I tracked my food labels for 4 days. I had originally planned on doing five days, but it was a very time consuming process. Fortunately, for me it was somewhat easy because I repeated many dishes and ate the same thing for breakfast all week. But it took me a good two hours on the internet doing research on the foods that I ate.
So, lesson number one is that our food labels don’t tell us much about where are food is from. It was easier to know how many Aikens points I was ingesting than where my food was grown. When I was doing my research I felt like I was learning more about how corporations grow rather than how my food grows.
I wondered about many things when I searched for information about my food:
Why are there so many useless labels, No Fat, Low-Carb, Fresh, Less Calories?
Why do companies spend so much money branding their food as “authentic”?
What if they actually grew food on farms with healthy soils and a farmer’s personal touch, and it wasn’t “reminiscent” of old world food, but it was real food?
In recent years, I have made a conscientious choice to buy more organic, family farm and fairly traded products. Before, when I was living on my $2/day diet in graduation school, this wasn’t an option. But little by little I’ve been increasing my conscious purchases.
I have rules:
I buy either organic and/or fairly traded coffee (my social justices roots prevail when I need to choose between organic and fairly traded);
When possible I buy all organic and/or family farm dairy products–persistent organic pollutants collect in dairy at the highest quantities (aside from meat and some fish) because their soluble in fats–and I really think that antibiotics and hormones are scary to be ingesting;
I always buy whole grains, which I feel good about knowing that the food hasn’t been strip of nature’s goodness, and a lot of times these products are grown differently and with more care, even if their not organic.
These “rules” have helped me to feel more in touch with what’s in my food and where it comes from. On the whole, I found that organic and/or family farm product companies were more willing to tell you where their ingredients come from and who they buy from. I was really pleased when some companies said “meet our farmers” and shared pictures and profiles of their producers.
But, then, learning things like Brown Cow company (a family farm-oriented dairy company) is now owned by Stony Fields, who is now owned by Dannon, certainly troubles me. None of this is black-or-white, though.
Does it matter who owns Brown Cow if they don’t change how they produce their yogurt and it continues to benefit family farmers, cows and the environment?
It’s the same debate that is unfolding in the fair trade and organic markets (Chiquita fair trade bananas vs. Agro-Fair bananas, a company owned by the producers, and big organic vs. little organic farms).
I remember the many conversations that I had with small farmers in the Brazilian Amazon, organic or not, what they wanted was markets. A truly inspiring farmer from the state of Acre told me that his cooperative wasn’t looking for niche markets, they wanted to be in the mainstream markets.
The question is how do we change the market so that they can access it, without having to be “certifiable”?
I’m not sure if this exercise has inspired me to change my purchases. More than anything, it has shown me that we all need to make the choices that we think we can make, because, ultimately, it’s a matter of degrees.
I have the privilege to make these choices. I will continue to buy local when I can; organic as much as I can; and fair trade coffee for sure, because it tastes so much better!
Here is an article that talks about many of the food choices and questions I found myself asking: “Local or Organic? It’s a False Choice.”
I hope you enjoy looking over my food shed (below). Happy Eating!
Corrina’s Food Shed
Equal Exchange Coffee, fairly traded, from small farmers’ cooperatives in El Salvador
Horizon ½ & ½, organic
Where does Horizon Organic® milk come from? It comes from over 325 family farms from Maine to California, as well as two farms owned by Horizon Organic.
Meet the farmers.
Quaker Instant Oatmeal, no idea where any of the ingredients come from, distributed by Quaker from Chicago, IL.
Amy’s Black Bean Soup, Organic, No GMOs, distributed from Petaluma, CA
Don’t know where the ingredients are from, but apparently the recipe originated from a restaurant in Puerto Escondido, Mexico.
Cabot Cheddar Cheese, made by VT farmers
Cabot Creamery Cooperative was founded by the farmers of Cabot, Vermont in 1919.
Meet the farmers.
Patak’s Indian Coconut Curry Sauce, distributed from the UK, no idea where all of the ingredients come from.
Bombay Brown Jasmine Rice, organic, from the Himalayan region of India, distributed in Wayland, MA
Yellow and Green Peppers, Greenhouse grown, don’t know from where
Yellow Onion, don’t know from where
Eggplant: don’t know??: some possibilities: Production from California, Florida, and Mexico provides eggplant in the winter.
Beverages: Water, Quabbin reservoir, MA; Acerola, fruit from Brazil, produced in Puerto Rico
Same coffee and ½ & ½ deal
Brown Cow Yogurt, no growth hormones, manufactured in small batches on the Brown Cow Farm in Antioch, CA, milk from family farmers.
They say it’s Crafted with Care.
South Pacific Blueberries, from Chile
Mon’s dinner leftovers
Barilla Pasta, made of wheat, apparently, they are artenisal pasta makers.
Manufactured in Ames, Iowa, wheat from US and Canada:
Our Plant: Ames, Iowa
“Barilla’s pasta-producing plant, located in Ames, Iowa, is among the largest pasta plants in the United States and the third largest plant in the Barilla Group (the plant outside of Parma & Foggia, Italy, are the largest). The Ames plant was inaugurated in 1997, began producing pasta in 1998, and officially opened all lines of production in 1999.
This sleek, modern facility produces most of Barilla’s pasta cuts (except for lasagna and filled pasta, which are imported from Italy). For our pasta, we use only the highest grade durum wheat from farms in Arizona, North and South Dakota, and Canada. North American wheat, considered to be some of the best wheat in the world, is even exported to Italy as a raw ingredient — and if it is good enough to make pasta in Italy, it is good enough to be used in the U.S.
Our high quality wheat is ground into semolina in our own mill, attached to the Ames plant. State-of-the-art Italian processing and packaging equipment ensures that our pasta products reach your home with all their flavor and quality intact.”
Classico Tomato Sauce, they are pretty proud of their branding: “made-from-scratch taste”, reminiscent of Italy, BUT can’t find anything about where these pure, healthy ingredients come from.
Eggplant, don’t know
Same coffee and ½ & ½ deal
Same yogurt and blueberries
Tue’s dinner leftovers
At friend’s house, didn’t ask to see the packages: pasta, spinach, tomato, feta and red wine
Same coffee, ½ & ½
Lender’s bagel, distributed Pinnacle Foods Corporation, Cherry Hill, NJ, began in New Haven, CT, but don’t now where any of this stuff comes from now:
Shaw’s cream cheese, distributed by Albertson’s, Inc., Boise, Idaho: don’t know where the ingredients come from but Albertson’s is the second largest food-drug retailer in the U.S.
Leftovers from Wed’s dinner
Cod, meaning Catch Of the Day, so I don’t actually know what kind of fish this is; from Iceland;
Here are some possibilities about what kind of fish it could be.
Yellow Squash, Red Potatoes, don’t know??
Salad: Fresh Express Organic Greens, from Salinas, CA or quite possibly Yuma, AZ. Apparently, the company shuttles their employees between CA and AZ by a daily air jet. Fascinating way to grow lettuce.
Peppers, onion, tomato, don’t know where from