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Earth Friendly: Eco-Shopping

By By Marie Lester
Sept. 6, 2012 at 4:06 a.m.


Grandpa and Grandma Jecker grow the very best turnips around.

I am not sure how they grow them, but I have an image in my head of Grandpa working the ground with a much-used tiller, planting the seeds, squeezing the pests off in his fingers, watering just enough, then sitting on the porch in the evening, watching the garden grow.

This idyllic picture I have of the "birth of the turnips" makes the experience of eating them almost magical.

A trip to the grocery store can be just as inspiring. Rows and rows of colorful veggies, fruits and roots from the far corners of the world are begging to be consumed. The variety is amazing.

When you select which produce you want to feed to your family, how do you choose? You can choose by whether you like the taste, whether it's in season, whether it is organic, whether it is in your recipe, and whether it's ripe.

The choices you make have an impact not only on your dinner table (like whether your kid is going to eat that squishy green dish you prepared), but also on the environment.

There are some fundamental things to look for when shopping for produce to decide whether it is the best choice for the environment.

A good place to start is by reading the tiny little stickers on them. When I was a kid, I took the stickers off and stuck them on my nose, but I am somewhat more civilized now.

The stickers are printed on a food contact compliant film and may include information like brand name, logo, variety, barcode, country of origin, and certifications (like organic, natural, etc.).

Most of the information on the label is self explanatory, but knowing how to make shopping decisions based on the info is key. Here are a few tips to "eco-shop" and make environmentally friendly choices:

Learn the terminology: I was going to attempt to explain the different food labels, until I realized there are at least 147 of them (www.greenerchoices.org/eco-labels/labelIndex.cfm). Here are explanations about a few of the most common ones you will find in area stores:

Organic - means the food is grown with no pesticides, growth hormones, genetically modified organisms or petroleum fertilizers. Also, means processed with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Certified organic means 100 percent of ingredients are organic.

Organic means at least 95 percent are organic, and made with organic ingredients means 75 to 95 percent are organic ingredients.

Natural - Means nothing artificial or synthetic has been added during processing and it is minimally processed. Natural doesn't refer to how the food was grown, just how it was processed.

Conventional - Means the food is grown and processed using methods that may or may not include pesticides, genetically modified organisms, and artificial additives. Many environmentalists believe that conventional methods harm the earth. However, these methods allow farmers to produce more, ensuring there is enough food on the planet to feed the billions of hungry mouths.

Find out where it's from: Buy local if you can. Food produced locally doesn't use as much fuel in transporting it from farm to table - therefore less air pollution is created. Food bought close to home also means it will be fresher because it didn't have to make the long trek here. Local foods can also be picked at the peak of ripeness, where foods that must be transported a long way have to be picked before they are ripe so they don't spoil by the time they arrive.

Minimally packaged: Buy products that have as little packaging as you can. The beauty of fruits and veggies is that they come in their own natural package - their outer skin. Try skipping the produce bag, unless you are getting a large quantity. Or, learn to juggle, then you can juggle your oranges to the check-out line.

A trip to the grocery store becomes more exciting when you learn to look beyond the fat and calorie content. Less depressing as well (those high fat foods sure are yummy). When you start to really read the package, you will find out how many companies are implementing practices that make their foods healthier for the planet - and your body. Other options for great produce include your local farmer's market or a co-op where you get seasonal vegetables every other week.

Find more information about protecting the planet at victoriatx.org.

Marie Lester, is the environmental programs coordinator for the city of Victoria's Environmental Services Department. You may contact her with topic ideas, inspiration, questions and comments at cmlester@victoriatx.org.

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