Food marketing is big biz. The right advertisement can cause your mouth to water and your wallet to empty. Yet with passionate protesters on one side of the fence and the deep industry pockets on the other, how do you distinguish fact versus fiction?
Rather than dissecting each and every controversial facet of our food, my goal is to shed a bit of light on some of the biggies: sustainable, local, organic, and ethically raised products — collectively known as S.L.O.E. food.
Let's take a look at each:
Sustaining Our Food System
Over the years, as we have witnessed ongoing environmental decline and the impact on our health, the perception of what it means to be sustainable has become far more powerful than the demarcation itself. Perhaps this is why there are now hundreds of ‘green’ seals found throughout our supermarkets.
The best way to know if a food product is sustainable is to read the label. I have gravitated toward the Food Alliance seal, one used by hundreds of U.S. farms. However, earlier this year, due to funding concerns, the Food Alliance shut down. The seal will remain valid through December, but after that point I hope a certifier as strong as the FA will fill in the void.
People choose to eat local for many reasons. Maybe they are passionate about supporting the local economy or hope to establish a personal connection with their food.
From a dietitian’s perspective, eating local translates to unprocessed fruits and vegetables that are typically picked within 24 hours of being presented. If you have never tasted an heirloom tomato fresh from the vine, head to the nearest garden as quickly as you can. Not only does the flavor explode in your mouth, research has found that vine-ripened tomatoes are higher in vitamin C than those picked early and forced to ripen through forces outside of Mother Nature’s control.
To find products grown and raised near you, check out Local Harvest.
Organic in Nature
USDA-certified organic produce and grains are grown without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, sewage ‘sludge,’ irradiation, and genetically engineered seeds. The crops are rotated each year to ensure a more balanced and sustainable soil. USDA-certified organic animals have access to the outdoors and bedding, are hormone- and antibiotic-free, and eat an organic diet.
Certified farms submit their organic system plan and inspection information from both field and facility each year. But remember, while the USDA seal is the easiest means of spotting organic products, smaller organic farms are sometimes unable to afford the certification process. When shopping locally, go directly to the source — the farmer.
For more information on the specifics of organic agriculture and its rigorous certification process, visit the USDA’s National Organic Program.
Viewed as an oxymoron by some, ethical eats are those raised and slaughtered with compassion.
If you have access to a local farmer, ask about the treatment of the farm's animals. Since this is not always possible, there are multiple certification programs doing the legwork for us.
The most common is the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® label. This seal ensures the animals are raised in an environment where they are free to roam, are provided bedding, and a limit is placed on the number of animals that can live within the same area. Finally, the animals are not given added hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics, are given painkillers for surgical procedures, and are slaughtered following precise methods.
The Bottom Line
There is no “right” way to go about diet. You do what works for you and your family — whether that means cooking with S.L.O.E. food or simply slowing down enough to savor our food.
Whatever you choose to eat, however you choose to food shop, I simply hope you take the time to understand where your food comes from. This alone can make all of the difference.