Lexington Food Justice Podcast #19

Eat More Ethically and Sustainably!

Happy 2018!! Hope this year is a yummy one for you. And a healthy happy one too!

This is the time when so many are making resolutions or promises to "eat better". But have you considered eating more ethically and sustainably? Because making these food choices can and will lead to improved health outcomes. As experienced by a fair number of guests on our shows. Me included!

Which is why Ben & I decided to kick off our 2018 programming by offering some tips and strategies to help our listeners better understand how to eat more ethically and sustainably.

It was a terrific show. Hope you enjoy it too 👇🏽 

Listen to our Podcast!

Here's a Recap

Some of my friends are very careful about the clothes and other consumer products they buy. In terms of making sure these items reflect their values and concerns. But don’t dedicate that same care and regard towards food.

Not because they don’t care. But because it may not have occurred to them that there options available.

So let's be clear -- when it comes to food, it is possible to opt out of a bad food system. And opt into a good one. A food system that more closely aligns with your personal values and concerns about the environment, human welfare (i.e., fair labor practices) and animal welfare.

And it's not just about buying organic food. Because "organic" practices focuses on certain issues. But it's not a blanket certification. Confusing, I know.

Why so (Intentionally) Confusing?

100% Organic, sustainably-farmed, vegetarian-fed diet, grassfed, free-range, cage-free, all natural . . . . Oodles of labels, terms, certification stamps on our food these days. And if you’re like me, you may have had a meltdown in the grocery store just trying to figure out what it all means. Because I think we all try to buy the best food for ourselves and our families.

And of course, corporations know that we are compassionate and concerned consumers. Such that we look for assurances that the food we're buying reflect our expectations in these regards. So corporations and food producers lace their marketing and advertising with “seals of approval”. Using terminology that may mean something or actually nothing at all. In the hopes of triggering your conscience and luring you into purchasing.

How do we sort through the morass of information on our food labels? How do we find the most trustworthy and meaningful labels and certifications?

Typically through thorough our own research. Which can be time-consuming and take up a lot more mindspace than we want to deal with. Ben & I, however, have found publications by some independent, consumer advocacy groups that have done this research. So we don't have to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.

And can help us crack the food label code! On our show, we shared info from some of these publications:

All of these guides are free and downloadable. But since these are all non-profits, if possible, please consider a small donation. Or at least subscribe to their websites to show your support of their work.

Before discussing what are the more legitimate labels & certifications. We discussed the underlying concepts that make them trustworthy.

Legally Defined vs. NOT

Terms on food labels and certifications can have legal definitions (defined by the government) or are regulated by a non-goverment certifying organization. And some terms are NOT legally defined or regulated.

Which is why context always matters. For instance: when you see “USDA Organic” with the approved seal, there are legal requirements for this usage. As opposed to a food product that simply prints the word “organic” with nothing else. This usage is not a legally defined term.

Or as Mac Stone, discussed when we interview him -- this practice is a form of "green washing". And can be confusing & more importantly -- MISLEADING. Because people relate the word "organic" with health. Without understanding the context.

Again, Mac described the rigorous process to obtain and continue using the USDA certification. So if the product is NOT USDA Organic, you may not be getting the healthy product you expect. More importantly – you may be paying a higher price for something that is not consistent with your expectations.

Other terms NOT legally defined that you may see: fresh, natural, humane, cage-free, free-range, pasture raised, locally grown. There are many more.

Independent 3rd Party Audits vs. NOT

The trustworthiness and legitimacy of non-government certifications depends on how well they implement and enforce a rigorous process that they themselves define. In other words, whether their certifications involve continuous independent 3rd party audits to provide integrity in their processes.

You also want to make sure that these organizations offer transparency and clarity in defining their regulations and inspections.

So as Daniel Pike discussed during his interview. Since most of us have smartphones, we can google the certifications. As well as the farm from on which the food was produced. To better understand whether it is meaning and trustworthy foe you.

And if not enough time, then take photo of the label and research when you get home. (I do this a lot.) Maybe don’t buy that product until you know – particularly if you are on a tight budget and the product is more expensive.

look for multiple Certifications

Because certifications tend to have a specific focus. You should consider looking for a collection of that address your concerns. Or at least those concerns that are most important to you.

For the best assurance -- Buy Local!

One of the BEST ways to know whether the food you are buying aligns with your concerns – BUY LOCAL!! Directly from the farm, at the farmer’s market, or your local co-op that specializes in local products.

Decisions, Decisions

Some things to consider when figuring out which products to buy – particularly conventional vs. organic:

What’s within your budget?

Ethical, sustainably sourced food is more expensive. But justifiably so. And in truth, we need to flip the script and start asking why conventional and processed foods are so cheap!

So if you can reasonably afford ethical, sustainably produced food -- please buy these. Because if we develop a critical mass of people supporting these practices. The foods can be more reasonably affordable to more people.

But if finances are a barrier. Consider these tips:

  • With meat, consider price per meal because 100% grassfed, pasture raised meat will yield MORE meat than conventional. And if you have bones, save them for broth. To stretch your dollars even further!
  • These meats are also tastier -- so don’t need to season as much. And cooks faster -- so saves you time.
  • Buy whole chickens and roasts. Rather than the cut-up packages. These will be less expensive.
  • Buy bone-in, skin-on chicken. Also less expensive. Note that the skin helps seal in juices. Bones add flavor and cooks the meat internally (so faster).
  • Use the Dirty Dozen & Clean 15 lists to guide in which produce to buy organic (Dirty Dozen) and which to buy conventional (Clean 15).

What is readily available?

100% grassfed, pasture raised meat might not available at the store where you typically shop. And if so, buy the highest quality available. From a brand, farm or label that you trust.

Remember – Conventional is always better than processed or highly processed food. And so way better than fast food!!!

Prioritize you concerns

What do you care about most – environment, animal welfare, fair labor. Depending on your budget and/or what is available, you may have to make choices.

So figure out what's most important to you by balancing all these factors.

The Most trustworthy Labels

Based on these resources, we compiled a list of trustworthy labels: "The ABC's of Food Labeling" by Green America and "Food Labels Exposed -- A Definitive Guide to Common Food Label Terms and Claims" by A Greener World.

These are the most legit labels for Environmental Concerns:

These are the most legit labels for Human Welfare/Fair Labor:

Up Next (January 19th)

Please tune in to our next show on January 19th, 10 - 11 am, 93.9 FM WLXU Lexington Community Radio.

We're going to apply these concepts to "real life" as we pre-record our show on site at Good Foods Co-op. We'll speak with managers & staff to discuss the philosophy & research they do to ensure that ethical, sustainably, and LOCALLY produced foods and food products are selected for their store shelves.

This will be a very special show! Hope you will join us.