Saturday, June 11, 2011

The minefield of 'ethical' food decisions

We have many choices we can make when it comes to buying our food

and there are more.

All of them represent choices, but they also represent marketing.   None of these labels would be needed if there was no premium in the market for it.

Some of the labels are actual certifications.   The process of certification does not make the food any better, it simple is a short hand way for the public to have faith in what they are buying.   The process to become certified organic means you have to keep a set of records of what you have done to the crops and the land.   It also means an inspection by the certification agency and fee that has to be paid to them.

The need for certification comes about because we are disconnected from where our food comes from.   If buy from people I know, such as my beans from Bob and beef from Phil, there is no need for the certification needed because I know who they are and how they grow their crops.   Having lived in a small rural town, I can tell you that you learn with more detail than you want to know what people are doing to grow their crops.

For certification to work, we have to trust the certification process.   Here is where I run into a problem, I have a reasonably good idea about differing organic certifications and how low most of them are globally and how very lax the inspection standards are for most certifying bodies.   Other then unprocessed organic produce certified in BC, I take all the others with a grain of salt.   I will not pay a premium for the others.

The vary names and labels have become ways for people to not have to worry about the ethics of their decision making when buying food.   People feel good by certified organic processed food.   At the end of the day, a potato chip is not a healthy food choice whether it is organic or not.   I know that my enjoyment of chips has caused my weight gain, if they were organic it would not have made me any lighter.

I do buy local when there is good local produce available for a reasonable price.   I am not paying $3 a pound for wilted local carrots.   Is it crucial to my decision making no?   Will I go out of my way to buy it?  To some extent.   I will go to Glanford Greenhouses or by Vantrieght produce at Root Cellar, but I tend not to go to the local farmer's markets.  The quality and price of the produce at the farmer's markets in the CRD tends to not meet my criteria.

The best I can do is to have an idea where my food comes from and do my best to avoid buying processed foods.   I also attempt to process foods myself.  I do this in part to understand what goes into making peanut butter or ground beef.   I also do it so that I control what is going into it.   I also do it so that the boys understand what it takes to put a meal on the table.

There are many people that buy various upscale 'ethical' brands and feel good about it, but in my mind it is an abdication of being aware of your food and a way to feel superior to others out there.  

1 comment:

YRS said...

I think there's much truth to your observations. The organic produce sections at Thriftys or Market on Yates always seem to be populated by uber-yuppies and that ilk, donning designer Gucci shopping bags and sporting $300 leather Birkenstock sandals. The same people that drive out of the store parking lots with their in their 2011 hybrid SUVs and Hummers.

I have a friend up in the Cowichan Valley who grows the cleanest, most organic vegetables I've ever eaten, but it's not certified because for him the certification bureaucracy is nothing short of a racket; he thinks its mostly BS. Your overall point is a good one: pay less attention to labels and certificates and just try and know where your food comes from.

About those potato chips. You've got it all wrong, Bernard. Obviously you haven't tried the ones with organically christened, 100% all-natural sea salt, hand-sifted by fair trade peasants on the shores of Lake Titikaka. You eat those, my friend, and they are guaranteed to make you feel like you are actually eating healthier junk food.