Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Marketing at the Market

Spring is in the air... I can feel it, see it and smell it. This is definitely my favorite time of year. Great weather here in Dallas, color is everywhere and the local food choice starts to increase. If you're used to shopping some of the local markets around town, your chance of finding more fresh, local food goes way up, but what about the 'super' market? How do you really know what is best?

On a recent visit to a "natural foods" market near me I picked up a flyer. This isn't one I frequent often so I decided to see what kind of deals they had. Here are some of the words and items they used;

-PREMIUM Fuji Apples & Bartlett Pears
-ON THE VINE Cluster Tomatoes & Fresh Tender Asparagus
-NEW CROP Sweet Onions & Avocados
-ALL NATURAL Chicken Leg Quarters, Ground Beef, Pork Loin Roast, Chicken Tenders
-FRESH Beef Meatloaf
-WILD CAUGHT Cod Filets, King Salmon Filets

These are just a few of what I saw in
the ad. No telling how many more of these enticing foods they have labeled throughout the store. So what do these mean for the consumer? What do these labels tell us?

Grocery is big business, which means big marketing and advertising. While what they are advertising is true, it can also be very deceiving for those wanting to make more sustainable, healthier choices. If you're really not worried about what goes on behind the food you buy, stop here. I commend you for eating more REAL food, as that can be a step in and of itself, but if you're interested in what the terms mean, I am going to break it down for you.

All Natural- This is often slapped onto meats. Thanks for keeping it natural, but there's no legal definition or requirements for this to be a label. Being that there is no legality for it, you could potentially have beef that's fed grain, shot up with hormones and call it 'all natural' because it comes from a cow. Don't buy into the hype (pun intended). Everything we eat should be natural! If I have to make the claim that it is, that's a problem.

Fresh - As opposed to rancid? Again, thank you for keeping it fresh. According to the USDA, fresh is merely used to signify that it was never frozen. Doesn't mean it's better, but it does sound good.

Free Range/Free Roaming/Cage Free -  Ah. The vision of your chicken roaming freely on the range. That's got to be better for me and the environment, right? Not necessarily. Industry standards only require a very small, exercisable space for these animals to roam. These are chickens kept with a fence that restricts their movements to very little. They have access to it, but are not necessarily encouraged. (insert chicken personal trainer joke) Often times this can be as bad as some of the hen houses we have all seen. The benefit to free range however, is that these hens are not de-beaked, being that they have access to more space, and do not feel the need to cannibalize.

Vegetarian Fed -  Okay. But what about those animals that aren't strictly herbivores AND/OR what kind of vegetables are we feeding them? Grains are vegetarian, but no animal on the planet (that I know of) subsides on 100% grain and is healthy because of it. Chickens are supposed to eat bugs and insects on the majority and cows grass, which is why we now have to specify GRASS FED beef. If it's vegetarian fed, you're still not being told the whole story. This one kills me every time.

Wild Caught - This is not always the sustainable choice. "Wild-caught" casts a wide net and can mean that your fish were caught using highly destructive (read: downright demonic) fishing methods such as dynamiting reefs, high-seas bottom-trawling, and drift nets. But the term wild-caught can also encompass more desirable lower-impact techniques, such as hand-lines, divers, or the use of pots or traps. (HP) Chose the later for more sustainable practices.

Farm Raised - Sounds so lovely, but fish do not live on a farm, until now. Most of these fish are fed, yes, grains, and left in their own filthy tanks until the day the are killed. This not only affects the fish but affects YOU! Not the fish I want to consume.

Organic- All things obviously are not created equal. Just because your oreo is organic doesn't mean it is either good for you or comes from a socially conscious sustainable business. Stick with organic in the produce section.

Raw - Just because food never reached 104deg doesn't make it superior. Many things that we now consume aren't meant to be eaten raw putting a heavy burden on the GI tract. Base it on your own results.

Here is what I personally look for. I know that if something carries this label, it carries a bit more weight.

GRASS FED - While there are some tricky things here (grass finished vs. 100% grass fed etc), going this route is always the better option. The animals are treated sustainably rendering their composition more balanced and healthy for us to consume. Let me know if you're looking for a local source.

PASTURED - Whether its eggs, chicken or pork, this signifies that the animal was allowed to pasture (the true free range). Extra feed is only used if necessary and as a supplement. Again, this is more sustainable and actually renders a smaller animal because they are not being force fed and are on their natural diet. Let me know if you are looking for a local source.

ORGANIC - Back on the 'good' list.  Is all organic good, no. But for produce it's a great place to start. Today I purchased organic strawberries over local ones, being that they are one of the 'dirty dozen'. Typically I go local organic, organic, local... but free of pesticides means something to me and strawberries carry a heavy load. Be careful with organic meats. It simply means they were fed organic grain... which we know isn't ideal.

LOCAL - Exercise caution. A CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) can be local to your area and market at such. Make sure you know where you food comes from locally.

I'm sure there are others. The bottom line is to know where YOUR food comes from. It's not 100% perfect all the time. Simply start where you can, and purchase consciously. At the end of the day we are the ones funding the non-sustainable farming practices in this country. If we really want to change that we must wake up and have a spending voice.

If you are interested in learning more about local food in the Dallas area please contact me.


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