Eating Green: Know Your Labels
Whenever I go to the grocery store, I always try my best to load my cart with socially responsible products. Cage free eggs? Uh, yeah why not? Organic lettuce? Sure, throw that on in there.
The truth is, though, up until recently, I didn’t really know what these things meant. They’ve just been over-marketed so that I think I’m doing good when really I may just be wasting money. That’s why I formulated a mini label guide for all of your shopping needs.
Hint: don’t waste your money on the “organic” Oreos!
“Organic”: Now these babies can be tricky. In order to determine exactly what you’re eating, you have to read the package carefully. There are 3 basic types of organic labeling that you may see in your local grocery store.
1. 100% organic: This one is pretty straight forward. If it says the product is 100% organic, then all of the ingredients, except water and salt, are grown and processed organically.
2. Organic: Organic is simply the weak-sauce version of 100% organic products. These products must contain 95% organic ingredients in order to obtain an organic label. According to the USDA, all other ingredients must be on “the list” of foods that are unavailable in an organic form at the present time.
3. Made with organic ingredients: This label is just a fancy way of saying “we’re just putting this on our label so you’ll buy it and think you’re doing something good for the environment.” Under this labeling, 70% of ingredients must be made with organic ingredients, but the law leaves much for interpretation in how the product may advertise its organic-ness. My advice? Go for the other two if you really want to make a difference.
Fair trade: Fair trade is built on the principles of respect in trading partnerships, usually through higher wages and economic self-sufficiency for overseas workers. However, there are no set guidelines for fair trade labeling like there are for organic products. A fair trade inspection committee, known as FLO-CERT, inspects companies to make sure they have “a quality management system, transparency in all processes, and independence in certification decision making” before giving out a certification. Although these are vague terms, free trade can be worth it if it has the official sticker on it. If not, there really is no way to tell whether or not fair practices are in place.
Free range: In theory, “free range” indicates that livestock are allowed to roam freely instead of being in cages before slaughtering. The USDA, however, does not have a set definition or any sort of regulation for free-range animals and for egg production. Thus, free range labeling is entirely unregulated and really doesn’t mean much when it comes to your food. Save your money on these are look for more meaningful labels, such as “grass fed” (see below).
Grass fed: Unlike free range, the USDA has actually formulated a substantial definition of what constitutes “grass fed.” According to this definition, livestock must be grass fed for their entire lives – pasture included! That means there are no scary antibiotics or other chemicals in the food you’re about to put in your body. Although some argue that there are loopholes in grass fed labeling, it sure is a heck of a lot better than free range!
So yeah, this is a lot of great information, but how does it relate to the environment? It actually has everything to do with the environment! As a rule of thumb, you can consider everything that takes a step back from our highly industrialized economy a step forward for the good of the environment. In other words, the more natural our food production processes are and the less harmful chemicals, pesticides, and pollution are used, the happier our planet is!