With all the greenwashing happening in the media, eating ethically can be a confusing matter. What should you look for when you’re buying food? And what do those labels even mean? We have the quick & dirty lowdown on how to cut through the clutter and keep yourself and the planet healthy.
1. Look for certified organic or biodynamic labels on food. Certified organic means the organic crops aren’t grown with synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides or sewage sludge and aren’t genetically engineered or irradiated. Biodynamics is a holistic, ecological and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food and nutrition. Biodynamic farms are also organic and emphasize biodiversity, crop rotation, greenhouse management, animal welfare and soil fertility management.
2. Buy produce from your local farmer’s market. Buy organic for the Dirty Dozen; these items are most likely to contain pesticide residue: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers. For the budget conscious, shop conventional for the Clean 15, these items are least likely to contain pesticide residue: sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew, kiwifruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit.
3. Look for fair-trade labels on coffee. This means the coffee has been produced & traded according to the strict internationally-agreed Fairtrade Standards such as Fair-trade Minimum Price, which ensures workers are paid a fair wage.
4. Purchase humanely raised meat, dairy or eggs. Look for claims like grass-fed, pasture raised, USDA organic and/or certified humane raised. Also eating less meat altogether will help reduce your impact on the environment. (Consider doing "meatless Mondays.")
5. Eat at home. Planning your meals and preparing them at home helps you not only know exactly what goes into every bite, it helps lessen food waste. When you do eat out, bring a reusable container to cart home zero-waste leftovers.
Beware of misleading labels like
Free-range: Often labeled on poultry, free-range simply means the chicken had access to the outdoors. It might have only gone outside for a minute or not at all. It’s only stating it had access.
Organic seafood: Currently there is no U.S. government standard for “organic” seafood certification!
Turn your Rotten Scraps into Gold
In addition to eating ethically, disposing of our uneaten food matter is just as important. Composting is decomposing organic matter—a natural process of recycling organic material into a fertile soil amendment. Many call it black gold.
Currently in the U.S. over 60 billion pounds of mineral-rich food materials go to landfills each year.
More than 50% of trash dumped into landfills is made of compostable materials, such as food scraps, yard trimmings, paper and wood. In fact, only 5% of our food scraps are currently being composted.
Many of these items, such as produce, were designed to fall to the ground and naturally increase the soil’s fertility as they decomposed, but instead, we are smothering them in landfills, rendering them useless. Instead of the traditional process we’ve created of pitching banana peels and peach pits in the trash, food scraps could be diverted, saving space in our landfills and enhancing our farm’s soil.
Composting can actually help reverse climate change because it helps replenish the earth with organic matter that helps plants grow and produce more nutrient-dense produce. The more plants that grow, the more carbon that gets pulled out of the atmosphere.
How to compost:
Establish a small indoor bin and toss things that used to be alive inside, such as plants, vegetable scraps, flowers stems, etc. Rather than scraping your plate’s food scraps into a garbage disposal or garbage can after a meal, simply empty them into your compost bin instead. Toss in paper napkins, paper towels and any certified compostable packaging as well.
Be sure to empty your indoor compost bin into a larger outdoor bin every 5-7 days to keep odors at bay. Outdoor bins can be arranged for pickup (some areas at no charge) or used in your own backyard garden once
Compost things like
- Fruit scraps
- Vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Grass and plant clippings
- Dry leaves
- Shredded newspaper
- Greasy or wax covered cardboard boxes (think pizza boxes)
Quick tip: If you’re worried about odor problems, keep your small compost bin in the freezer!