estimated that 95% of the olive oil in the country comes form the Mediterranean region. For those of us in America who are trying to incorporate more local foods into our diet, this causes a problem. The U.S. isn’t known for it’s olive oil. At least, not yet. But it seems that many regions in California are stepping up their olive growing and their olive oil producing. According to a news brief on oliveoilsource.com

Olive oil is a rapidly growing industry in California, with volume projected to increase by 1000 percent in the next five years. California also produces 99.9% of the olive oil grown in the U.S.

and recently

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 634 to provide stronger support to domestic olive oil producers nationwide by giving further clarification and quality control over olive oil sold in the United States.

So it looks like there will be a lot more olive oil being produced in the U.S. and steps are being taken to ensure the quality of that oil. In fact, the article says that

the new law finally gives regulatory weight to how olive oil is labeled and marketed and substance to quality control issues that have plagued the industry involving lower-grade oils fraudulently marketed as extra virgin.

This is good news for those in the U.S. who are looking to buy their olive oil closer to home. But for me, this still isn’t very close to home. I live on the East Coast, and from what I can see the closest producer of olive oil to me is in Idaho. Still it’s more local than the Mediterranean and there are some products that I probably will never be able to get truly locally.

As olive oil production increases in the U.S., it would be wise for those of us here to support it. The closer to home you can get a product, the less energy is used to get it from its place of origin to your home. But we need to go a step further, we need to be actively supporting those olive oil producers throughout the U.S. whoΒ  grow their olives and produce the oil in a sustainable manner. We also need to be willing to pay a fair price to those who choose to do so and not demand large quantities of olive oil for inexpensive prices. If we do, then the California farmers (and others throughout the country) will choose the unsustainable practices that those in the Mediterranean have chosen to use.

A quick google search led me to several websites of California olive oil producers that say they are choosing organic/sustainable methods. I’m not familiar with these companies, so I’m not comfortable recommending them here, but do your own search for “California organic olive oil” and see what you come up with.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

8 comments
  1. Becky

    Great series! I’m definitely going to take some extra time at the market when I replace the olive oil that’s in my kitchen.

    I wonder if there are other sorts of oils that are comparably healthy and more sustainably harvested! Maybe something like sunflower oil?

  2. Phil

    One think to keep in mind… The distance between you and your olive oil source matters, but you need to take into account how it gets to you. If you are an East Coaster buying West Coast olive oil, it comes to you cross country by truck. European olive oils come via large cargo ships. The mode of transport can make a large difference on the impact your olive oil has on the environment.

  3. Carla

    I wonder how much climate has to do with the production of olive oil in the US. In California, we grow just about everything but the weather is favorable.

    Where olive trees are grown in parts of California, the weather is consistently warm. I did a little Google search and found this site: http://www.oliveoilsource.com/site.htm
    β€œOlives are subtropical and do best with mild winters and long dry summers. Branches are killed by temperatures below 22 degrees and whole trees will be killed by freezing temperatures to 15 degrees.”

    So according to this, olive trees will die in parts of the East Coast.

  4. Robin Shreeves

    Becky – glad it got you thinking. I’ll be checking out all the labels in my supermarket now, too. I’m also going to be learning more about all types of oil cause now my interest is definitely peaked.

    Carla – I’m sure climate has a lot to do with it. While I wouldn’t expect olive oil from mid-Atlantic where I am, it may be possible further down south along the coast.

  5. Robin Shreeves

    Phil – didn’t mean to ignore your comment – somehow it snuck in between the other two I commented on later in the day.

    Anyway – how a product is shipped is a consideration when choosing it. It’s very difficult to determine that, however. And once the oil reaches the states, where does it unload from the cargo ships and how far is it from where it is unloaded to my local grocery store? It’s a big conundrum, isn’t it?

  6. Lynn from Organicmania.com

    Hey Robin,

    As an olive oil lover who has blogged about organic vs. conventional olive oil, I love what you’re writing but wonder a bit about this comment: “We also need to be willing to pay a fair price to those who choose to do so and not demand large quantities of olive oil for inexpensive prices.”

    In today’s economy (and even in last year’s economy, frankly), families do need large quantities of olive oil at inexpensive prices. We need good food at fair prices. There is a lot of “foodie” talk about “fair prices” and so forth coming from pretty affluent people.

    We desparately need good quality food – like olive oil – at decent prices so more families will incorporate healthy food like olive oil into their diets.

  7. Gerald

    Trees take a long time to mature/grow. I and many others have been advocating for a long time for this type of production, local rather then importing.
    Wine making is now done around the world and so should olive oil where it can safely be done.
    Other foods will follow.

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