Sunday, May 15, 2011

8 Things You Can Do to Combat Supermarket Paralysis

Foraging for a Healthy and Sustainable Meal

I recently read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and then I finally got around to watching Food Inc. Now I have a serious case of supermarket paralysis. How do I choose food that is grown in an environmentally responsible way and delivered with minimal petroleum use that doesn't exploit the farmers, farm workers and food processors? Where do I find free-range, cage-free, grass-fed, humanely treated meat? Is it more important to choose organic or local and how exactly should I define local? I'm compiling a list to guide my shopping and eating. Consider this a work in progress. 
  1. Purchase as much produce as you can when it's in season from a farmer's market or in the locally grown section of your supermarket. I like the Local Harvest website for finding farmer's markets, family farms and other sources for sustainable grown food in your area.
  2. Prepare your own food. Plan your meals for the season rather than starting with a recipe that requires out of season ingredients or things that aren't available locally.
  3. Buy organic -- at the farm market and in the grocery store. If cost forces you to prioritize, start with switching to organic when buying the "dirty dozen" -- peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes. 
  4. Stop drinking sodas and other sweetened beverages. 
  5. Keep in mind that refrigerated and frozen items use more energy to be moved and stored. 
  6. Eat less meat and other animal-based foods. (I liked Graham Hill's approach in this Ted Talk.) Avoid products from the worst production systems by looking for free-range, cage-free, grass-fed etc...
  7. Eat fewer processed foods. Here's an explanation as to why from Steven Hopp in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle -- "Food processing uses energy in two main ways: (1) extracting, dicing, mixing, and cooking the ingredients; (2) transporting each individual ingredient. Products with fewer ingredients have probably burned less gas. For example, the oatmeal box on our pantry shelf lists one ingredient: rolled oats... By contrast, our Free-range Happy 75% Organic Cereal Chunks box lists seventeen ingredients, all of which had to be transported to the processing plant."
  8. And, if you're so inclined to do a little lobbying -- press for food safety, food labeling, and other issues identified in Food Inc.
These aren't all or nothing propositions. I love to eat and I'm not swearing off champagne mangos, Italian wines, or the occasional bag of salt and vinegar potato chips. However, I might join a CSA again. I believe that by making small changes, we can make a big difference. Ultimately our behavior as consumers will direct what happens in the food industry. 

1 comment:

Matt Hirn said...

Janet, definitely a good post topic and something that needs to be brought to greater attention.

Something I am pretty excited about is a committee I am working with back in WI that is bringing EBT to the local farmer's market. We are now working on getting the word out that this option as available, as well as trying to show that often times you can purchase items for less at the farmers market.