Greetings from Minnesota. I know I promised you all a series more than several days ago. Without further ado, now presenting Part I!
Food. It’s something we all know and love, right? Or at least need and consume daily.
To some people food is just energy to fuel their bodies while to others, at times, food may be an experience in and of itself.
No matter how you think about food we all need to buy and consume it. (Or perhaps, you even grow some of your own.)
But how do we decide what to buy?
I’ve heard so many people say it’s getting more and more confusing for them to make their purchasing decisions.
Whether asked directly to me, read online, or overheard in the grocery store, I sense a loud and clear confusion about food and its labeling.
“What does “natural” really mean?”
“Should I only buy local fruits and vegetables?”
“Is organic food better?”
“Is high fructose corn syrup really worse than other sugars?”
And the litany of questions goes on. I even wonder some of them myself.
As a farmer and as a consumer, I think the answer to most of these questions is, “It depends.”
It depends on your food budget, your eating habits, and your family and personal food values.
The questions above are just examples and I’m not an expert on them, but I still want to share my take with you. Here goes!
What the heck does that mean?
I tend to think of “occurring in nature” and the reality is that virtually all foods and food products are made from a plant or animal that grew in nature.
I know natural is a term that makes us feel good, but I also think it can be one of the most deceiving terms out there.
I think of dairy products as natural and many are labeled as such. Fruits, veggies, and meats are often called natural.
But, many processed foods that are essentially junk are also labeled “natural” because they’re minimally processed or made with “natural” ingredients.
Of course lots of vitamins and supplements like to promote their natural status, and I’m sure you could also label pure marijuana as natural.
Bottom line? Many natural things are good for you and some are not. It’s a tricky term, so look closely at the food behind the label before you buy just because it’s au natural.
Is local the right choice?
For me? Sure, I think it’s good to buy local. Even more than buying local, we enjoy growing a few of our own vegetables and some steers for beef every year because we know exactly how they’re raised. Plus, it helps save us money, there’s essentially no food transport needed, and it’s tasty.
I look for seasonal produce in the store, but I don’t stress about it. And I will be the first to admit I will never quit buying coffee or bananas or the occasional salmon filet just because they aren’t local.
The BIG misconception I see regarding local food is people don’t seem to feel branded or packaged food can be local. Even when it clearly is.
I’ll give an example. Here in Minnesota, big brands like Kemps, Green Giant, and General Mills call this state home. They’re headquartered here, and they all have numerous production facilities throughout the state.
If I buy Green Giant frozen peas (from peas grown in Southern Minnesota fields, processed in a Minnesota plant employing Minnesota workers) I think that’s local!
I still think it’s great if someone wants to buy fresh peas at the farmers market. But not everyone has the access, time, or desire to do so. And I think they’re getting just as nutritious, quality, and local of a product by buying the frozen version.
Of course I realize Green Giant isn’t local to all of you. What I want to point out is that 1) Regular grocery brands can be local and 2) all food purchases are still supporting farmers and driving agricultural economies somewhere.
This is another hot-button label these days. First, the only true organic foods will bear a little green circular “USDA Organic” label.
But is this food better?
As I know I’ve said before on my blog, organic has to do with how food is produced, not really what’s in the food.
Organic milk has to be produced by cows fed organic feed, and organic feed (as well as organic fruits, veggies, etc) can only be grown with organic approved fertilizers and approved methods. If you want more info on how exactly organic food must be produced, check out this US Dept. of Agriculture website
I think in some soil types and some farms, organic production probably is the best choice. But on other soil types and farms, I just don’t think organic production makes sense.
I also know that all food sold is only produced using methods deemed safe by the FDA, and in America we are lucky to have one of the safest food supplies in the world.
So. Will I eat organic foods? Sure. But I buy very few because I generally don’t feel the higher price tag is merited. In some cases I think organic fruits and vegetables can even be harder on the environment. More fuel may be used to till or cultivate fields because modern weed-control methods can’t be used, and in sensitive soil areas this could lead to more erosion.
And for meat and milk, I know from personal experience that organic and non-organically raised animals all get good nutrition and care. I feel good about buying traditionally raised products, but I’m a-okay if someone (probably even a few of you blog readers) feel differently.
Ahh, the dreaded HFCS.
Truth? I honestly don’t worry about this stuff. I have yet to see any scientific data legitimately showing the sugar derived from corn to be worse than cane sugar, beet sugar, or who knows what.
That said, I don’t go around drinking pop and eating Little Debbie’s all day.
And in defense of the people who religiously avoid this sticky syrup, I have a feeling they also avoid a lot of preservatives, fillers, and other ingredients that aren’t very swell.
“Everything in moderation” – right? 😉
I hope I’ve answered a few food questions, but I’ve probably also sparked some new ones. I’ll open it up to your commentary in just a moment…
I think I’ve churned out enough words that I won’t write a full version of running tales.
But I do want to say congratulations to Dana and all the other NYC marathoners reading this. Way to go!!
I followed all the coverage I could yesterday, and I’m secretly determined that someday I will run this marathon.
Also, I made it out for 2 whole non-treadmill runs this weekend. I took Calvin with me for 6 miles on Saturday. On Sunday I fought enough wind that I negative-split a 3 mile run by 3 minutes (I ran into the wind the first 1.5). I definitely hope the wind wasn’t blowing as crazy in NYC as it was here in Minnesota.
With that, I’ll open it up for any and all questions or comments on my little food labeling analysis. Ask away!