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Progressive Eaters, Unite!


1. Do Your Homework
As organics take off and multinational food companies acquire small producers, consumer research becomes more important than ever. (For a graph displaying who owns what in the organic foods industry, visit www.msu.edu/~howardp/organicindustry.html.) Check out labels through nonindustry sources like the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) or Sustainable Table (www.sustainabletable.org) — they’ll explain which food producers uphold the highest standards of land management, labor practices and animal treatment. (See Web Extra! for more on the intricacies of the burgeoning organics industry.)

You can also take your pick of books like Kingsolver’s and Pollan’s, or Daniel Imhoff’s Food Fight: A Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill (University of California Press, 2007). Plus, two documentaries — King Corn (2007) and The Future of Food (2004) — will help you better understand the dangers of monoculture crops and genetically modified seeds. For a clever, but strongly positioned, lesson about factory-farmed eggs, milk and meat, check out the flash animation films at The Meatrix (www.themeatrix.com).

2. Get Involved
Find your local food co-op and become a member. (You can track down the nearest one at www.sustainabletable.org.) Start a weekend ritual of visiting a nearby farmers’ market. Buy a share in a CSA (find one at www.localharvest.org) and get weekly deliveries of fresh produce from a local farmer; some CSAs even offer fresh eggs and chicken. (For more on eating local, see “Closer to Home: 5 Steps Toward Eating Local” in the April 2008 archives.)

Get involved with urban farming or spend a day volunteering at a nearby farm, especially great activities to do with kids. See if you can get your school hooked up with a local farm for the lunch program. Or consider donating to good food causes, like the People’s Grocery in Oakland, Calif., or the folks at Urban Farming, who are working to increase urban food security by turning empty city lots into farms (www.urbanfarming.org).

Finally, don’t be intimidated by legislation — Call and write your legislators (www.congress.org) to press for a better “food bill” that supports a more sustainable food system. Meanwhile, you can continue to “vote with your fork” by shopping for local, sustainable whole foods.

3. Choose Your Battles
Here are a few modest changes that can make a big impact:

  • Become a “whole-food-avore.” Strive to incorporate into your diet more fresh foods that look pretty much as they did in nature, and you’ll not only be healthier, you’ll bypass many of the problems associated with the food system: The worst agricultural sins are not committed in the name of fruits and vegetables.
  • Know the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables, and buy the organic varieties. Peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, pears, spinach and potatoes carry the worst pesticide load, according to a 2007 study by the Environmental Working Group. Read more about the study at www.foodnews.org.
  • Stick with grass-fed dairy and meat products and avoid any food raised in a commercial feedlot. Supporting grass-fed operations is not only more humane for animals and significantly easier on the environment, it’s also much better for your health. Visit www.eatwild.com for more information and to find your nearest sources of pastured meat and milk.

4. Follow the Foodies
When you find yourself too busy to hit the farmers’ market or weed the vegetable gardens at a CSA, you can still support a healthier food economy by choosing farm-to-table restaurants when you eat out. (The Eat Well Guide at www.eatwellguide.org will help you find them.)

Today’s food activists are helping bring our food systems and eating habits full circle: When we eat more local, seasonal, whole foods, we are eating much like our ancestors.

“In the history of European cooking, preparing local food was more of a necessity,” says Mike Phillips, head chef at the Minneapolis restaurant The Craftsman, one of hundreds nationwide that support local growers of whole foods. “There weren’t means to refrigerate or ship food thousands of miles, so traditional cooking and preserving techniques evolved out of using foods locally. There’s also a strong pride taken in regional foods — only wine grown in the Burgundy region can carry that name — and I want to support farmers who are developing those traditions of quality here.”

Indeed, there is pleasure and a sense of pride in knowing where our food comes from — and a deeper connection with our food is born out of appreciation for the labor that brought it to our plate. Familiarizing ourselves with what we eat and buying whole, local foods sustains our food culture and promotes dignity in food production and consumption.

This more mindful approach to food — and the food system at large — transforms an everyday act of consumption into an act of grace. And who doesn’t want a bigger serving of that?

Courtney Helgoe is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.

Hopeful Signs
Here are some of the positive highlights of today’s consumer-driven food revolution:

Save the Seeds. The Web has given new life to a host of seed-saving organizations that help farmers and gardeners learn how to save seeds from their heirloom crops and to trade them with each other. This underground network is helping to protect farmer self-sufficiency and maintain a healthy variety of food crops for future generations. See www.seedsavers.org.

Farm-to-School. Forty-three states now host farm-to-school programs, where local farms supply schools’ cafeterias with fresh produce for lunches, and students learn about food production and nutrition. To find out about a program near you, visit www.farmtoschool.org.

Urban Farms. Farms are sprouting up in cities across the United States and Canada. They transform empty lots and rooftops into sources of fresh food (notably lacking in most inner-city neighborhoods), create local food self-sufficiency, and beautify urban spaces, which deters crime.

Organics Galore. Sales of organics are increasing by 20 percent annually. And while this rising demand can be a mixed blessing — the small, local aspect of organic farming often gets lost in production — it does mean a huge number of acres are being turned over to more sustainable land and livestock management.

Eat Local. “Locavore” was the Oxford American Dictionary’s 2007 word of the year. More and more people are starting to see the drawbacks of food that’s built to travel and have begun to eat closer to home, building local economies as they shop and dine. You can learn about the “eat local challenge” at www.eatlocal.net.

Grass-Fed and Proud. As awareness spreads about inhumane feedlot practices and the taste and nutritional benefits of grass-fed animal products, sales are rising fast. Even some members of the fast-food industry are catching on. In 2005, McDonald’s Chipotle Mexican restaurant chain began sourcing all their pork from Niman Ranch, a cooperative for organic and pasture-fed meats.

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit www.experiencelifemag.com to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter.

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Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

7 comments

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8:13AM PDT on Aug 24, 2009

I hope this isn't toooo off topic. I understand how many are trapped with having to rely on factory grown meats and produce, due to distance, only I don't agree that the higher cost of organically grown foodstuffs is any reason for purchasing factory productions. I have grown my own veggies for about 30 years..beginning with large terra-cotta pots, by a sunny apartment window, to the larger spaces I have now. Canadians are often faced with learning how to conserve foods, throughout the winter months, via preserving or pickling. Natural methods still ensure healthier eats, and at a very conservative cost. Yes, time is needed, only if it were an option to buy organically grown foodstuffs, isn't it reasonable to agree that organic's prices will eventually drop? I find that organic, or my own home grown has so much more flavor that I have no need to pack masses of food into my mouth. Meals are simply more enjoyable. I find fast food influences turn my stomach, as commercials promote healthier eating now, yet don't mention where their meat supplies come from. In the long run..once a person tastes the clean flavor of organic foods, they would gladly do what ever they can to avoid feeding the mass grocery markets pocket books. All it takes is one person at a time to eventually finance a growing interest in organic consumption. In time people may realize that massive amounts of meats in their diets are actually killing them.

4:53PM PDT on Aug 18, 2009

Most of this article was great, full of good information and web links; with one exception. This paragraph:
"If, on some beautiful summer morning, you decide to head to your local farmers’ market, chances are good that you’ll have your pick of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes: green zebras, Brandywines, yellow pear or sugar plum. Maybe you’ll grab a cup of fair-trade coffee to enjoy while you chat with growers. On your way back you could stop at the local food co-op for a few more staples: a carton of organic milk, some spelt pasta. Pulling up in front of the house on your bike, you gratefully contemplate how easy it is to eat well close to home." What? Who lives within easy biking distance of a farmers market (that also sells fair trade coffee) and a local food co-op? I live in a semi-rural area and it's 9 miles to the regular grocery store, around 30 to the Whole Foods Store! Even in the urbanized areas that senario is seriously unlikely. If you want people to pay attention and take what you're saying seriously leave out the fantasy senarios.

5:50PM PDT on Aug 16, 2009

About 20 years ago I heard a lecture by an agronomist criticizing the practice of growing corn (maize) in semi-arid areas instead of
grains such as wheat and oats that require less water. Then other
farmers do the reverse and plant grains where the water virtually drowns them. Then to that remark wherever that comes from "There is not enough grassland to feed 300000000
people on grass fed animals. What about all that grass in Suburbia that just gets mowed and thrown away? There is so much that the community can do if we want to do.

11:37AM PDT on Aug 16, 2009

This is a great article and I heartily disagree with Brad King's statement and criticism that "There is simply not enough space for a country of 300 million to eat animal products that are grass-fed." and "Recommending grass-fed animal products is elitist and goes against everything Care2 stands for when it comes to environmental, welfare & health issues. I hope in future you will better consider the ethical implications of your reccommendations and ensure that your ideas are sustainable, economically feasible, environmentally friendly & healthy."

PLEASE read Michael Polin's Omnivore's Dilemma, or go see Food, Inc, and PLEASE check out what Polyface Farm is doing. I have been a vegetarian nearly all my life but the humane treatment of farm animals raised for food is not only possible but can be economically more sustainable than factory farming and this needs to be known and supported.

People don't know. Until they do nothing will change. People need to understand not only the horrors of what is happening now in the the meat and dairy industry, but that there are alternatives to it and the "grass fed" and "organic" movements, while not perfect, are viable alternatives that should be supported.

Your dollar is your vote in this country - I vote for the happiest healthiest food I can buy each day. This is not elitist - this is my commitment to supporting these movements and the sooner these become mainstream the sooner they will be accessible to everyone.

9:31AM PDT on Aug 16, 2009

Well said, Brad King. I couldn't have said it better. As long as the commercial meat and dairy industry receive huge subsidies, the prices on those items will remain low---while prices for healthy organic fruits and veggies will continue to be expensive. Ditto for subsidies to the huge factory monoculture corn and soy farms.

And while "grass fed" is more healthy and the animals may (or may not) be treated and killed more humanely, you are still eating at the top of the food chain when you consume meat and dairy. And that is not sustainable. Grass fed requires pasture land--land which could be used to grow organic fruits, veggies and grains for humans.

7:34AM PDT on Aug 16, 2009

What an insipid example of "you should eat like I eat". Subsidies for corn pale into insigificance in comparison to the subsidies paid to meat and dairy farmers (dairy farms currently produce 25% more milk than the market demands their subsidies are so great).

The government is coming under increased pressure to free up national lands and reserves for so-called "grass-fed" animal products. There is simply not enough space for a country of 300 million to eat animal products that are grass-fed. The grass-fed industry can only exist when most people are eating factory-farmed products.

Meat and dairy are a disaster for the environment, consume massive amounts of grains for a diminished return, are a disaster for human health, and are incredibly cruel industries no matter how green the pasture.

Your valuable column inches would have been much better used advocating for the transfer subsidies from dairy & meat to fruits, grains & vegetables. Then, everybody would have access to healthy whole foods in the corner store and be able to afford them.

Recommending grass-fed animal products is elitist and goes against everything Care2 stands for when it comes to environmental, welfare & health issues. I hope in future you will better consider the ethical implications of your reccommendations and ensure that your ideas are sustainable, economically feasible, environmentally friendly & healthy.

In add

7:32AM PDT on Aug 16, 2009

Until the cost of "organic" becomes comparable to regular retail grocers prices there are those that won't be shopping in any of the "health" food stores. Not everyone can afford such prices as seems standard for organic and other health related products. While I do agree that a lot of the food offered in regular retail today has been over-processed, over chemicaled with additives/preservatives, sadly they are the only option for many.

Since the government always has "our best interests at heart" maybe it's time for gov't to put a stop to the additives which (are really unnecessary) may lead to physical ailments if continually consumed over a period of time.

Till that time/day comes I will continue to buy the 'fresh' produce at the grocery. It may not have been grown in "organic" soils somewhere--but at least it hasn't been canned up with all sorts of harmful chemicals to insure it has a long shelf life either.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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