How to Eat More Sustainably: Tips to Help Find Eco-friendly Foods at the Grocery Store by Chef Gerard Viverito
Most supermarket shoppers now choose foods based on their ingredients, nutritional value and more recently whether those foods are eco-friendly. This may explain why you may be seeing more people than ever checking out the labels before putting products in their carts. Here, I’ll answer a few questions about trends in sustainable eating and provide tips about finding clean, eco-friendly foods in your grocery store aisle.
Q. What trends are you seeing among today’s home cooks?
“I was fascinated by the results of four years of research, by a company called EcoFocus Worldwide, about how we make our food-buying decisions. They found that 94 percent of us think about our health when we food shop, and 87 percent of us are also thinking about the environment. And a growing number of grocery shoppers – 58 percent in 2017 compared with 54 percent in 2014 – care about where companies source their ingredients.”
Q. We’re hearing more about regenerative farming. What is that and why does it matter?
“Regenerative farming helps protect the environment while reducing our exposure to chemicals. The term refers to practices that help build and maintain soil health, so there’s less need for chemical fertilizers. It also includes planting cover crops, or off-season crops, to help reduce erosion. It’s good for us, the planet and the livelihood of our farmers. For some certified sustainable crops, such as earth-friendly Malaysian palm oil, regenerative farming has been the practice for hundreds of years. In Malaysia, old palm trees are pushed over, shredded and left to decompose in the warm sun. This adds nutrients to the soil and saves on the use of inorganic fertilizers. It also prevents air pollution from burning the old palms. Malaysia has a long-standing zero burning policy. They also use barn owls in the fields to cut down on the need for pesticides.”
Q. Are there any supermarket secrets to use in the produce department?
“Most people are unaware that the numbered stickers on produce may also indicate if fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables are organic or if they were conventionally grown. These are called Price Look Up (PLU) codes. Not all stores use these codes to differentiate between organic and conventional, so ask your produce department manager. If your supermarket does use PLU codes, a five-digit code beginning in nine identifies organic, and a four-digit code means conventionally grown.”
Q. Is it always better to choose fruits and vegetables labeled Certified Organic?
“Not necessarily. There are farmers who are doing a good job with their farm practices, but who can’t afford the certification. Based on the EcoFocus research, Non-GMO Project Verified has overtaken Certified Organic on shopping lists, as consumers are becoming more aware that soy, corn and other common ingredients are genetically modified.”
Q. What is the number one question to ask in the seafood department?
“Ninety-one percent of our seafood is imported. We don’t know how it was caught or what regulations were followed to protect our oceans. One of the most important questions you can ask at the supermarket or fish market is the country of origin. The American seafood industry generally has better sustainability practices than those of other countries.”
Q. What are other simple ways to eat more sustainably?
“When possible, support your neighborhood farmers because they contribute to your neighborhood’s ecology. You want them to stay in business, so their farms don’t get sold and turned into housing projects or gas stations. Also, embrace the fruits and vegetables that in season in your part of the country. They’ll be at their flavor and nutritional peak. They also will travel less distance, so they’ll likely be cheaper and fresher.”
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