What is “Local” Food?

In an era when individuals are beginning to consider their “carbon footprint” and evaluate their consumption patterns many are looking for ways to eat that are more environmentally friendly and will help bring economic opportunity to their communities. The “Local” food movements has been growing steadily over the past number of years and have raised the interest of the Government and large foundations to understand who is behind the movement, what the economic and environmental benefits are and what issues surround the movement at this time. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/ERR97/ERR97.pdf

There is no single definition of what constitutes “local” food but according to a USDA pamphlet, local refers to products sold within 400 miles of origin or within the state where it was produced. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/ERR97/ERR97_ReportSummary.pdf

Whole Foods defines local differently depending on which store you shop at, but as a corporation calls local products that travel for less than a day or  7 or fewer hours by car or truck.

Studies show consumers think it means within 100 miles http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6064

Economists and Food Industry Researchers have researched and written on the ambiguous nature of “local” http://www.choicesmagazine.org/magazine/article.php?article=108 but agree that it is a label that appeals to consumers and has real dollars behind it, 7 billion in 2011 according to World Watch Institute www.worldwatch.org.

The “local” food movement is creating real economic opportunities for small businesses and local economies. It’s argued that Local Food or “Community Food Enterprises” have certain competitive advantages over large global food businesses and although they face certain challenges have incredible potential for creating economic opportunities within communities around the globe. The Gates and Kellogg foundation issued a report in 2009 http://www.communityfoodenterprise.org/ with some compelling findings about the overall benefits, economic opportunities and potential for the “Local” food movement internationally.

So eating local is good. But as consumers we should ask ourselves what our goals are and make sure if we are paying the extra price we know why and where that money is going. Local may not always mean “Green”. Marketers are well aware that many consumers are willing to pay higher prices for “locally” produced food. And if lowering your carbon footprint is the goal, just eating “local” is not always the best choice, Andrew Martin examines this issue in his article for the NYTimes “If It’s Fresh and Local, Is It Always Greener? http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/business/yourmoney/09feed.html?ref=localfood

If you are trying to understand what the “costs” of production, distribution, and packaging are for each item you purchase it’s an impossible task. Labels can help but they can be misleading. Hopefully with continued and increasing consumer demands, companies will give us more information about the products and make strides to make their production, distribution and packaging more environmentally friendly and their practices more visible on all fronts.

So eat “local”, when it makes sense to you. And learn the questions to ask.

Here are a couple of interesting visuals on the “local” food economy

Growth of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) 1984-2011

http://vimeo.com/19134313

An interesting InfoGraphic comparing “Local” and “Fair Trade” food movements.

http://bx.businessweek.com/local-food-movement/view?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ethicalocean.com%2Fcontent%2Fbuying-local-vs-fair-trade-infographic 

Finding Local Food Products in your Area (for the US):

http://www.localharvest.org/

http://www.foodroutes.org/

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What Does Any Of It Actually Mean?: The Free-Range & Cage-Free Hidden Vocabulary Zone

Like most non-farming Americans, when I see the terms “free-range” and “cage-free”, my imagination takes me to a sunny Midwestern farm where clean, happy, active chickens spend their days in bliss and the understanding that their eggs will be taken or that they will soon be slaughtered.  In reality, why shouldn’t I think this? Special labels have been produced, small farms organized, availability in healthier food markets and higher pricing all point to satiating a growing number of humane-conscious consumers. It seems and feels right… right? Well why don’t we, for the sake of curiosity, ask: what does “free-range” and “cage-free” mean if it isn’t ideally what I had just described?  What are the implied meanings and do they have different meanings to someone else?

Since the USDA regulates all of the food we buy, let’s take a look at what the term means to them:

“FREE RANGE or FREE ROAMING:

Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has

been allowed access to the outside.”

Cage-free is not legally recognized by the USDA, but some manufacturers simply state that no cages are used in the poultry housing, but outdoor access is not necessary.  Note that this only applies to poultry in the United States.  Sounds simple enough, but now that we know this, what exactly is the difference between “FRCF” and so-called “conventional” poultry manufacturing? Apparently, it is simply only the cage and outdoor access.  Now that in itself does not sound like a very big difference to conventional manufacturing, and it isn’t in many farms. The same basic abusive practices such as beak trimming, increased breeding cycling, killing male chicks, overcrowded farms, gassing of spent chickens, and filthy and noxious environments are still evident. We can’t speak for all farms, but each farm is mandated to provide access to the outside, which may sometimes be a small door to a small outdoor opening.

Those FRCR chickens which are also grown hormone-free have a higher rate of mortality without the antibiotics to help them cope with the bacteria from the large amounts of fecal matter, burns from laying in urine soaked floors and general lesions from an overcrowded farm. Those that are drugged with hormones have grown too fast and too large to even walk themselves to the outdoors.

We understand that not every single farm in the United States conducts these practices.  What we need to remember is that if we cannot determine where our chicken and eggs are coming from — the good or bad guys — then it’s up to us to demand better explanations based on humane practices and consciousness of the public, and not misleading consumers to benefit the bottom lines of the largest mass producing poultry manufacturers.

So if you are concerned about animal welfare, be aware of what free-range really means.  If there are farms around your area, it might be best to see what their practices are like and get your poultry from very small producers you can assess.

Although not all labels are approved by the USDA, here is a guide rom the Humane Society concerning the food labels used to describe animal welfare:

http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/confinement_farm/facts/meat_dairy_labels.html

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/meat_&_poultry_labeling_terms/index.asp#4

http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/organic-free-range-meat.aspx

The “Natural Label”: GMO, MSG and Flavorings

General Information

“All Natural” is the most abused and misleading food label used by food manufacturers. FDA restricts the term “natural” to products that contain no artificial substances, including color additives and flavors, but allows Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

USDA identifies that “natural” may be used on the label if the meat or poultry product does not contain any artificial ingredients or added color, and is only “minimally processed” post-slaughter. The term does not define how animals are raised or fed.

  • “ All Natural” or “Natural” label does not give a guarantee to consumers that products are hormone or antibiotic free or do not contain MSG (monosodium glutamate) or GM ingredients.  All non-organic products may contain GM ingredients.
  • The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed” etc.).However, there are no strict standards for natural food products as a result many manufacturers use natural labels freely due to the lack of adequate guidelines.

Examples:

For example raw cut beef can be labeled as “Natural” since it is not processed, however, it does not mean that the meat is antibiotics and hormone free. By the definition, anything derived from plants, animals or elements found on planet Earth could earn the “all natural” label however what is important is the process by which it was derived which often makes it unnatural.

For example whole grain corn is healthy and is natural food, however when corn is refined and sugar is extracted from it to make high fructose corn syrup, it becomes unnatural and the presence of this ingredient in food contributes to various health issues such as type two  diabetes. When food ingredients are chemically or structurally altered it is not natural anymore. However, corn associations argue that high fructose corn syrup is “all natural” because it comes from a plant.

What are MSGs and why should we avoid it?

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a salt that is chemically converted into food enhancement. Recently researched has shown that MSG promotes weight gain, causes brain damage, promotes liver inflammation.  However, according to the FDA and The Glutamate Association, MSG is regarded as natural and generally safe. (msfacts.org)

Health Risks of MSGs

MSG over stimulates the brain causing the extensive production of dopamine which increases heart rate and blood pressure and produces a brief sensation of well being. That is why food containing MSG is highly addictive and may contribute to obesity and brain cell destruction. The study which treated mice with MSG also proved that it may lead to liver inflammation.

The following ingredients always contain various amounts of unlabeled Processed Free Glutamic Acid (MSG):
* Food Additives that ALWAYS contain MSG *

 Monosodium Glutamate

Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein

Hydrolyzed Protein

Hydrolyzed Plant Protein

Plant Protein Extract

Sodium Caseinate

Calcium Caseinate

Yeast Extract

Textured Protein (Including TVP)

Autolyzed Yeast

Hydrolyzed Oat Flour

Corn Oil

* Food Additives That FREQUENTLY Contain MSG *

Malt Extract

Malt Flavoring

Bouillon

Broth

Stock

Flavoring

Natural Flavors/Flavoring

Natural Beef Or Chicken Flavoring

Seasoning

Spices

Major food corporation are unable to remove MSGs from their products because the food quality would need to be improved in order for the food to taste good without food enhancements, as a result would increase cost of production, FDA legally allows hiding MSG in the products.

What are GMOs and why we should avoid it?

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species. FDA does not allow labels like “GM-free,” “GMO-Free” or “biotech-free.” The agency says guaranteeing a product to be free of GM material is virtually impossible. Instead the labels will have to say the food was not produced through bioengineering. The FDA said it may take legal action against companies that violate these guidelines.

GM food is produced because it is genetically altered in a way to reduce plants vulnerability diseases caused by viruses or insects. Virus resistance is achieved through the introduction of a gene from certain viruses which cause disease in plants. Virus resistance makes plants less susceptible to diseases caused by such viruses, resulting in higher crop yields.

Health Risks

  • The biggest concern regarding GMO’s is that there is not enough information as of today concerning its effects on human health. (No reliable ways to test GM food for allergies)
  • No peer reviewed publications of clinical studies of its risks exist so far.(However multiple animal testings were performed in which rats dies after consuming GM food,  had difficulty digesting GM corn, rats experiences slight weight gain after consuming GM food)
  • Industry uses compositional comparison between GMO and non-GMO food and if there are no substantial differences they are regarded as equivalent
  • GM food can produce allergies
  • May cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics
  • Much better testing methods are required before making GM food available or human consumption.

Examples

Roughly 86% of corn and 93% of soy grown conventionally in the U.S. is genetically modified, and the “natural” chickens are fed conventional corn and soy.

Examples of non organic products which are most likely are always genetically modified:

Soy (91%), Canola (88%), Corn (85%), Sugar Beets (90%), Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%), Alfalfa (unknown), Zucchini and Yellow Squash (small amount), Tobacco (Quest® brand.

Latest development in GM product is pesticidal potato. It used to be that farmers merely sprayed pesticides on potatoes. Now, however, these new potatoes are engineered to produce pesticides in each of their cells. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the pesticidal potato because it does not have the authority to regulate pesticides; that responsibility, it claims, falls on the Environmental Protection Agency. However, EPA says that it does not have authority to regulate pesticidal potato because it dose not have an authority to regulate food products. Therefore, such genetically modified products are for the most part unregulated, however, are still sold to consumers.

Are natural flavors healthier than artificial flavors?

The definition of natural flavor under the Code of Federal Regulations is: “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional”

  • The distinction between natural and artificial flavoring depends on the source of the identical chemicals.
  • Artificial flavorings are simpler in composition and potentially safer because only safety-tested components are utilized.
  • Difference between natural and artificial flavorings is cost.
  • The federal Food and Drug Administration does not require companies to disclose the ingredients of their color or flavor additives so long as all the chemicals in them are considered by the agency to be GRAS (“generally recognized as safe”)

Example

Real vanilla flavor comes from vanilla beans. An “artificial” source of vanilla flavor comes from castoreum, which is part of the anal sac of beavers. Being animal derived, is considered a natural flavoring by the FDA and therefore can show up on labels simply as “natural flavoring:.

“All Natural” Products

  1. “Food Should Taste Good”
  2. “So Delicious”
  3. “Amy’s”
  4. “Vita Coco”

Examples of Products which abuse “All Natural” Label

1. Modern Products All Natural Vege-Sal All Purpose Vegetized Seasoning Salt

“NO MSG ADDED”
Ingredients: Soy Sauce, Hydrolized Vegetable Protein

2. Hain Pure Foods All Natural Chicken Broth
“No Added MSG”
Chicken Broth, Chicken Base, Autolyzed Yeast Extract

3. Susanna’s Shortbread Key Lime Flavor, Salt

Powder), Vanilla, Natural Autolyzed yeast extract

4.Ben and Jerry All Natural Ice Cream

 Alkalized cocoa, corn syrup and artificial vanilla

Summary

In order to make healthy consumer choices, blind fully trusting the label is often not enough. Such labels as “All Natural” and “Natural” are often misused by producers in order to trick consumers into paying more money for the products which are not necessary healthy and often are not at all “Natural”. It is impossible to trace if a particular “Natural” product does not contains genetically modified ingredients. One way in which consumer can protect himself at least slightly is by carefully reading the ingredient list to see if the product contains any of the above mentioned ingredients which may be a hidden MSG. As it was described above natural or artificial ingredients are never fully disclosed on the labels and therefore may be hiding disturbing ingredients which may not be appropriate for vegetarians or vegans.     

Dairy Fairy Tale

I’ve been attending college now for almost four years, and I anticipate graduating in two months with a Bachelor’s Degree. The last four years have been hectic for me; it’s been non-stop paper writing, book reading, test taking and project presenting all while having a full-time job. I wake up at 5:30 in the morning and I’m lucky if I get to sleep by midnight. Going to the gym and exercising has been nonexistent to me because I am always occupied with work and school. Since I started college four years ago, I gained approximately twenty pounds. Given that this is my last semester, I have decided to incorporate a healthy eating program to my daily regimen as well as adding a fitness program for myself into the New Year. I started to research the internet for a good diet program. Many websites gave me good tips on certain fat-burning “super foods”. For example, fruits and vegetables were considered the healthiest choices. But surprisingly, according to numerous reports, Stonyfield Farm Organic Greek Yogurt is also considered one of the best foods for the human body. Excited about this information, I decided to do research on the internet about organic foods.

Yogurt and Milk

Stonyfield Farm Organic Yogurt started on an actual farm in 1983 in Wilton, New Hampshire. The company started out as a local business in New England for people who wanted pure organic yogurt. However, in 2001 Stonyfield Farm was purchased by Groupe Danone, a French company who also owns Dannon Yogurt and Evian Bottled Water. Groupe Danone decided to make Stoneyfield Farm Organic Yogurt mainstream in the United States, and the company moved its facilities from Wilton to Londonderry, NH. Stonyfield Farm had become a huge success in the United States. Nevertheless, the company was running out of organic sources because there are only so many organic cows that can feed a nation of 300,000,000 people. As a result, Group Danone elected to add powdered milk from New Zealand into their ingredients to produce larger quantities of their product. Fonterra is the largest dairy organization in New Zealand; in fact Fonterra is the largest company in New Zealand. Fonterra is responsible for approximately thirty percent of the world’s dairy exports. Nonetheless, according to The New Zealand Herald, Fonterra merged with a Chinese dairy company named San Lu in 2006. Since then, it’s been found that powdered milk processed by Fonterra/San Lu has been contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine. This contamination has poisoned 6244 infants in China, leaving 158 infants with kidney disease and killing three. Incidentally, Stonyfield Farm makes yogurt for children: YoBaby and YoKids.

Would you give these “Organic” products to your children?