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Question of the Week: Do you pay attention to where your food comes from?

2008 July 14

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Much of the food we buy is grown in other places and transported to markets or restaurants where we live. Some people have tried to be “locavores,” consuming only locally-grown food or products, in an effort to reduce the environmental impacts from transportation, cold storage, or others.

Do you pay attention to where your food comes from?

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

Gran parte de los alimentos que compramos son cultivados en otros lugares y transportados a mercados o restaurantes cerca de donde vivimos. Algunas personas han tratado de ser “locávoros” o “locávores” al tratar de consumir sólo aquellos alimentos o productos que han sido cultivados localmente en un esfuerzo por reducir los impactos medioambientales de la transportación, el almacenaje frigorífico, u otros.

¿Usted presta atención al lugar de donde provienen sus alimentos?

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166 Responses leave one →
  1. Jen J permalink
    July 15, 2008

    Absolutely. I’ve stopped purchasing bananas and tropical fruits that come from South America and Asia. I’m lucky though, in CA we have lots of fabulous fruits and veggies to choose from that come from less than 200 miles away. We also grow tomatoes, lettuce, beans, squash and citrus in our little backyard. It’s fun and feels good to pick our own! Another thing I do is check for my “Dirty Dozen” card while at the grocery store. If I’m debating about whether to buy organic or conventional, I check to see if the fruit or vegetable is known to be particularly heavily sprayed. The list is at http://www.foodnews.org/ and can be downloaded as a pocket guide for your wallet.

  2. Sara permalink
    July 15, 2008

    Yes, I try to purchase locally-produced food as much as possible. We have joined a CSA farm, and I have a source for locally produced eggs, and grass-fed, pastured meats. I haven’t had much luck on the dairy issue, yet. We buy locally so we can have food with fewer pesticides and antibiotics, to reduce the transportation impacts of our food, because it often tastes better, and because I want to keep local farmers in business.

  3. July 15, 2008

    Yes always. I only buy imported food if it is not produced in the USA and is from a trustworthy country.

  4. Marco permalink
    July 15, 2008

    I certainly do, especially these days with so much fraud, waste and contamination originating from China and other countries.

    I do not puchase “farmed” fish of any sort, only the fresh caught Alaska species, as long as they are not contaminated with spilled oil from BP or Shell that is.

    Our society has become complacent with the use of pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals that we are now walking sesspools of contamination.

    We are destroying ourselves by polluting the very environment that we rely on for food, water and other needs.

  5. SuzanneB permalink
    July 15, 2008

    Yes, always. I look first for local, fresh, organic and pesticide-free, hormone-free, chemical fertilizer free foods. I would rather buy local if it meets my standards, than anything else. I will even buy local if its not certified organic, as long as its chemical free. I look at food miles, energy usage to get my food to my plate, and also want to support socially responsible, local producers first. Then second, fair trade, environmentally responsible producers next… from any country. I care very much that producers are responsible, including paying fair wages to their workers. I WILL NEVER BUY A BERRY GROWN WITH PESTICIDES.

  6. sharon permalink
    July 15, 2008

    Yes, we pay attention. Food grown in other countries are not as strictly regulated as in the United States. You never know what pesticides others put on their crops.
    I have gotten ill from foreign fruit. You also don’t know if the workers eliminate bodily waste in the fields.
    We grow some of our own now, soon to grow most of our fruits and veggies.

  7. Jim L permalink
    July 15, 2008

    We avoid large supermarkets when possible (especially Chinese products) and buy food produced locally, like at farmers markets. We choose to support our local farmers, and the quality of their products is usually better than anything in a supermarket.

    On another note, seasonal foods are a real treat! I lived once overseas in a poor country and learned that some fruits and vegetables are something to look forward at certain times of year, like a festival. “Hey, it’s mango season again!” I pity Americans who’ve don’t know such simple joys.

  8. Joy permalink
    July 15, 2008

    Yes. I buy local products when in season. I also shop Farmer’s Markets for locally grown produce, but beware! Some Farmer’s Markets require that the produce only be organic with no specification as to geographic proximity. You may be buying the same produce as your local grocery at a premium price.

  9. Druz permalink
    July 15, 2008

    The only things grown locally in my urban surroundings are mosquitoes. I generally shop for price, but I am conscious of the retailer I do business with. I trust that retailer to provide the safest, most econmically available food.

    I don’t shop at roadside stands or purchase meats/seafood from coolers in roadside pickup trucks. Those food sources obtain their supply from “who-knows-where”…probably overseas, possibly illegally, and “who-knows-how-long ago”.

  10. Ross-man permalink
    July 15, 2008

    Yes I know where they come from. But we natives try and get good food quality off nature by hunting our own food and share with our elders. But of course most of us natives like to go shopping food products from stores too. See them by date and buy them and what animal it came from.

  11. Bulldog73 permalink
    July 15, 2008

    Yes, I do pay attention to where my food comes from. I try to buy as much as I can of: organic produce, meats grown without antibiotics or hormones, eggs from hens that are cage free, and dairy products from cows that are not given growth hormones. I also try to make sure that I don’t buy food from China. I am also very careful where my pet’s food comes from.

  12. Megan Dunham permalink
    July 16, 2008

    Yes, particularly in regards to animal products. I’m for animal rights and am concerned about all the factory farms, confined animal feedlots, animal rights, etc., etc.. For instance, I won’t buy lamb raised (or wool,either) in Australia because of the pain and suffering these animals caused by Australian sheep practices. Sheep products from New Zealand is much better but not as common.

  13. Kathy Teige permalink
    July 16, 2008

    Yes, it matters very much to me. Of course, there are some things I can’t buy from local sources (coffee, chocolate, etc.) but I try to buy vegetables, fruits, dairy, and meat as locally as possible. Extra cost isn’t much of an issue, especially as rising fuel costs have increased the cost of non-local food.

  14. Marcy permalink
    July 16, 2008

    I am working hard at this time of year to preserve foods from my garden and other local sources. This conserves resources by reducing the need to buy foods shipped from great distances in winter. Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “Animal, vegetable, miracle” helped me in learning how to eat local.

  15. Charlestons Helping Hand permalink
    July 16, 2008

    locavore…love the term

  16. Eve permalink
    July 16, 2008

    I pay a lot of attention to where my food comes from and do everything I can to try to make sure we/re eating safe, healthy food. This has become very difficult becasue of the lack of oversight of our meat industry ( no testing for mad cow etc.) and lack of study about food containers. I try not to eat much canned food anymore because of the chemicals in the can lining that transfer to food, I’ve tried to only use number 2 and 5 plastics for years, and eat mostly organic meat and fruits and veggies. The fact that commercial interests keep preventing the testing of meat, and resist labeling genetically modified food is frustrating and makes it hard for consumers to make good choices for their families. I don’t by produce from Chile and make sure I buy organic peaches, strawberries, apples, and lettuce which tend to have lots of pesticide residue when conventionally grown. I’m getting tired of having to work so hard to make sure I’m not being poisened by the food in the grocery store.

  17. Adanna permalink
    July 16, 2008

    Depending on the produce. For example I will buy organic milk and eggs over those non-oganic.

  18. Thea permalink
    July 16, 2008

    I agree with Amy, above. I won’t shop at WalMart for food or anything, the global impact is too severe. I buy local whenever possible and grow my own, however that can be hard to do here in Idaho where we only have a 4 month growing season. I feel sorry for my friends with kids who have to juggle the spiralling costs vs their commitment to worldwide economy and environment.

  19. kyle permalink
    July 17, 2008

    Wrong! Japan, Korea other countries have complained about our food sourse being unsafe for use. The have refused to acept to when given to them.
    We have been lied to, brain washed and given all kinds of reasons for the recalls on hamburger, lettice, tomatoes, onions. Take time to check things you are told by our goverment throu special interests groupes. Here is a question you are not likey to answer correcty. Do we have inspectors in our meat processing plants?

  20. Ben permalink
    July 17, 2008

    It is the most important ecological choice you make on a daily basis. Fuel, pesticides, and your health all factor into the most important decision.

    1. Grow your own
    2. buy local
    3. buy organic

    land and ecological health are affected on a daily basis by our food choices

    Vote with your food daily for ecological health

  21. Jamie permalink
    July 17, 2008

    I absolutley agree, either buy local or grow your own. Check out the Local Harvest website for a little more info on food grown close to you.

  22. Rajesh permalink
    July 19, 2008

    No, it is difficult to pay attention to see from where the food comes from. We buy food from retailers, that’s all and it ends their. We do try to see that the brand of product is good or the food articles are fresh. It is difficult to have time and source to check where did the food came from. Thanks for asking. This is very pertinent question.

    Rajesh
    http://rajeshmsharma.blogspot.com

  23. Deneen permalink
    July 20, 2008

    I think that this is a good idea for several reasons: one being that it is usually healthier, also environmently smart, but I always hesitate “cutting out” other countries for judgemental reasons that I may not be fully informed on. I know many countries “clear” land to farm more products (us included)we purchase and also sell off their precious natural resources and destroy wildlife habitat that also effects us in the long run. I know that other countries could then refocus on more self-sufficient trades if we didn’t buy up all that they offer. Therefore I am careful about buying these products for these reasons. I like the diversity of all life. I like other countries and the things they offer and I worry about us “cutting them off”. I need to really assess each purchase and just be a smarter consumer even “consuming less” period is a step in a good direction.

  24. Sally G permalink
    July 21, 2008

    I believe that as of October, produce wil be labeled by country of origin. I’m not sure if theat is a federal law or a (N.J.) state law; i suspect the former. The more information the better, IMHO.

  25. Sally G permalink
    July 21, 2008

    You bring up some interesting points. I don’t have control over most of my food, but what I do buy I try to get fresh, local, and organic. There are some things that are just not available locally, however, and having grown up in a country in which regional and international imports have been readily available, it would be hard to do without some of the exotics (citrus, tea, coffee, the traditional yearly Thanksgiving pomegranate [rarely available here at any other time of year, though now that pomegranate juice is such the rage, a somewhat more frequent luxury], almonds, cheese, wine, etc.)
    I had recently, with continuing environmental awareness, considered only the drawbacks to imported foods, from both pesticide and fuel use perspectives, but the goodwill, trade, and economic advantages in not being completely insular make up a good point.
    I will still opt for less-processed, locally grown food for most of my food purchases, but will feel better about my forays into national and world sources. Diversity in diet is also a good thing, and to the extent they do not contribute to either worker exploitation or deforestation, regional and international specialties make a wonderful treat for this “foodie”.
    You can buy fair-trade-certified products, especially coffee, in many supermarkets; they carry the fair trade logo. Products with the logo are not always produced in the most sustainable way, but they do have the advantage of letting small farmers “opt out” of being forced to sell to multinational-corporation-backed wholesalers by offering them an alternative source for credit for the supplies needed at the beginning of the growing season, before the crop money comes in.

  26. Sally G permalink
    July 21, 2008

    I agree that we have an efficient food production and transportation industry. And sometimes it is more expensive to but locally. However, it’s not an either/or choice. If you have the resources to check out a local farmer’s market even once or twice a season, you may find some bargains, and will be buying more nutritious food. You may also help bring down the cost as local farmers find a larger market. Also, ask your supermarket/grocer if they have any local produce. I live in New Jersey, where it is currently blueberry season, and my local supermarket had a sale on 6 pints of Jersey blueberries for $8.99–and $2.00 off with their buyer card. So i gorged on (and froze some) $18 worth of in-state blueberries (if purchased by the individual pint at the same store) for $6.99. Granted, deals like this are rare–but worth wathching for!

  27. Sally G permalink
    July 21, 2008

    Glad to hear another voice for eating local. However, you may want to check into practices at the Tyson and Perdue plants–remember when chickens came from farms? Many corporations use CAFOs–Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations–in which animals are packed tightly, sometimes without room to move, and fecal matter is collected under the wire cages in which they sit. The waste matter is generally treated, but to what degree and what happens when there is too much waste can be a big environmental issue (it can discharged untreated into a local stream [this, of course, is against the rules, but enforcement can be spotty]). Also, when so many animals are kept in such close quarters, disease is likely to spread, so antibiotics are used to keep the animals from becoming diseased.
    Sorry to complicate your life further!

  28. Sally G permalink
    July 21, 2008

    Why is it an either/or? Get your corn and beans from Colorado, probably tomatoes as well, as they can grow in most of the lower 48 states, buy your citrus from California (leave the Florida citrus for the East Coast), and go ahead and have your bananas. Diversity is great–and you may be surprised by the variety at your local farmers’ market.
    As Ed Begley, Jr., said at the Global Green expo I attended in New Jersey, “pick the low-hanging fruit”: do what’s simplest first, then decide whether you want to take the next step. Do what you’re comfortable with now; don’t think it has to be “all or nothing”.

  29. Sally G permalink
    July 21, 2008

    Excellent idea for farmers’ markets to be able to accept food stamps!

  30. Sally G permalink
    July 21, 2008

    Thank you for the voice of sanity about the values of much of American society! I am with you wholeheartedly that more is not necessarily better; quality is more important than quantity, and American jobs should not be allowed to be exported offshore to nations without worker-protection standards. Agreements such as NAFTA and CAFTA should not be passed, IMHO, without environmental standards and worker-salary/conditions standards equal or better to those currently found in the legal U.S. job market. Not every American job can be a high-tech office job without any manual labor, especially if we eliminate illegal immigration.
    I wish I had your faith in U. S. standards; the E. coli and salmonella outbreaks indicate a breakdown of what we always thought to be high standards–and too many regulatory agencies rely on advice from executives of the industries they are supposed to regulate (sensible in one way, because of presumed expertise, but also an obvious conflict of interest as industry is generally opposed to any regulation).

  31. Sally G permalink
    July 21, 2008

    “Victory Gardens” were popular in the U. S. during WWII, also, though people were not given land, they just planted a garden on their own property. Community gardens are a great idea in city and donwtonw neighborhoods in which people don’t have enough space to plant a garden.

  32. Sally G permalink
    July 21, 2008

    In North America, we can’t rely on locally grown produce year-round. But during our local growing season we can eat local produce, and even blanch and freeze some for the dead of winter. Not many people have time to can or preserve any more, but making double batches of sauces, soups, etc. that you make in the growing season and freezing one batch for the dead of winter (or just a really busy day) is not too hard for many. Out of season fresh produce should, IMHO, be regarded as a luxury, not something taken for granted.
    You might want to check out the nonfiction book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by noveiist Barbara Kingsolver, about her family’s decision to eat only locally produced food for a year on their Virginia farm (they allowed themselves one luxury item each [coffee, dried fruit, etc.]. as their goal was not deprivation but a life-enhancing experiment). No, not everyone can, or wants to, put that much effort into self-sustaining. But it does provide an interesting perspective, especially so in the comments of the older daughter who left for college during the year, and their younger daughter’s entreneurship in starting her own egg and poultry business and marketing the products to help pay for the horse she wanted.

  33. Christine Smith permalink
    July 21, 2008

    I try to buy only USDA organic food, but I haven’t yet really looked geographic origin. I buy organic because it reduces the load of pesticides and other chemicals used in the growing process, and because I absolutely oppose factory farming as a form of animal cruelty. The only time I really look at geographic origin is when I am concerned about sustainability issues, such as overfishing–I regularly use the Environmental Defense pocket reference to which fish are sustainably farmed/fished and which aren’t, to guide my seafood choices.

  34. Heidi permalink
    July 21, 2008

    Yes, I choose local if it’s an option. Most of my weekly produce comes from a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm based in the Phoenix, AZ area. Due to weather conditions, the farmer uses four fields througout Arizona to grow a wide variety of organic produce (although not certified organic due to the cost of certification). The CSA sometimes offers local eggs, breads and tamales as well. I also frequent a farmers market which buys local when possible.

  35. Indiana Gina permalink
    July 21, 2008

    I attempt to buy organic. I am not as deligent about buying locally. However, I am beginning to grow vegetables in my own yard.

  36. MonkeyGrrl permalink
    July 21, 2008

    I am paying more and more attention to where my food comes from with each passing day. It wasn’t until I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma that I started to understand just how crazy our food production industry has gotten. And I am just your average American female, so I figure if I’m starting to pay attention there must be many, many more like me who are, too.

    Very uncharacteristically of me, I am going to take the Eat Local challenge from Aug 15 – Sept 15 and see how close I can come to getting 85% of my food from local producers. Who knows, maybe this will be the first real crack in my consummerist armor.

  37. Lyndsey permalink
    July 21, 2008

    I’ve been trying to pay attention to where my food comes from. Sometimes I put down food that wasn’t grown locally, but I will admit, I don’t always. If there’s a fruit or veggie that I really want, I’ll still get it. It would be great if there were better options.

    I’ve been to a couple of potlucks that were focused on locally grown food. They call them 10-mile potlucks, or 50-mile potlucks.. whatever constitutes “local” to the host. People have to bring food that was grown within the radius. It’s a pretty cool way to raise awareness of local options, or lack thereof in many cases.

  38. Jarrod permalink
    July 22, 2008

    I certainly try, but most places do not know where the food comes from. Supermarkets and restaurants usually get their supplies from distributors who get their supplies from numerous other sources. It’s almost impossible to trace, unless there is a conscious effort on the part of the grocer or restauranteur to only purchase from distributors that offer a chain of custody. Things are getting better though, but really just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, displaying food origins would help people understand why they need to know food origins. If all you know is ‘jumbo shrimp’ and that’s what you need, that’s what you purchase. If you see ‘jumbo shrimp from Thailand’ and ‘jumbo shrimp from the US’, people may want to know the difference. Food labeling is needed.

  39. Bubba permalink
    July 24, 2008

    Yes. I think they still use DDT in Mexico, so I don’t want canned tomatoes or catsup any more. I don’t trust anything originating in China or India. I am fortunate enough to live in an area where I can buy at a local farmers market. I have made good connections there and we have worked up to buying in bulk and canning or freezing.

    In looking for healthy alternatives, I discovered emu meat. There is a local farmer that I can get it from in bulk at a reasonable price. NO FAT!!
    (and if you have not tried emu oil products, let me tell you it is excellent for ANY skin condition)

    In a way I am grateful for the scares because it has enlightened me and my family is now eating healthier. In the last year I’ve lost 10 pounds and the wife has lost 8. Our daughter is going to grow up learning how to make healthy choices too.

  40. Maria permalink
    July 28, 2008

    Not really. I know that when I want cherries, I can’t go wrong with Chilean cherries! Other than that, I don’t really pay attention to where it comes from. I buy produce based on what I’m out of or what my family is craving at the time. After reading the blog, I suppose I will pay more attention now. I do not want to pay more for produce just because it is local.

  41. Maria permalink
    July 28, 2008

    Meant to add that growing your own is fun and great satisfaction that you can actually “live off the land”, if even for tomatos and zucchini, the easiest ones. If you have the space, try it – it’s also a great family activity if you have kids.

  42. Beth permalink
    August 4, 2008

    Not that much, but I would like to start buying more and more from local farmers.

  43. Dex permalink
    August 11, 2008

    I have never seen such a active discussion and hope I can one day achieve this on my blog. I’d love to be able to grow avocado, I love avocado and if that was all I had to eat, I’d still love it. Because avocados are very nutritious despite the high amount of calories in avocado.

  44. Wernerlll permalink
    August 17, 2008

    When you ask a restaurant manager where his fish comes you get
    things like “…from the ocean”, haha.” No one knows nor would they admit the source, instead will say “farm raised”…right!

    Look at how old some of the FDA/EPA fish samples are that are use to issue advisories, 1978, 1990-2, or try to find some this century!

  45. Brukewilliams permalink
    August 18, 2008

    Has anyone notice that thing are far worse than anyone is paying attention to. I’ve been looking at videos posted on Utube from news stations across the world and things are really bad. The countries that supply us with grain and rice are limiting the about they are now selling us they have to guard their crops with guns. Schools in third countries are now fighting for all their work not to come undone because families cannot feed themselves because of soaring food prices so they want their children to go to work in the fields so the family can eat, Africa and Australia’s crop has be affected by drought like never before, some countries have decided that it is more important to try and grow more food than manufacture oil so I am sure everyone know how that goes.

    ———————
    Brukewilliams

    Trivia Game Challenge

  46. Carolyn permalink
    August 23, 2008

    I do keep track of what country the food comes from and buy from local Farmer’s markets when available. I also try to avoid foods from countries with questionable previous health issues. My goal in the near future is to build an earthship (self sufficient housing) and grow as much of my own food as possible.

  47. September 8, 2008

    It’s important to watch what you consume. Reading labels is good and so is producing your own food if you can. It’s a good idea to have a cooking garden to use as much as possible. It can be as large or as small as you can have, but every bit counts.

    We have to avoid the “convenience” factor in our food. It it’s quick and easy, it’s not like the best we should eat.

  48. Anonymous permalink
    September 22, 2008

    David, how can you tell if its from China or not? I don’t want their garbage either, especially after reading this morning, they put skin and animal urine in dry baby milk, anything to up the protein, can you imagine?!! four dead and 53,000 babies ill.

  49. Passer By permalink
    October 2, 2008

    The location of the produce is not the only concern. Its just as important to know the quality of the food you are buying. Sometimes though its costs more money.

  50. Holden permalink
    October 31, 2008

    This a great site. I’m glad that I drive a four cylinder. Unlike the many owners of Gas Guzzlers. I always shop locally!

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