Archive for May 2nd, 2011

2nd May
written by Randy

The term organic has become somewhat of a catch-all label, used by the food industry to attract easy sales (often at a significant markup!) from people who want to eat better, but who just simply don’t know how. These corporate interest throw out terms like organic, and its cousin green, and uninformed treehuggers come running to spend their money.

Like so many of my complaints these days, this organic food trend is huge in the United States, and practically non-existent when I travel. Are we the only responsible country? Actually, no. The truth is, we’re the only country that is so utterly irresponsible that we need to invent a market sector to promote responsibility.

But what is responsible food, then?

First and foremost, it means actually preparing your food using fresh ingredients, rather than opening a package or box or can. It means shopping around the outer edge of the grocery store, and avoiding the things in the aisles.

This is an important change, and it’s an essential first step toward improving your diet and your health. Not only does freezing, canning, dry-packing, and processing foods rob them of nutritional value, but it also requires the addition of preservatives, and chemicals whose sole purpose is to maintain an attractive color, or to prevent mixtures from separating. And that’s before you think about the artificial sweeteners, flavor, and colors.

After making the emphasis on fresh ingredients, the next major concern for me is that it must be healthy. There is a lot of talk about GMOs (genetically modified foods), but on first thought, I actually can’t think of a particular reason why this would necessarily be bad.

For me, it’s much more important that vegetables be free of pesticides, and that meat is free from antibiotics and disease. You can usually count on this being reflected in the term organic, but not always. Where possible, I prefer specific terms like “no pesticides”, “grass fed”, “free range”, etc., though even still, I would rather see even more specific language, such as “no antibiotics.”

And one last issue of extreme importance to me, when it comes to food being responsible, is the effect a food has on the economy and on the environment. They seem like seperate ideas, but I find a high correllation between products that are economically responsible and products that have a low carbon-footprint. Shipping food all over the world not only uses a lot of fossil fuels, but those resources cost money, as does the labor involved in moving the products. Those costs are often not reflected in the cost of goods at the store.

Common sense says that it should be cheaper to bring in food from the farm next door than it is to ship food over on a boat from South America, load it in trains and send it all over the US, then send it on trucks to the stores that will sell it. It doesn’t take a genius to imagine that! So how are those goods available at lower cost than their more responsible counterparts?

The reason bad foods are cheaper is… subsidies. The huge multinational corporations responsible for all that food have a lot of lobbying power and they get enormous tax breaks and government subsidies, which allow them to operate a higher-cost operation while selling their products at a lower-cost, and still earning a profit.

Buying subsidized foods is not economically responsible. Every dollar I give to a company that outsources food production and jobs to another country is the same as a vote: it’s me telling the government and the food industry that I don’t care. But I do care. I care about the economy, I care about jobs, I care about the environment, and I also care about the health standards that growers in America must meet, which aren’t imposed on growers in other countries.

Therefore, when buying food, the most responsible thing you can do is find small, local farms from which to get your vegetables, milk, meat, poultry, etc, or try to do as much shopping as possible in local farmers markets. Failing this, you’ll have to spend a lot of time investigating labels in places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but it’s still better for everyone if you do this than it is to keep supporting the corrupt system we have.

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