Food Fight

Food is complicated. Beyond sustenance, we have such an emotional pull to it, whether food is in abundance or a scarcity. All while the origin, transport, farming methods, water and resources required – play a factor in the expense to the environment. Are you a “foodie”? Where does your food come from? Is it organic? Fair Trade? What is the carbon footprint for the bulk of your groceries? And speaking of “bulk” – do you buy in bulk?

We are equally obsessed with and ambivalent about food in this country. Popular shows like The Biggest Loser rival the popularity of Top Chef & Chopped. We even have multiple kid cooking competition programs to choose from. The irony is compounded by the disgraceful fact that 1 in 4 children on the United States suffer from hunger. Daily. On average, we waste 40% of the food we purchase, while “food deserts” – areas that lack fresh food markets – are in abundance in both urban and rural environments. Our national addiction to sugar is garnering mainstream acknowledgment relatively recently but remedies are a mere glint on the distant horizon. And not unlike our gun problem, the health epidemic symptomatic of our national diet, generates casualties at unprecedented levels. Child obesity and diabetic rates continue to be disturbingly high.

Green MrktThe local food movement began gaining traction in earnest well over a decade ago. The idea was to support local farmers that were having an increasingly difficult time competing with government subsidized, big agriculture. The smaller, independent farms represented natural, seasonal, environmentally sensitive and organic farming practices. With a reduced carbon footprint due to locality and quick turn around, sans extensive refrigeration, communities – whether rural or in cities – felt that they could trust this food. CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) began popping up in the most unlikely of places.

"Extreme" local food: window garden, backyard garden & Urban vertical garden

“Extreme” local food: window garden, backyard garden & Urban vertical garden

The general idea of being a “locavore” is that you’re supporting agriculture grown within 100 miles from you. Keep in mind however, that no matter where you live in North America, grapes grown in California are still easier on the planet (and probably a healthier option) than grapes from Chile. In many Latin and Asian countries, it is not illegal to use human feces as fertilizer.

For the moment, the GMO debate rages on. For those of you that haven’t followed the labeling discussion, the Senate passed a vote of 63-30 to use QR codes instead of words on packaging indicating the product contains genetically modified ingredients. Now, you may have to scan the code to discover if the can of soup you are buying contains genetically modified ingredients. Those fighting the bill argue that it discriminates against low-income families, minorities, mothers, seniors, disabled and those without smartphones. 

It is deeply disturbing that a majority in the Senate would support a bill that openly discriminates against America’s low income, rural and elderly populations. This denies them their right to know simply because they are not able to afford or have access to smartphones. The bill itself is poorly drafted and would exempt many and perhaps most current genetically engineered foods from labeling. It was written behind closed doors between a handful of Senators and the big chemical and food companies. It is a non-labeling bill disguised as a labeling bill, a sham and a legislative embarrassment.”

 Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director, Center for Food Safety

Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 11.27.37 PMThe QR Code on packaging was originally known as a SmartLabel, linking detailed nutrition, allergy and ingredient information. The current bill doesn’t mention SmartLabel by name, but it is clearly inspired by it and has found a convenient location to bury GMO information.

It may be risky for companies to use the QR code however, as the number of consumers rejecting GMOs is approaching 50%! Unless one requires careful detection of food allergins, those in the know will not even bother to scan the product, using the code as a red flag that the product is tainted. It’s important to note that Europe has widely rejected genetic modification in food. The argument that GMO crops are our best hope to “feed the world” is suspect since the GMO seed is designed to be effective for approximately a year, forcing farmers to perpetually repurchase the seed, all while GMO crops kill heirloom seed crops that have been cultivated for decades. This is in addition to the fact that pesticides are “baked into the cake” with a GMO seed – plus requiring additional applications of pesticides/herbicides for (brand name seed, such as Monsanto) GMO crops to grow. Even if you aren’t worried about the genetic mutations of your food, you should be very concerned about pesticides. We simply do not have the long-term evidence of the hazards and nutritional quality associated with fast-growing animals and bug-resistant crops.

The fail-safe way to avoid GMOs is to eat organic. The demand for organic food continues to increase dramatically. In 2015, organic sales grew 10.8%, more than any other food sector. And the number of organic food producers in the U.S. has grown nearly 300% since 2002!

EWG's Pesticidal Rating System

EWG’s Pesticidal Rating System

EWG (Environmental Working Group) has a  “Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 list”. If some of your favorites aren’t included on the two lists, it means that they fall between the highest pesticidal produce and the lowest. Use your discretion as whether to purchase the conventionally grown product. The best idea is to shop with smaller, local producers for these “in between” fruits and vegetables. Some of the local farms may not have an organic certification (for some farms, it is cost prohibitive) but nonetheless apply organic standards to their farming practices.

Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 11.07.04 PMAlso, get informed about that PLU sticker on most super market produce. That little sticker represents more than a price code. A four-digit PLU code is conventional produce, most certainly grown with pesticides. A five-digit code beginning with the number 8 indicates that it is a GMO crop. The five-digit code starting with the number 9 indicates the product was grown to organic standards.

So, actually, this is a Food Fight. We must become food advocates insuring that ALL people have access to healthy food and clean water, not just those who are informed or can afford it.

What can you do? Pester your Representatives and be loud and proud about protecting and promoting clear and strong labeling & growing standards. Seek out and give all the stores and restaurants that you frequent feedback that you expect an organic and/or responsibly sourced product. This means non-GMO meat and fish. Be on the team that is insuring that the food in our children’s schools isn’t loaded with toxic chemicals, sugars, and additives. Vote with your dollars. Be the change!


About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Please contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have. Also visit the Green Design Goods store for my favorite environmentally sustainable products.

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