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Making Socially Responsible Food Choices

When I decided to try to make a conscious decision to choose “socially responsible” foods to feed my family, I became overwhelmed and began wondering a few things. 

Should I just purchase all organic?  What is considered local?  What am I supposed to eat in January?

For me, I have been asking myself three things when I purchase my food:

1.  How far did this food have to travel? 

The farther the food had to travel to allow me to purchase it, the more fuel that was consumed (for commercially grown food, such as produce, the average is around 1,500 miles).  Think about this:

A lot of fruits (think watermelons and the like) are more than 90% water.  I do not really want to pay for the transportation of this water when I may be able to find that same watermelon at a local farmer’s market (if watermelon is not in season, I ask myself if I really need watermelon — or if I could enjoy a fruit that is more in season — or I try a new fruit that may have travelled a lesser distance).

Photo Courtesty of Olga Vasilkova via Dreamstime

Also, when thinking about how far food had to travel (when it comes to processed, manufactured, and packaged foods), I take a look at the ingredient list.  The fewer ingredients in the food, the better it is when it comes to fuel use. 

Every single one of the ingredients listed not only had to travel to the plant where the final product was manufactured, but then the final product had to travel from the plant to my store. 

That could be a lot of fuel use — in the end, I tend to make things from “scratch” as much as possible to help cut down on fuel consumption. 

(I put “scratch” in quotations because I actually hate using this word — whenever used, people automatically think whatever you are making from “scratch” will take a long time, be tedious, and not be very easy.  Most of the time, that is incorrect — also, the added benefit is that I know EXACTLY what I am putting into my mouth!)

Here’s a fun tidbit for you — if everyone ate one meal per week from a local source, over 50 million barrels of oil a year would be saved!

2.  How were the farmers that produced this food treated?

Let’s face it, the bottom line of a business is THE bottom line of the financials.  Without a good bottom line, the business would cease to exist!  Therefore, a manufacturing company is not only looking for the best ingredients for their product but also at the best price.

If you have ever seen the movie “King Corn” you were able to watch as a couple of guys try a year long experiment growing an acre of corn (an acre of corn grown specifically for corn syrup and process manufacturing).  In the end, without government assistance and subsidies, they would have LOST money!

By shopping at a local farmer’s market (as one option), my food is not only utilizing less fuel for travel, I am helping that farmer support his family.  Hopefully, in turn, that farmer makes local purchases as well.  This cycle could continue inevitably making my community a more prosperous place to live!

Phot Courtesy of Byron Moore via Dreamstime

3.  How was the land and the animals treated to produce this food?

Photo courtesy of Martina Meyer via Dreamstime

I am not going to get into all the hub-bub about animal cruelty, land preservation and pollution — but for me, when I shop at a local farmer’s market (where more often than not I can actually get to know the farmer himself), I feel more confident that the animals raised and the land that was tilled were treated fairly.

When I have to purchase food or ingredients somewhere other than a local farmer’s market, or a local dairy, or a local manufacturer (where I know how the ingredients were purchased), I do look for a couple of things:

a.  Certified organic food; then I know there were no harmful pesticides that went onto the land (or into my tummy).

b.  For meat, eggs, and the like, I look for “grass fed” items.

c.  I simply look at where it was produced! 

I was surprised to discover that a lot of local grocery stores will carry locally produced items (it cost less to get to them, so it is cheaper for them to sell!).  I have learned that instead of automatically reaching for the mainstream, popular brand of an item, if I just take a second to search for something a little less familiar brand-wise, more often than not I discover an item that was made by a business less than 100 miles from me!

In the end, not every single purchase I make would fit into the “socially responsible” category, but as long as I know I made the most “socially responsible” choice that I could, I am happy!

P.S. (What will I eat in January?  Preserving local, fresh food is key!  Freezing, canning, and gardening are my new hobbies……when summer comes rolling around I will be posting all of my preservation ideas……)

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