Sunday, December 21, 2008

Where Does Your Food Come From?

Just a quickie this morning as I digest some yogurt and strawberries before hitting the workout.

I got to thinking about this blog entry after reading the label on my strawberries. By now we’re all good at reading food labels for nutritional information and ingredients (You DO read labels before buying and/or eating, right?), but do you ever read where the product comes from? The label from the strawberries I bought yesterday is marked “Product of Mexico.” Seems reasonable. We can’t grow strawberries in the snow so of course we’d import them from Mexico or other Central and South American countries. Ditto on bananas, coffee, sugar and other food items.

The tea I drink is “blended” by Celestial Seasonings in Boulder, but the ingredients come from all over the world. Curious about their importing philosophy, I did a quick Internet search and was heartened to read the company’s ethical trade statement online: “We’ve had relationships with many growers around the world for more than 30 years, and it’s very important to us that workers are treated fairly and with respect, and that farming techniques support environmental health and economic growth. The growers are our partners, and together, we ensure the botanicals Celestial Seasonings purchases are collected or harvested with minimal impact on the environment, while local jobs and businesses are nurtured.”

I’m pretty sure that’s not a policy readily embraced by Chinese (or even some U.S.) manufacturers. Given the propensity for profits over the health of pets and babies, I am extremely wary of goods imported from China.

Take garlic powder. The McCormick brand is almost $2 more than the Wal-Mart house brand. The McCormick company has a commitment to sustainability and social responsibility and their product is clearly marked “Product of USA.” The Wal-Mart brand is marked “Product of China.” I pony up the $2 in hopes that McCormick truly is committed to the health of its consumers over profit.

I realize it’s nearly impossible to avoid food products made in China, particularly the frozen and processed varieties. But by staying informed (read the Washington Post story “Tainted Chinese imports Common”, for instance), I’m trying to be more aware of where my food comes from. Labels aren’t always marked, and in the case of food made with several ingredients, it’s impossible to know where each of those ingredients came from.

Think about it: we put a lot of trust in the people who grow, manufacture, import, and inspect our food. Aside from the produce and meat I buy from local and regional farmers, I don’t know the people who grow and pick and make my food. Kind of creeps me out a little.

Nothing like a little paranoia on an early Sunday morning. Sorry about that. I’m curious, though: Do you read labels? Do you know where your food comes from? Any strategies for learning more?

9 comments:

Linda B said...

So thought provoking! I think whole foods is the only way to even have half a shot at knowing where your food came from. That said, it's still hard to know how it was raised & harvested.

I'm currently reading Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals." It's a fascinating look at where our food comes from And it's giving me more tools to figure out what I'm really eating.

Anonymous said...

I avoid eating fresh fruits and vegetables out of season for two reasons. One, they may come from countries that use pesticides banned here due to their effect on the environment and human health, such as DDT. Two, it requires much more fossil fuel to ship produce from distant countries. The next step for me is to eat locally as much as possible, buying foods that have been grown in my home state or town.

~Shelley

Joy said...

Great post, Lynn! I eat mostly organic and try to buy fair trade food. I never thought about seasonings, etc. Thank you for that!
I refuse to buy any food that comes from Mexico. I just skip it until I can get the produce from Canada or another country. I think another step is to look at some products that have hidden toxins in how they are processed. I try not to buy items from China, but never thought about food from that country.

MizFit said...

not paranoia sadly...smart living.

I have a touch of the HEAD IN SAND syndrome :)

LC said...

Just FYI...my county of Southern California grows strawberries all year long!

Vickie said...

The place that I have noticed it the most - is the fish section of the store - there are actually SIGNS in front of each section saying farm or wild and WHERE.

Natalia said...

Alright, now you have me thinking! That's never a good thing! LOL

The Duchess of Wessex said...

I used to pass the McCormick (then McCormick/Schilling) plant every day on my way to work in Salinas, CA (right across the street from the Smuckers plant!) and they are every bit the company that deserves your extra $2.00! And, remember, nearby Watsonville, CA grows strawberries all year long so look for those over the Mexican strawberries too!

Buy American! It pays...

The Duchess of Wessex said...

I used to pass the McCormick (then McCormick/Schilling) plant every day on my way to work in Salinas, CA (right across the street from the Smuckers plant!) and they are every bit the company that deserves your extra $2.00! And, remember, nearby Watsonville, CA grows strawberries all year long so look for those over the Mexican strawberries too!

Buy American! It pays...