Sunday, February 3, 2008

Shopping for Unsuspected Grocery Part 1

Obviously unless or until we see dramatic changes in our farming and grocery infrastructure, it will be hard for many, if not most, of us to get all our food from local sources. Especially if we live in one of the so-called food deserts. But each of us, as individuals, can play a part in bringing about these changes, doing our best to get as much food as possible from local markets rather than distant producers. Ultimately, what we are looking toward is supporting and building more sources of regional foods, while only eating foods from distant places to supplement local staples. Countries in the Northern Hemisphere, for example, cannot grow items such as coffee, tea, cocoa for chocolate, numerous spices, and so on. When we buy these imported products, we should choose those that are grown ethically and sustainably—fair-trade (meaning fair wages for foreign growers) and organic—so that our purchases are not contributing to the exploitation of another country's workers or natural resources.

Diet Start

Talk with Your Local Restaurateur and Grocer

If your favorite restaurant does not provide any local, sustainable options, or only a few, tell them you would like to see more. Chefs and owners usually appreciate customer feedback. Even fast food restaurants have been known tochange their menu based on customer pressure—for n- stance, imagine the mountains that consumer pressure had to move to persuade McDonald's to offer a greater variety of salads and low-calorie options. Fortunately,more and more grocery stores are starting to recognize that "locally grown" is the new label with appeal. Some grocerystore chains, such as Whole Foods Market, are making a concerted effort to sell the coveted local foods. Many even fea ture pictures and write-ups about local farmers beside the produce they supply.

One big New York grocer, Long Island's King Kullen, committed to buying Long Island's seasonal fruits and vegetables for its fifty stores. In 1999, it spent $100,000 on produce from Long Island farmers. In 2004, it spent $4 million. New Seasons Market, a grocery chain of six stores in Portland, Oregon, has a looser definition of local, using a "Pacific Village" label to denote foods from Northern California, Oregon, Washington, or British Columbia. Even in the wintertime, about half of its produce is from that regional "village."

If you have a store nearby that does sell local, sustainable foods, be sure to thank the store manager for carrying foods you can support. And if you'd like your local grocer to carry more local foods, be sure to ask the manager to sell locally raised meat and vegetables from independent family farmers, and request that the food be clearly labeled. For anyone who might be uncomfortable approaching a store manager, the Sustainable Table Web site (visit offers a printable version of an "I Care" card, which lists the reasons stores should supply more local foods. All you have to do is sign the card and leave it with the manager. Because profit margins are so small, grocery stores will listen even if just a handful of customers ask for a certain product. But, as I said, if you convince the store manager to start selling a certain item, make sure you purchase the product.

... andjoyohoxing