When savvy shoppers like us buy food, we often look for the “organic” label, since these products are the ones that are the most sustainable, ecofriendly and nutritious for us. Or are they? What does “organic” really mean, and does it deserve the trust that we place in it? Recently, the FRESH team was inspired by a new documentary from director Kip Pastor called In Organic We Trust to think about these questions and more. Below, we’re sharing some tips on how to understand the organic label. In addition, we’re excited to offer the In Organic We Trust DVD at a specially discounted rate of $18.99 for a limited time. Read on to find out more!
What Organic Means:
USDA Certification: The organic label means that the ingredients came from producers who were certified by the USDA as upholding organic standards.
Limited Pesticides: Organic produce is grown without synthetic and persistent pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Eating organic produce is a good way to reduce your exposure to these chemicals.
GMO Free: Organic foods do not include genetically-modified ingredients.
No Irradiation: Organic produce has not been exposed to irradiation, an ionizing radiation treatment used to kill foodborne pathogens and reduce spoilage.
What Organic Doesn’t Mean:
Small Scale Producer: Unfortunately, food conglomerates have realized that premium prices equals larger profits, and they have bought many formerly independent organic operations. Many organic brands are in fact subsidiaries of larger mainstream companies, such as Kashi and Kellogg’s, or Muir Glen and General Mills.
Locally Sourced: Much of the organic produce at your supermarket probably comes from CA, while the small scale farms in your community may be local, but not certified organic.
Fair Labor Practices: An organic farm can be staffed by exploited workers who suffer poor pay and lack benefits. The Fair Trade label certifies that the food was produced by workers who were fairly compensated, but these requirements are not part of the organic standards.
No Additives: If the product is not labeled “100% organic,” up to 5% can be composed of the 100+ non-organic additives allowed by the National List. Many of the additives are included because no organic substitute is available or for economic reasons, and while not all of them are harmful, the list does include items like cellulose (indigestible wood pulp) and carrageenan (linked to intestinal inflammation and colon cancer).
The Bottom Line:
Know Your Farmer: Just because your local farmer hasn’t had the time or funding to get organic certification doesn’t mean they aren’t running a sustainable operation. It may be better to buy from someone you know and trust over an unknown, large scale organic farm elsewhere.
Organic Still Means Something: While the label may not encompass all that we would hope, the organic standards are still a good start to differentiating the types of farms and producers we want to support. Remember that the label “natural” is unregulated and doesn’t mean anything, while “organic” does require adherence to regulations.
Dirty Dozen: Maybe you don’t have the budget or the availability to buy only organic products. In that case, carry the Dirty Dozen card in your wallet or store it on your phone. This lists the top fruits and vegetables that carry the highest levels of pesticide residues. Strive to purchase organic versions of these foods where possible.
If you’d like to learn more about the facts behind the organic label, we highly recommend the film In Organic We Trust, which explores these issues.
Troy Roush is an Indiana farmer who raises GMO (genetically modified organism) soy and corn crops. He was featured in the documentary Food, Inc. and in this fabulous video from Fix Food, his message is clear: Let’s provide GMO labeling and give people the right to choose what kind of food they want. Then the market will decide what’s in demand and what farmers will produce. Labeling is a win-win for farmers and consumers. It’s as simple as that.
This November, we can make monumental changes in the way we eat. California has introduced Proposition 37 to require the mandatory labeling of GMO (genetically modified organism) foods. If it passes, this would be a landmark victory for those who believe we should be able to know what’s in our food. Poll after poll has consistently shown that the vast majority of Americans want GMO labeling. For years though, the food industry and government regulators have refused to give us that knowledge.
Now the tables have turned. If you vote in CA, will you take a stand for the freedom to choose what you eat? Can you help spread the word to your friends and family in CA, and let them know about the importance of voting for Prop 37? If you don’t vote in CA, you can still make a difference by sending a letter to your local representatives. Tell them you support GMO labeling, and you want to see this legislation enacted in your state. Even if just one state begins mandating GMO labeling, this will create a ripple effect of change throughout the country, as manufacturers retool their packaging nationwide.
At this time of the year, your kitchen is probably full of strawberries, tomatoes and sweet corn, the abundant pleasures of summer produce. In fact, between farmers markets, CSA shares and our gardens, sometimes it’s hard to know where to store all those fruits and vegetables, especially if you’re trying to avoid using plastic bags. So, we were thrilled to discover a handy list of storage tips from the Berkeley Farmers Market. Take a look at these ideas for creative and waste-free ways to extend the life of your produce, in and out of the refrigerator.
Asparagus—Place the upright stalks loosely in an glass or bowl with water at room temperature. Will keep for a week outside the fridge.
Basil—Difficult to store well. Basil does not like to be cold or wet. The best method here is an airtight container/jar loosely packed with a small damp piece of paper inside, left out on a cool counter.
Beets—Cut the tops off to keep beets firm, and be sure to keep the greens! Leaving any top on root vegetables draws moisture from the root, making them loose flavor and firmness. Beets should be washed and kept in an open container with a wet towel on top.
Beet greens—Place in an airtight container with a little moisture from a damp cloth.
Berries—Don’t forget, they’re fragile. When storing, stack them in a single layer, if possible, in a paper bag. Wash right before you plan on eating them.
Carrots—Cut the tops off to keep them fresh longer. Place them in closed container with plenty of moisture, either wrapped in a damp towel or dunk them in cold water every couple of days if they’re stored that long.
Corn—Leave unhusked in an open container if you must, but corn really is best the day it’s picked.
Greens—Remove any bands, twist ties, etc. Most greens must be kept in an air‐tight container with a damp cloth to keep them from drying out. Kale, collard greens, and chard do well in a cup of water on the counter or fridge.
Melons—Keep uncut in a cool dry place, out of the sun for up to a couple weeks. Cut melons should be in the fridge; an open container is fine.
Peaches (and most stone fruit)—Refrigerate only when fully ripe. Firm fruit will ripen on the counter.
Rhubarb—Wrap in a damp towel and place in an open container in the refrigerator.
Strawberries—Don’t like to be wet. Do best in a paper bag in the fridge for up to a week. Check the bag for moisture every other day.
Sweet peppers—Only wash them right before you plan on eating them as wetness decreases storage time. Store in a cool room to use in a couple of days, place in the crisper if longer storage is needed.
Tomatoes—Never refrigerate. Depending on ripeness, tomatoes can stay for up to two weeks on the counter. To hasten ripeness, place in a paper bag with an apple.
Zucchini—Does fine for a few days if left out on a cool counter, even after cut. Wrap in a cloth and refrigerate for longer storage.
I’ve started a new documentary, PLAY (working title), and want your feed-back!
A couple months after FRESH’s release, I gave birth to Maayan. And two years later, Sasha was born. They have brought unprecedented joy into my life. Maayan and Sasha are perfect, the way, I believe, all children are. They shine, they are self-assured, they are curious, they are happy. So I watch with dread children a little older who have lost some of their spark, some of their confidence. Children who already feel anxious about learning by the time they reach third grade, some already feeling “dumber” than their friends, some having to curb their natural excitement and energy so they can sit for hours on end “learning,” instead of playing and exploring.
As Maayan is getting close to school age, I’ve been researching and learning more and more about our current educational system. It’s become clear to me that our antiquated system of education no longer meets the needs of children or society. We are stuck with an “industrial” system of education that requires all children to learn the same information, at the same time, in the same way, ignoring the incredible diversity of personalities, learning styles, talent and desires that our children exhibit. A system that values some forms of intelligence (logical/academic) over others (emotional, artistic, practical, etc.), leaving so many of us unseen and devalued. My research has lead me to think that our educational system, one that used to be the best in the world, one that built this nation, is now no longer educating our children, but is instead preventing our children from reaching their full potential.
Like our industrial food system, our educational system is broken. In PLAY, I hope to open people’s minds and hearts to the possibility and potential of a radical shift in our thinking about education, the way I did in FRESH for food.
As I develop this new project, I’d like to hear your stories: what is your and/or your child’s experience in school?
Please read below for examples of stories I’m looking for and send me your story by emailing me at ana@FRESHthemovie.com.
Thank you in advance for your contribution. I look forward to hearing your stories!
Here are some questions that might guide you in sharing your story. But please don’t limit yourself, if you feel like my project speaks to you (either because you agree or you don’t), please email me and share your thoughts.
Your (mis-)education story:
Were you made to feel stupid? Were you tracked at an early age because you were not “good” in academic subjects? Did you drop out because school didn’t seem to be a good match for you? Were you told that what you want to do is not valuable? Did you learn to fear or dislike math or other subjects (or all things school-related)? I’m looking for stories of people whose talents and strengths were not recognized in school and who, instead, were made to feel bad for not learning how and what is valued in our school system. Would you say that your self-worth is still tied-up with the way your teachers treated you? Are you still looking, or have you given up looking, for a way to express your potential in life? Or have learned since what you are good at and have found your place/ your element.
Were you good at school? excelled in all the way you were supposed to? did you end up in the best college and then best graduate school (law school? med school?). Only to end up in a job you don’t really like? are you now stuck — well-paid and with all the status but still unfulfilled? Do you not know what you’d like to do instead, but wish you could find a more meaningful occupation? or perhaps you took a radical turn and are now following your bliss?
Did you have a great time at school? how did your school meet your needs? did your teachers see you and help you achieve your potential? in what way? did you develop your love for learning? self-knowledge? communication skills? creative potentials?
Do you believe you’ve got no special talent and that you’re not particularly creative? If so, can you trace when you started feeling that way?
Your child’s (mis-)education story:
Is your child’s special talent and learning style recognized and nurtured or ignored and dismissed?
Is your child excited to go to school or dreading it?
Is your child learning about him/her-self, developing his/her confidence, his/her ability to communicate with others?
Did you have to take your child out of school? why? what happened since?
The following article comes from Justin Boevers, Development & Outreach Manager at FishChoice.
The “Mystery Fish” story in December’s edition of Consumer Reports Magazine shed further light on an important issue – the widespread mislabeling of seafood. This particular study found that nearly 50% of seafood tested in the New England area was incorrectly labeled. This is not the first study of its kind. Three years ago, the “Imposter Fish” article was published in Conservation Magazine summarizing the efforts of eight students from Stanford who collected 77 samples and found that 60% were incorrectly labeled.
Why is this epidemic happening? First, certain fish command a premium price in the market and pawning off a less valuable species as a higher demand item is a big profit. Secondly, it’s easy. Fish lose most of their distinguishing characteristics during processing and because average seafood consumption is low and a lot of seafood is prepared with value-added elements, it is difficult for most consumers to know if the seafood they are eating is the same product as labeled or advertised.
Oceana, an organization leading the way on addressing the issue of “fish fraud” summarizes some of the main problems the epidemic of seafood mislabeling causes:
Food Safety – the actual seafood species may contain contaminants that might not be expected of the species identified on the label.
Undermines Choice – consumers trying to make responsible seafood choices are prevented from doing so when what they buy according to the label doesn’t match the fish inside.
Abundance Confusion – consumers get mixed messages when they hear that certain fish are no longer abundant, but see these species’ names on mislabeled menus and packaging.
Most common types of seafood that have been identified as mislabeled:
Farmed salmon being sold as wild salmon
Imported farmed shrimp being sold as wild, domestic shrimp
Tilapia being sold as red snapper, especially in sushi
Catfish and pangasius being sold as flounders and groupers
What can you do?
Learn about the fish you like to eat. Learn the scientific name and the marketing names, the seasonality of the fish, what fish may be able to be passed off as the species in question, and eat it enough to know how it tastes differently than similar fish.
Ask your waiter or seafood counter staff about where the fish is from and how it was caught. If they know how, where and when it was caught, then feel confident that it is correctly labeled.
Request the species, origin and fishing/farming method be voluntarily displayed on menus, seafood cases, and packaging. Only those that are completely confident that their seafood is what they say it is will put it out there for all the world to see.
Do you have more questions or thoughts to share on the subject of fish fraud? Leave a comment below!
Justin Boevers is the Outreach and Development Manager for FishChoice.com. Justin helps small and medium-sized business understand the issues around sustainable seafood and helps them find responsible sources. FishChoice is a nonprofit that runs a free, B2B website connecting businesses that buy or sell sustainable seafood. You can follow FishChoice on Twitter and like their facebook page to stay up to speed on sustainable seafood issues and developments.
Though your neighborhood may be blanketed with white snow, the holiday season is actually one of the best opportunities you have to go green. After all, your holiday gala can serve as a role model for green, resource-efficient practices. We’ve put together some tips and tricks to guide your planning:
Buy local and seasonal. Skip those rock-hard supermarket tomatoes and venture to your local farmers market or natural foods grocery instead for locally farmed, seasonal foods. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the late harvest abundance of squashes, root vegetables, cooking greens and apples. See www.localharvest.org for a market near you.
Skip (some of) the meat. Raising conventional livestock requires large amounts of fuel, pesticides and fertilizers, making the process a major contributor to greenhouse gases. You don’t have to make your holiday meal vegetarian, but it is worth considering whether you can move from meatcentric dishes to ones that feature smaller amounts of meat as a seasoning. Think sausage crumbles, not steaks. If you do buy meat, purchase from reputable farmers for flavorful meats that are free of antibiotics, growth hormones and E.coli.
Drink local. Consider getting wine from a local, organic winery, with less pesticide intensive viticulture methods. Or, support our nation’s growing craft brewing industry by picking up beer from a local brewery.
Dust off the china and glasses. One of the biggest generators of waste at holiday parties is the use of disposable cups and silverware. Though it’s definitely easier to throw everything away, you’ll find that with a couple volunteers to help you wash dishes or load the dishwasher, everything will be rinsed and dried in no time flat. If you don’t want to buy additional dishes, consider asking each guest to BYOP, or bring your own plate, along with a glass and fork. That way, you will have plenty of dishes to go around, and the dirty ones will go home with their owners!
Organize the leftovers. Once the meal is finished, don’t let it sit idle. Encourage guests to dispose of their scraps in a compost collection. Leftover should be packed or frozen and used for future meals. If there is too much for you to handle, the food should be redistributed for guests to take home. Ask people to bring a container with them, so that they can tote a piece of the dinner home at the end of the night.
Give gifts that grow and inspire. Consider spreading the magic of real food culture through a hands-on cheesemaking kit or a homebrewing kit. Or share your favorite cookbook of culinary fundamentals. A seasonal produce calendar can be a fun reminder of what to anticipate next year at the farmers markets. Seed packets are a cheap and creative way to help develop a green thumb. You can also give postcards or greeting cards that have seeds embedded inside the paper, and can be planted after being read.
Use wrapping “paper” that lasts. Skip the wrapping paper for a practical and stylish alternative. Try using reusable tote bags or light scarves. Reuse old maps, the comic pages from newspapers, and sheet music. If you do have a heap of discarded wrapping paper at the end of the night, be sure to recycle it, along with any other cans and bottles.
Have additional ideas for sustainable dinner parties? Leave a comment below!
How bankers are defining the future of the world’s food.
The Midwest is no longer the cradle of American agribusiness—Manhattan’s financial district is. And while Wall Street suits may not look like farmers, they now own vast quantities of virtual crops and livestock. Under their control, the global food system has begun to collapse.
Since the bursting of the dot com bubble in 2000 and the housing crisis in 2008, powerful institutional investors have increasingly directed their cash towards commodity index funds. These financial products track the investment value of bundled futures contracts for commodities like wheat, cattle, oil, and base metals. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission set the stage for a speculative binge in 1999 when they de-regulated futures markets, allowing investors who had nothing to do with agricultural production to purchase as many commodity futures as they liked.
And buy they did. According to Olivier de Schutter, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, holdings in commodity futures mushroomed from 13 to 317 billion dollars between 2003 and 2008. In those same five years the average price of the commodities that compose the index rose by 183 percent.
Many Americans have been insulated from the rising costs, because they spend only 8 to 12 percent of their weekly paycheck on food—compared to the 2 billion people throughout the world who spend more than 50 percent of their income on food. For them, the price hikes have been devastating. The World Bank reports that rising food prices have driven more than 44 million people below the poverty line. More than a billion people—an unprecedented figure—are now food insecure. But the effects of commodity speculation have rippled quietly throughout the United States, too, where the percentage of food-insecure households rose from 11 to 14.5 percent between 2003 and 2011.
The easy explanation for the world food crisis is exploding demand and dwindling supply. Factors that undoubtedly contribute to the squeeze include the conversion of farmland for biofuel production instead of food; the rise in the consumption of meat and processed foods in developing countries; and crop failure due to the changing weather patterns associated with climate change, all combined with a rapidly expanding global population.
But ballooning prices and volatile markets reflect more than market fundamentals, say researchers, UN officials, and even some Wall Street investors. While supply and demand factors may have kindled the global food crisis, it has been stoked by excessive speculation.
Traditionally, speculation in agricultural markets provided a buffer for farmers and millers in an inherently volatile industry. The idea was that a “futures” market would help to stabilize prices and protect farmers by establishing an agreement on price between producers and buyers before the product was even grown. Usually the futures price was lower than the “spot” or current price of the product. If spot prices had dropped by the time the futures contract matured, farmers benefited, because they received the previously-determined, higher price for their product. Increases in spot prices favored the buyer. Until the early 1990s, most of the players in the futures market were directly involved in agriculture, either as farmers, processors, or food corporations.
That all changed when banks entered the business. In 1991, Goldman Sachs developed a derivative that bundled futures contracts for twenty-four commodities into a single expression of investment value that came to be known as the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI). With the change in regulations in 1999, GSCI’s pioneering model took off. Between 2003 and 2005, according to figures from the Lehman Brothers, index fund speculation increased by 1,900 percent. More than a third of Goldman Sach’s net earnings now come from commodities markets, while dozens of other banks offer investors a smorgasbord of commodity index funds.
The problem with the commodity futures market is that it distorts the traditional economic model in which prices are shaped by supply and demand. Instead, momentum drives the investment: commodity futures speculators almost always go “long,” meaning they bet that prices will increase. In order to keep herds of cattle from actually being delivered to their new owners on Wall Street, investors roll maturing futures contracts into another bundle, or sell their contracts and invest in new futures, continually feeding the cycle. Unlike consumers, index speculators increase their demand as prices rise. Then, “demand shock” drives up prices yet again.
Investors claim that because they are dealing only in futures and not with the spot market, they have little impact on real market prices. In fact, according to the FAO 98 percent of all futures contracts never result in a real transaction of goods.
Even so, the evidence suggests that by betting on the future, Wall Street is defining the present. A 2010 study by Manuel Hernandez and Maximo Torero for the International Food Policy Research Institute considered price data for corn, wheat, and soybeans, and the dynamic relationship between spot and futures markets. They found that, in general, real market prices do rise to meet commodity futures prices.
The human tragedies that followed the 2008 financial crisis should have shattered the myth that finance occurs on a separate plane from everyday lives. Turning the world’s food into money is filling a few pockets, and emptying millions of stomachs. The speculative bubble has made food inordinately expensive, and people are hungry because they simply can’t afford it.
Representative Barney Frank and the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee Chris Dodd have proposed financial reform legislation (known as the Dodd-Frank Act) with a section that would require the CTFC to limit the positions held in futures contracts. The CFTC failed to reach an agreement on the limits by last week’s deadline, and the rules have been delayed again. According to Edward Miller in Global Research, leaks from the CTCF indicate that the limits they are weighing focus on oil, not food, and are riddled with loopholes. The Anti-Speculation Act, proposed by Senator Bill Nelson and Representative Peter Welch in late September, takes a stronger position, but given the massive support that both parties receive from the financial industry, Congress is unlikely to move forward on the legislation, particularly while the CFTC continues to stall. And as Frederick Kaufman writes in Foreign Policy, even if regulations were established in the U.S., food derivative markets have expanded globally to the extent that they are “beyond the reach of sovereign power.”
Even if financial regulation couldn’t fully reign in the runaway speculative train, it’s important to acknowledge the defining role commodities futures play in our food system, and for regulatory bodies to distinguish between financial and commodity derivatives. A handful of reporters like Kaufman, Horand Knaup, Michaela Schiessl and Anne Seith for Der Spiegel, and Tom Philpott for Mother Jones, have recently illuminated the costs of the newest investment bubble. But without greater attention, I wonder if we’ll be blindsided, just as we were in 2008, when it bursts.
Meanwhile a billion people are hungry worldwide. Now in its third week, the Occupy Wall Street demonstration has brought thousands of marchers representing labor unions and other organizations, along with ordinary citizens, to Manhattan’s financial district to join the populist protest. Solidarity demonstrations are underway across the United States. Regardless of what you think about the movement, it’s clear that corporate influence in politics effects our food system in many ways. Perhaps the movement is, at its heart, a struggle for our daily bread.