One of the benefits of a robust and globalized food economy is that, at any given moment, most Americans have access to fresh food from all over the world. We can purchase everything from gourmet chocolate bars made with cacao sourced from Peru to fresh fruit harvested from an orchard down the street. Our incredible food economy affords us the ability to access a safe, diverse supply of foods that supports a global marketplace and keeps us healthy.
Due to the simple fact that most of our food comes from far and wide, it’s more common than ever to eat foods without any knowledge of their origin. In fact, a new food research study showed that 48 percent of Americans never or rarely seek out information about where their food comes from. But knowing a bit about who makes what we eat and where it comes from can help us make more informed decisions that result in better health, a better world and a more ethical economy.
It Can Help You Eat Fresher
When you know where your food came from, you’ll have a much stronger understanding of how far it traveled to make it to the shelf in your grocery store. For example, if you have the choice between fruit grown in another country and fruit grown at your local farm, you know there’s a better chance that the local option was grown more recently.
It Can Help You Go Green
Prioritizing foods produced domestically doesn’t just help improve the freshness of your food supply. It also helps reduce your carbon footprint and the environmental impact of buying items from afar. A food item that came from thousands of miles away required plenty of fuel to arrive at your store, which contributes to carbon emissions and global warming. In fact, shipping produces over 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Shopping locally or within your own country is a more sustainable solution.
It Can Help You Support Small Businesses
Not only is shopping locally great for the environment, it’s also a big win for your local economy. Buying your groceries from local farms, bakeries, chocolatiers, etc. helps keep money in your local community and provides jobs to sustain a healthy local economy. Knowing where your food comes from can also help you support the livelihood of workers on the farms where a food item’s ingredients originated. For example, supporting coffee companies that prioritize fair trade practices in Central America can help ensure that the workers who contribute to the product have a way to make a sustainable living.
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It Can Help You Shop Ethically
Unfortunately, many agricultural and livestock industries rely on unethical labor, deforestation and other problematic practices to keep production costs low. However, knowing where exactly your food is produced can help you avoid supporting companies that use unethical practices.
For example, knowing that the cacao beans used to make those beautiful chocolate gift boxes were produced under fair trade standards in South America can help ensure that you don’t contribute to unfair work conditions or even forced labor. This is an important consideration when buying chocolate, coffee, liquor and other foods that rely on crops sourced from developing areas of the world.
It Can Help You Eat More Low-Cruelty Foods
If you’re conscious of the ethical impact on animals, knowing where your food is produced can help ensure that your purchase does less harm. For example, buying meat, eggs and dairy from small, local producers committed to ethical farming may be a less cruel way to consume animal products when compared with buying factory farmed goods. Cruelty isn’t just a consideration when it comes to meat and dairy, however. Knowing where your food comes from can also help you switch to more ethical snacks and sweets, such as vegan chocolate.
It Can Help You Eat Healthier
Last but certainly not least, learning about where your food comes from can help you eat healthier. It will help you make more informed decisions about what you feed yourself and your family. For example, you may opt to buy produce and other foods exclusively from companies that are certified USDA Organic or non-GMO. Knowing the origin of your food will help clue you in to exactly how it was made and what went into making it.
Become a More Informed Eater
Now that you know why it’s beneficial to learn about the origins of what you eat, it’s time to start figuring out where your lunch came from! But how do you do this, exactly? Well, the simplest way is to look at the label. The United States requires certain food manufacturers to label their food with a Country of Origin Label to identify where the food item was sourced.
Most high-quality food producers will explicitly list where the product was made on their packaging. This information should be readily accessible on the label or their website if the company is committed to ethical sourcing and transparency. What about crops and ingredients not grown in the U.S.? Indeed, eating exclusively locally sourced foods isn’t realistic or necessary, as long as you prioritize shopping with ethical, sustainable brands.
If you’re buying food items that rely on imported ingredients not grown in the U.S. — such as coffee, chocolate or wine — just make sure the brand is transparent about where they source their ingredients. Shopping Fair Trade certified products can help ensure that you’re not supporting any sketchy practices.
A Worthy Endeavor
As you can see, spending a bit of time to dig into the background of your food will help you lead a healthier lifestyle and will make a positive impact on the environment and your local economy. Luckily, the laws and regulations surrounding food origin transparency are becoming more and more stringent, so you should be able to easily figure out exactly where your foods were sourced.
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