After watching Food Inc. this passed Thanksgiving weekend and becoming horrified at not only the treatment of the animals but the effects it has on humans as well, I realized many of us do not realize where our food is coming from. I'm not going to recap the documentary, though it's well worth your time, I just wanted to give a little extra insight.
One thing the documentary-makers failed to mention was if you want to support or eat organic or local-grown food, how do you go about doing that? Well, naturally, farmers markets are a great way to start. Here's a list of them in Massachusetts. You can also shop smarter at your local grocery store by looking at the labels. Yes, naturally looking for the organic-foods section or labels on things is a great idea, but did you know you can also tell how the produce was made simply by looking at the PLU (produce look-up) number? The PLU number is that four or five-digit number sticker on all the produce.
Here's how to tell what the the PLU number means:
3 or 4 -- If the produce begins with the numbers 3 or 4 and is only four-digits long, it means the produce is conventional produce -- produce grown with synthetic chemical insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers. While not entirely organic, it's still not a "bad" or totally un-natural choice at the grocery store.
9 -- If the produce starts with a 9, your fine (just a little rhyme so you remember). The number 9 means your produce is organic, and the PLU number should be about five-digits long. Organic here means natural pesticides and fertilizers, but not necessarily pesticide-free.
8 -- If the produce starts with 8, abate (another lame rhyme), which is to say not as natural. This means that the produce has been genetically engineered (GE). While the FDA says that GE foods are not hazardous to your health, if you are serious about your food being natural, this is the exact opposite. This sticker will be five-digits long as well.
For meat, you can naturally look for organic labels and free-range labels, but keep in mind that free-range poultry (the only type of meat allowed to be labeled as such) can be let outside for a mere few minutes a day and it doesn't have to be on grass, it can be on gravel or cement. More on label definitions from the USDA.