Comparing Food Labels: Organic, Local and Sustainable

Organic, local, sustainable. These are words that have often been used interchangeably or in unison with the slow food movement in this country. But as Elisa Sobo examines in Standing up to Big Food’s Organic End Run: Who Will, and Why?, “the environmentally-friendly, healthful, and socially just diet that early advocates promoted seems to have been somewhat forgotten.”

With big food answering Americans’ demand for more organic food, we are putting our faith in large corporations to fix our food supply. And the truth is that, unfortunately, we can’t trust them. Because they are big corporations after big money, not the best interests of our food supply or our health.

Did you know for instance, that, according to a recent NY Times article, nearly 250 non-organic substances are allowed in food labeled “organic,” up from 77 in 2002. “Big Food, it turns out, has spawned what might be called Big Organic,” explains the news giant.

Note that Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, Kashi belong to the cereals giant Kellogg. Naked Juice belongs to PepsiCo. Behind Walnut Acres, Health Valley and Spectrum Organics is Hain Celestial.

The reality is that while it’s nice to see organic labels growing in our mainstream grocery stores, taking control of our health – and our food supply – needs to go beyond organic to embrace locally, sustainably produced food. Farmer’s markets, co-ops, and community support agricultures (CSAs) are a great place to start.

It’s as simple as choosing carrots that look like they were just pulled from the ground versus clean, “baby” carrots packaged neatly in plastic. Not that the latter doesn’t have a place in say, the dead of winter in Colorado. But in every season, we all have the opportunity to make small decisions like this one. And your small choice, bundled with the small choices of others in your community, has the ability to support local farmers and producers – and our overall food supply – in profound ways.

Need help getting started? Check out Local Harvest, where you can search by city/state or zip code for local food producers in your area, including farms, CSAs, farmers’ markets, restaurants, co-ops, wholesalers, and meat processors in your area.

In addition, consider supporting and embracing the local food movement by joining Slow Food USA. This worldwide organization has a multitude of chapters across every U.S. state, all of which strive to link the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment. Their motto is supporting “Good, Clean and Fair Food.”

Who can argue with that?

Sure organic has its place, but what’s more important is food that is good for you, good for the people producing it, and good for the planet. And the big corporations represented at your local grocery store – with their organic labels or not – don’t necessarily have that big picture in mind.

What problems do you see with “organic” food on the shelves?

How do you support the local, sustainable food movement?

What barriers do you encounter doing so and how might we fix them?



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