Monday, May 11, 2009

Where Does Your Food Come From?

While waving a large bag of Costco walnuts under my nose a friend challenged me recently with: "You can't beat their prices!"

The same friend then insisted I take half the bag of walnuts home to sample, saying, "You can't beat the flavor."

Another friend did something similar with a side of salmon (colored with dye) she'd bought at Safeway.

Another with fresh and cheap conventional produce she'd purchased at Sunflower Market.

Sometimes it feels as though I've set myself up writing this blog. People love to challenge my position that you can one-stop shop on a budget at Whole Foods for one, two, or a family.

However, my position as a recession-strategy blogger isn't just about saving dollars grocery shopping. If that were the case, I'd be writing about the cheapest-of-cheap tinned, bottled, pre-packaged and frozen foods available at dollar-store style groceries.

As a former chef and advocate of healthy, simple gourmet cooking, I'm very conscious and concerned about the food I buy and consume. I want to know where the food I'm putting in my mouth came from and I want to know how it was farmed.

I care enough about my body, my health, and our environment to ask these questions and I hope that one day everyone will care about their health, and the health of their family, and thus be compelled to ask questions along lines of:

"Where did that side of salmon come from? Can I get it without the color-enhancing dye? And was it farm raised or is it wild? If it was farm-raised was it farmed responsibly?"

I buy very little tinned, bottled, and pre-packaged food, instead I opt for whole, unprocessed foods such as fresh produce, bulk dry goods, some dairy, responsibly-farmed fish, and antibiotic and hormone-free meat.

And I choose to buy these items at Whole Foods because I trust their quality standards. I can peruse their website and read where the food I'm buying comes from and the practices used to produce that food.

I trust that Whole Foods cares about what I put in my mouth and cares about our environment.

I don't feel the same level of trust at stores where the goal is selling food at the lowest price -- where price, not the food, is what matters.

Since beginning this blog, I've been made aware of the documentaries: Fresh, Food Matters, Here We Grow all of which explore the underbelly of the food industry and its impact on our health, well being and our environment.

You Are What You Eat, a BBC America in-your-face reality TV show, delivers an equally strong message contained within its title.

Books such as Michael Pollan's, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food add to the list of urgent messages asking us to be more aware of what we put in our mouths!

This blog is not just about me writing tips and tricks to help you save dollars grocery shopping during these challenging economic times, I also take seriously my mission to educate anyone who loves to eat on the importance of feeding your body and soul with food that is good for you and that has been grown responsibly with yours, and our planet's health in mind.

Next time you're on the verge of purchasing that cheap piece of fish, or that big bag of heavily-discounted nuts, consider thoroughly what you're buying, and remember, you always have a choice to shop and consume differently, and responsibly.


darya said...

Fabulous post!! I get the same questions and I can't tell what makes me sadder, the confusion about taste or the source of the food. Farmed salmon that has been dyed pink? Yarg!

Suzanne said...

I was checking up on the source of Costco meats when I encountered your blog. From my research I learned that Costco gets most of their meat from Niman Ranch.
Here's an excerpt from their web site: "When you choose Niman Ranch all natural meats, you’re supporting U.S. family farmers and ranchers and their rural communities, the highest animal care practices in the industry, the best antibiotic and hormone free meat and environmentally sustainable farming and ranching.
We know that when you do the right things you get the right results. For us that means our passion for every detail brings you the finest tasting meats in the world. We are proud that all our livestock is:

Humanely Raised on Sustainable U.S. Farms and Ranches
Never Given Antibiotics - Ever
Never Given Any Added Hormones - Ever
Fed All Vegetarian Feeds
For over 30 years Niman Ranch has been at the forefront of supporting sustainable agriculture, animal welfare and U.S. family farmers and ranchers. This commitment began in 1972 when Bill Niman started raising cattle on his Northern California ranch. Today, the Niman Ranch network has grown to include over 650 independent American farmers and ranchers. Whether they raise hogs, beef or lamb, they all share Niman Ranch's dedication to strict protocols and the belief that all-natural, humane and sustainable methods produce great flavor."

Louise Ross said...

Thanks Darya, I agree, dyed fish is v. concerning, and it's often labeled "dyed" so at least consumers have a choice to buy "dyed" or to not buy "dyed."

And Niman beef sounds like the way to go! Thanks for drawing our attention to Bill Niman and his sustainable farming practices, Suzanne!

James said...

I also found your blog while trying to research Costco Meats. I am wondering how the above poster came to the realization that most of Costco Meats comes from Niman Ranch?

From my research I found that Costco has no standards on the practices from where their meats are raised, and produced.

Some could come from Niman, but most?
In reality, most of their meats are coming from the conglomerate of the factory farm meat industry that dominates our American meat supply.
Which, in my opinion, is reason enough to not buy Costco meats because there is no way of knowing that the meat was raised, slaughtered, and produced using sustainable and humane practices.

Whole Foods is a good example of a store that has set guidelines.

Louise Ross said...

Thanks for your comment James. Until meat is labeled well, or until there is 'grocery store' transparency, I think it is unnecessarily difficult to determine the source of our meat.

Increasingly I look for meat at Whole Foods, Vitamin Cottage (and other organic-focused stores) that is locally grown, i.e. that is grass fed and humanely raised on local farms and labeled as such.


James said...

Agreed. Thank you for your blog. The only way this all is going to change is with discussion, education, and exposure.

Consumer's must realize how much power they really have. You vote 3 times a day. The food industry will supply what you demand.

Louise Ross said...

The power of the consumer to determine change -- you are quite right!

Yet consumers get lazy, I find I do sometimes. It can be exhausting and frustrating trawling the market aisles for clean, whole, unprocessed food that's affixed with transparent labeling. It takes effort and vigilance.

I notice so many consumers are price-point driven. Even when it comes to food, cheapest is king. Yet what consumers fail to realize is that cheap too often means unclean, chemically contaminated food.

So yes, discussion, education and
dedication to sourcing cleaner, healthier food is the way to go.

Thanks for the dialogue, James, I appreciate your comments on M2M.


David P. Owen said...

I'm curious about your recommendation for Whole Foods. Whenever we go there it's like a slap in the face: $8/lb for spinach is just plain vanity. $6 for a loaf of bread? The only families that can afford these prices are upper middle class, and some of them probably didn't notice the recession. We like the cheese counter there, but I can't imagine buying much else there.

We stock up on staples at the Winco bulk section, and sometimes Costco. We garden, freeze and can free fruit from trees in the neighborhood, and we've stopped eating most processed foods. Meat is still horribly expensive. We buy whole fryers, drums & thighs when they're $1.19/lb at Costco, and pork sirloin when it goes on sale. We make no-knead bread a few times a week.

Anonymous said...

I agree with David! Whole Food prices are ridiculous...that is why they are only located in upper middle class, or higher, neighborhoods. On my family's income we cannot afford shopping there, nor the gas money it takes to travel 20 miles there and back just for groceries. I do shop at Safeway, QFC, and Costco and usually buy only what is on sale. I would love to know how to go about shopping for meats that are humanely farmed but also affordable.

Anonymous said...

There is no affordable way to buy meats that are not abused,tortured and killed. I am a single mother and struggle to find food that is grown and raised appropriately. And as far as I can see it is buying directly from the farmer and seeing first hand how the animals are treated.

Louise Ross said...

I agree, I think buying meat directly from local small farmers can be a cost effective option for a family (if the meat is bought in bulk, such as a side of beef or lamb, and then frozen). There are farmers who raise their livestock and butcher their livestock humanely, research this in your area. Nevertheless, if for ethical reasons, you cannot abide cows, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens et al, being butchered for human consumption, definitely don't eat animal products.