Recording from Week Two: HERE
Week two is going to be FULL of definitions, so get ready. It may seem a bit confusing at first, but you’ll have these down in no time, and understanding what manufacturers are putting on their labels will enable you to be a savvy consumer! We’ll also spend some time talking about where to buy your food and ways you can save a little money while buying a better quality product!
So let’s get to it!
FOOD LABEL DEFINITIONS
Organic – I put this one first because many people think that if something says organic it’s automatically good for you. Sadly, that is just not true. There is plenty of organic junk food out there. A cookie is a cookie – whether it’s organic or not. HOWEVER, if you do feed your family packaged treats, I’d recommend purchasing organic so you can at least avoid many of the “bad” ingredients added to conventional products. Here is the definition of organic:
Food that is grown without synthetic pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, fertilizers or other synthetic or toxic substances. No artificial flavors or colors have been added. Organic food has not been irradiated. Organic food does not contain GMO’s. To call itself organic, a food must contain at least 95% organic ingredients (in the US).
To be certified organic, products must adhere to certain government regulations (different by country). These regulations are monitored and audited and the farmers must keep careful records. The reason organic foods tend to cost more is that the regulation process can be quite expensive – this is an obvious added cost to the manufacturer’s and producers of the food. So, if this is important to you, keep your eyes open for the green seal stating it is a certified organic product.
Natural – This label has been used quite a bit lately. We all prefer natural foods right? It just sounds so healthy. Well, guess what? There is very little regulation around how food producers can use this term. Technically it’s supposed to mean nothing artificial has been added, but that is not stringently adhered to nor is it regulated. So, although it sounds nice, it actually doesn’t mean much of anything – think of it as a marketing tool and then read the ingredients to determine if you want to buy and consume the product.
Conventional – This is basically the opposite of organic. A conventional apple is an apple grown with standard farming methods, and does not use organic methods nor is the farmer following (or at least they haven’t identified that they are following) organic processes. Some fruits and vegetables are not heavily sprayed with pesticides and it is perfectly fine to purchase conventional versus organic – we’ll discuss that in depth in section 2 of this module.
Local – Local is more of a movement than a definition – you may have heard of a locavore (someone who eats exclusively local foods). Locavores are often as concerned with sustainability as they are with the health aspects. The idea is that by eating local, you are saving money (and greenhouse gas emissions) on transportation. I tend to prefer local foods when possible due to the fact that they are often fresher and less expensive since they haven’t sat in warehouses and trucks for days while being shipped to me. And it is a bonus that I’m supporting my local economy. Although there isn’t a standard definition for the distance meant by local, 100 miles is commonly used. An interesting read on one family who spent a year eating only locally is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.
Fair Trade – You’ll often see this label on coffee and chocolate. Fair Trade is a movement to help farmers in developing nations. Fair Trade guarantees that the workers and growers receive a fair price (minimum set price) for their product, safe working conditions and a variety of other methods of support. It is an actual certification – so when you see the fair trade label you can be assured that the product you are purchasing follows the guidelines.
Farm-raised – like the term natural, this label sounds better than it actually is. Any product raised on a farm can be called farm-raised. This label doesn’t indicate anything about the conditions of the animal or the process used to plant, care for and harvest the plants. So take this one with a bit of caution, it really doesn’t help you determine the quality of the food.
Cage-free – This label really gets to me. According to the government, an animal (chicken, egg, pig or cow) or animal product can be labeled cage-free as long as they are not in an individual cage. This does not mean they have access to the outdoors or even much room in their “cage-free” environment. Take it with a grain of salt.
Free-range – you’ll also see this one a lot in conjunction with eggs. Free-range simply means the animal has access to the outdoors. However, they often aren’t encouraged to go outside – maybe only have a small door for a short time period in their lives.
Pasture-raised (or grass -fed) – This one is typically something you’ll want to see on your meat and egg products. It means that the animal is raised outdoors and allowed to eat fresh food that is natural to the animals. If possible, choose pasture-raised when available, however do beware that just because the animal was pasture raised or grass-fed, it doesn’t mean it was “finished” that way. It’s possible that once the animal went to the processor, it was grain fed – something to be aware of and to ask about.
See what I mean? Aside from a few of these terms that have some government regulations around them, most of them are simply marketing ploys to make the consumer feel better about their food choices. Frustrating isn’t it? Interested in delving deeper into this industry? Read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan – it will change the way you think about your food choices!
WHAT TO PURCHASE
Now that you understand some of the terminology on your food labels, what do you do with it?
I have a few set rules that I follow when selecting food for my family:
1. Eggs – I purchase these from a local source that I have personally visited to ensure the chickens are truly pasture raised, not given antibiotics or hormones and humanely treated. These are the most delicious eggs you can imagine and although they are pricey ($3.75/dozen), I’d still consider 32 cents and egg a pretty frugal protein source! When traveling, I select the better option (remember bad, good, better and best from Week One?) from what’s available in the store.
2. Meat – We buy meat once every 18 months from a local farmer. I was able to visit the farm and see the animals, was able to ask questions about where they are processed (an organic processor), how long they are at the processor (they are processed the day they arrive), are they given drugs (no!), etc. We purchase 1/2 hog, 1/4 cow and 10 whole chickens. It IS expensive, but it lasts a long time and I just need to supplement with seafood and we are pretty set on meat. When we travel, I pick organic, grass-fed if possible and hope for the best.
3. Fruit & Veggies – This is an area where you can actually save some money and still make healthier choices. Every year, the EWG (Environmental Working Group) creates a guide sharing the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen.” These guides will share with fruits and veggies are the most heavily sprayed (and least) with pesticides. So, my suggestion is to print out these guides, keep them in your bag, and always purchase organic (or from a local farmer you trust) the dirty dozen, but feel free to purchase the clean fifteen conventionally. This allows you to save money on fruits and veggies that aren’t as heavily sprayed, which will help you afford the ones that are. Also, try your best to purchase fruits and veggies seasonally. It will allow you to buy the freshest produce at the best price – and will automatically help you vary your diet. Get the link in the list of resources below to print your guide!
4. Dairy – My family doesn’t drink a lot of milk, so we typically buy a half-gallon of organic milk each week and call it good enough. Cheese we buy from a local dairy when possible, and yogurt I purchase the brand that has the best ingredients.
5. Packaged food – I try to stick to my rules from Module 1: Less than 5 ingredients, all ingredients that I can pronounce and are a real food, and only purchasing what I need for that week’s menu. When I can (and we’ll talk about this more in the next few weeks), I make a batch of cookies or muffins once a week and we enjoy those as our snacks – it saves a TON of money, and is healthier to boot! Some other great snack choices are suggested in this blog post: Easy Snack Formula
Assignment #1: In your journal, write down the same five categories I have below (each one on a separate page) and spend a few minutes deciding what you would like to purchase – what is most important to you for each category. If it feels overwhelming, I’d recommend starting with changing one category at a time. Just leave the rest of the pages blank, and when you feel comfortable with one, go back and do the next one – might be next week, might be three weeks from now. Here is an example:
WHERE TO PURCHASE
I’ll admit, it took me a long time to get to my current food purchasing situation. I spent a lot of time figuring out where to buy meat, eggs, etc. So I don’t expect you to figure this out overnight – or even this week. But, I can share a lot of great resources with you to cut down on the work – and if you start with one category at a time, before you know it, you’ll know exactly what to purchase for your family and where the best deal is for YOU.
This is how to start:
1. Pick a category. Thanks to your first assignment, you should know what is important about it. Let’s continue with my example of eggs. I know I want eggs from a local farmer who pasture raises his chickens, does not give them feed (or if he does, it’s organic), does not use any drugs or growth hormones.
2. Do a few searches to determine if there are any local farmers nearby, or if there is another way for you to get fresh eggs (local CSA, farmer’s market, delivery service). Ask your friends and neighbors – even ask at a local health food store for recommendations. Write all these options in your journal on your “egg” page.
3. Call the farmers or stores on your list and ask them the questions that are important to you. Visit the farm if you can. Determine if it’s realistic for you to get the eggs every week or every other week.
4. Weren’t able to find a source for fresh eggs? It happens – so check out the nearby stores and figure out who has your next best option (probably organic, cage free, no antibiotic or growth hormone) at the best price. Write that down in your notebook (store and price).
5. Go on to the next category. Eventually you’ll have a wonderful resource to help you determine what is available in your area and all the contact info you need to find it. It’s useful to re-visit this info once or twice a year as things change.
Assignment #2: Pick a category and complete steps 1-5 for your area. If you get through it easily and feel ambitious, move on to the next. If not, write it down in your calendar to complete each category within the next six months – do one a month and you’ll be there in no time.
Now what works for me may or may not work for you – depends upon where you live and if you can change your thought process on how and where you buy your food. So, in the resource section, I’ve shared quite a few links to help you determine if there are farmers, farmer’s markets, you pick it farms, etc. in your area. Another way to find local resources is simply to do a Google search ” your city local produce” or “your city U pick farms.”
EWG’s Dirty Dozen/ Clean Fifteen Guides
Farms, Farmer’s Markets, local food
Stores to consider (if available in your market):
Aldi (owned by the same company as Trader Joe’s). Small selection of organic food, great place to buy inexpensive produce on the clean fifteen
Trader Joe’s – but watch out, plenty of organic junk food in this store
Earth Fare – not many locations, but terrific coupons and sales
Whole Foods – I still to sale prices here, pretty expensive, but their store brand is great
Costco – decent selection of organic staples (rice, butter, cheese, etc.)
Kroger/ Meijer/ Publix – all three have an affordable organic line, and frequent sales and coupons for produce
Blog posts with more suggestions on obtaining food affordably!
Top Five Places to Get Fresh Produce
Next week we’ll tackle that very challenging topic of how to get your family to join you in eating healthier! Have a great week!