Grocery shopping is a tough balancing act. On one hand, you want to buy the freshest and highest quality food, but on the other, you’ve got to keep the grocery bill to a minimum. There are a few foods, however, that are worth paying more for. Whether the reason is nutritional value, flavour, or ethics, these are items that deserve extra thought before putting any old supermarket brand in your cart.
Go with organic, fair trade, shade-grown coffee. I know that sounds like a confusing list of labels, but I like to think of it as a way to eliminate the countless options at the supermarket. Visit a local coffee shop or roaster, and although the price per pound may seem high, it works out to be far cheaper than buying those nasty, unrecyclable Keurig or Nespresso pods, not to mention that it tastes great and you’ll be making a difference in the lives of coffee farmers, ensuring that they receive a fair wage for their hard work.
2. Organic Fruits and Vegetables
A study came out this past July, known as the Newcastle study, confirming that organic produce is considerably healthier than non-organic. In fact, its nutritional value is equivalent to eating twice as many non-organic servings of produce. Researchers confirmed the same thing in a book called “Toxin Toxout,” when pesticide residue was quantified and compared, and organic produce wasshown to be healthier.
My advice is to seek out local organic growers, rather than heading to the imported organics aisle at the supermarket. Here in Ontario, almost all of that organic produce is flown in from California and comes in excessive layers of plastic packaging to differentiate it from the non-organic stuff. It’s also very expensive. Look for a CSA program, a farmer’s market, or start growing your own.
credit: Smabs Sputzer
3. Olive Oil
Olive oil is more than just an ingredient; it’s a condiment all on its own. By investing in a high quality brand of olive oil, you’ll add wonderful flavour to foods and never need to buy salad dressing again. Olive oil contains unsaturated fat, which may lower risk of heart disease and cholesterol levels and normalize blood clotting, according to the Mayo clinic.
Buy cold-pressed extra-virgin and check for a label from the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA), an organization that checks manufacturers’ claims about the oil’s quality. Olive oil is not regulated in the U.S., so you can’t always rely on what the label says.
Sometimes you can find wonderful olive oil in unexpected places. I managed to buy a huge 40-litre tin of olive oil from a Greek friend of mine who ships it directly from her father’s olive grove near Delphi, and it packs a much more flavourful punch than anything I can buy at the grocery store.
Whatever goes into a chicken comes out in its eggs. A free-range chicken has a much better diet than a chicken raised on a conventional poultry farm. It is allowed to forage and dig for nutritious insects, compost scraps, and plants, instead of being fed antibiotic- and hormone-laden ‘meal’ that contains questionable ingredients.
If you live in a rural area, see if you can buy eggs directly from a farmer whose chickens spend time outdoors. Eggs labeled ‘free-range’ in the grocery store don’t mean much, since large-scale poultry farmers need only open a door in a room of thousands in order to qualify as free-range, even if the birds never actually venture out.
In Barbara Kingsolver’s bestselling book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” she writes that if you can only afford to buy one organic product, it should be milk. Conventional milk sold in the United States contains supplemental bovine growth hormone (BST) and antibiotics, and there are concerns that these things pass through a cow’s milk into human drinkers, as well as contaminate water supplies. In Canada, however, hormones and antibiotics are not allowed, which means buying organic isn’t as crucial.
credit: Spicy Bear
Meat production is a sketchy business in the United States, where 99 percent of the meat consumed is raised on factory farms. These giant, warehouse-style barns are crammed full of animals that are fed unnatural diets, never allowed outside, and grown at shockingly rapid rates with certain oversized body parts in order to satisfy consumer demand. Animal cruelty is rampant, as undercover video footage has shown on countless occasions.
If you do choose to eat meat, the healthiest, safest, and most ethical choice is to buy high quality meat that has been raised on farms that truly care about the animals’ wellbeing and are allowed a ‘normal’ life. Yes, it’s far more expensive than supermarket meat, but the easy solution is simply to eat less of it.
credit: Magic Madzik
Chocolate is a special treat, but it’s still worth buying the ‘good’ stuff when a craving hits. Fair trade is an important criterion, as the cocoa industry that grows and processes the cocoa butter required for chocolate production, is a horribly exploitative and corrupt one. There are reports of child slavery and indentured labour on West African farms. While fair trade certification isn’t flawless either, it helps to provide growers with a fair wage and to improve community infrastructure. It also ensures that no child labour is used.
The other way in which to spend more money on chocolate is to buy high quality dark chocolate. This is more expensive because it’s purer, has a higher cocoa butter content, and does not contain the additives that modified milk chocolate has. Fortunately its more intense flavour means you don’t need as much to feel satisfied – and you’ll get a dose of antioxidants at the same time.
Written by Katherine Martinko, TreeHugger.