Food Matters – 2012 Lookahead

The Road Well TakenThe Road Well Taken

The beginning of the New Year is usually a time for people to try going on diets, or at least trying to be a little more conscious about what they eat after the holiday excess. If you also want to put a little more ‘green’ in your diet by eating in a more sustainable fashion for the planet, you need to tread carefully.  There are many obstacles, though, to taking a more sustainable route to your shopping and eating:

A lot of it comes in the form of advertising. When food producers and manufacturers started to realize that people were getting on the local, sustainable bandwagon when it came to their food purchases, they started to take advantage of that in a couple of ways. When it comes to advertising you will note the increased use of the words, ‘natural’, ‘artisan’, and ‘local’, or anything else that will give you a feel-good jolt when buying their product. I’ve seen a couple of excerpts from a new advertising campaign coming from McDonald’s that feature some of the ‘regular folk’ farmers who grow potatoes or ranch cattle that turn up as McDonald’s fries and hamburgers. Of course it doesn’t tell you the entire story of what happens to the cattle once they leave the ranch or exactly how those potatoes are grown. And just ask yourself what it really means when you buy Wendy’s ‘natural cut’ fries?

The corporate world goes deeper into the idea of getting your dollars you want to spend on sustainable foods by purchasing or taking over smaller, successful, organic companies. For example, chocolate giant Cadbury bought Green and Black Organic Chocolate in 2005, Coke owns Odwalla Juices and Pepsi owns Naked Juice. They don’t necessarily make clear the ownership on their labels, so if you have a problem with large companies that produce non-sustainable products you might be contributing to their bottom line even if you think you are buying from a smaller, organic company. The other problem with this is that it makes it very difficult for those small companies who have to compete head to head with the large companies on grocery store shelves. So the economies of scale of production quite often means that one organic chocolate bar from a large global company will cost a dollar or two less than one from a local producer, and if people vote with their wallets instead of their hearts that is bad news for the local producer.

When it comes to less-manufactured foods like fresh fruit and produce that’s a tricky situation as well. The demand for organic produce has increased so much that in certain areas of Mexico, for example, there are organic farms producing tomatoes for our winter consumption that are putting a strain on the local water tables. The tomatoes pass the USDA organic standards, but they are kind of skirting around the issue of true agricultural sustainability. More and more organic produce is also coming out of China, which cuts local farmers out of the loop and puts you very far away from being to ask questions about exactly how those fruits and vegetables are being produced.

There is a silver lining when production it is done right. An Economist magazine article published last year cited some important strides in sustainability being made in emerging world economies:
“Manila Water, a utility in the Philippines, reduced the amount of water it was losing to wastage and illegal tapping by 50 per cent over the past decade by making water affordable for the poor. A Chinese aquaculture company recycles uneaten fish feed to fertilise crops. An Egyptian food producer set itself the task of reclaiming desert land through organic farming. A Costa Rican food and drink company adopted tough standards for the amount of water it uses to produce drinks.”

What can you do you want to eat more sustainably in 2012? Get out there and buy local. We still have Winter Farmer’s Markets on the go, there is one this Saturday in Victoria in Market Square. In the winter it is still possible to find free range eggs, organic or pasture-fed chicken and turkey, pork and beef, all from local farmers. Plan in advance to freeze or preserve the upcoming harvest. I was so happy over the holidays to pull out some of my peach preserves and blend them into drinks, top my oatmeal with a compote I had frozen earlier this year, and give gifts like my Paradise Jelly…made from quince from my tree, apples from my neighbour’s orchard, and cranberries from a farm up island in Yellow Point. And finally, start asking more questions about where your food comes from.

Resources:

The McDonald’s Feel-Good Video

Wendy’s New “Natural” Fries Caught Using Chemical Stew

Organic Agriculture May Be Outgrowing Its Ideals

Is Whole Foods Wholesome? The dark secrets of the organic-food movement.

Wal-Mart’s Organic Offensive

Green growth: Some emerging-world companies are combining growth with greenery

Bill C-474, Triffids, and the genetically modified / engineered food debate we’re NOT having

Organic food and drink sales slump

Organic Industry Structure

How Green Is Your Eco-Label? (aquaculture)

And the two free Smartphone apps I talked about yesterday that I downloaded onto my iPhone are ‘True Food’ and ‘Good Guide’.  Both are U.S.-based, so while they provide some information they don’t have full details on Canadian products. ‘True Food’ helps you determine which food products are GMOs, and the Good Guide is supposed to let you scan UPC codes with the camera in your phone and then reveal ratings on their health, environmental and social performance.  Too bad it doesn’t have that large a database and it doesn’t seem to include any Canadian products.
 

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