Food is a part of everyone’s life, every day. Where we can make better choices in the food we eat, we can improve the environment, treatment of animals, and social conditions as well. Read more about choosing organic.
Here in the US, organic foods are regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP) and generally limit the types of pesticides used to grow food, limit growth hormones used on animals, and exclude genetically modified foods. The “organic” label does not regulate all environmental and social aspects of food, such as living conditions of animals grown for consumption. The US does not regulate the use of the term “Natural” and therefor these products may contain artificial ingredients. It’s also difficult to determine meat products produced using cruelty free methods. Advertising terms may not be regulated and may give the wrong impression, more detailed info here.
Cage Free: The terms “cage free” and “free range” are used on many egg packaging. According to Wikipedia, the US does not regulate these terms. A common practice is to house chickens in small cages where they do not get exposure to the outdoors. Some chickens are raised in tightly packed coups or barns, with little extra room to “range free.” This applies to egg laying chickens and chickens grown for meat consumption.
The major concern in beef production is what type of diet the cows are fed, see more info on factory farmed food. A common practice is to feed the cows grains for faster production, but grain is not good for their digestive system. Grass Fed is not regulated and is compulsory by the farmer. This website for New Hope 360 gives a good review of labels and definitions.
The Food Alliance and Protected Harvest is starting to certify food grown using sustainable practices that address the environmental impacts of agriculture. As this is a producer based initiative, there are not a wide variety of products certified.
Certification and labeling using the term “Fair Trade” or “Ethical Trade” is regulated by multiple groups, so there can be multiple labels using the term Fair Trade that may vary in their requirements.
Here are some suggestions for finding food sources of improved quality and practices:
Purchase from local farms:
- Search the Animal Welfare website for certified farms
- Shop local farmers markets. http://www.localharvest.org/
- Get more from your Farmers Market
- Research the products you frequently purchase. If something in the store is advertised as “All Natural” or “Organic” or whichever luring label you’re attracted to, research the practices of that brand.
- Read the labels to determine which product was produced nearby.
- Some restaurants are using local sources. In my area this include: Flatbread Pizza, Chipotle (national chain), The Fireplace Grill
- Visit local farms: http://www.pickyourown.org/
- Some communities have a cooperative (co-op) relationship with where you contribute a set $ each week or month, then the produce from that farm is distributed among the participants. This system helps the farms by providing a reliable income.
- Search for local foods grown near you: http://www.eatwellguide.org/i.php?pd=Home
- Cook meals with ingredients in season (where you live). Info on another page coming soon.
- Perform a Google search for information in your local area. It turns out that the Boston area has some indoor farmers markets this winter. http://www.mass.gov/agr/massgrown/docs/winter_farmers_markets_2010-2011.pdf
- Elevation Burger offers Organic, Grass Fed, Free-Range Beef and is opening new stores around the US.
More intense research
- Look up the legal definitions of words like organic, all natural, cage free, etc.
- Reform in school lunch programs: http://www.jamieoliver.com/campaigns/jamies-food-revolution
- Chef’s who know the facts from the inside: http://chefscollaborative.org/
Info for Appropriate Food Sources
- Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders http://www.safsf.org/resour/food_and_ag_films.asp
- Ways to Change your practices http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_21306.cfm
Teaching your Children
Movie “What’s on your Plate?“