The produce department. It is my favorite department in the whole grocery store. For one, the teams that care for the fresh goods area seem to be full of some of the most gracious and passionate people. And, they are the most open areas - surely I am not the only person who needs to carry insurance to use the green race car, mini-van of carts. I'm sure while perusing the various fruits and vegetables you have noticed that that there are several different labels.
The labels on our fruits and vegetables tell us how the farmer grew the food. Conventional, Organic, Non-GMO and Greenhouse Grown are the common phrases we see while shopping. So what do these words mean to us as shoppers? The most important thing we learn from these labels is whether or not the product contains pesticides (and how heavily), and what kind of seed the farmer used. By knowing this information we can shop safer, and more economically. Let's talk about what each of these.
Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are grown using traditional farming practices - meaning grown outdoors, in the soil, and using a broad range of pesticides. The Conventional farming industry also embraced the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO's) in the 90's, and use of such scientifically altered seeds is widespread. It's a practice whose safety is controversial and for this post, I will only focus on providing you the general facts.
You can also identify the type of vegetable or fruit by looking at the number code - a round or oval sticker. If the number on the label has four digits and begins with the number 4, then the product was grown traditionally. It will contain higher levels of factory-made chemicals and could be a GMO. Also keep in mind that some foods require farmers to use more pesticides than others, so pesticide levels will vary from plant to plant.
There is a list called The Dirty Dozen, and one called The Clean Fifteen that breaks down the most heavily polluted conventional items and the cleanest conventional foods. Becoming familiar with these lists will be helpful in budgeting, and shopping as safely as possible.
2. Greenhouse Grown
I present to you the most underrated player in the produce department. Farmers grow Greenhouse (Hot House) Grown Food indoors, in climate-controlled environments and have very few pest problems - reducing the need for many pesticides. They are typically very clean, and more sustainable for the environment than conventionally produced foods. They aren't technically organic because often the plants are grown in water without soil. The farmer then adds nutrients to the water, and the seed could still be a GM seed.
Greenhouse Grown fruits and vegetables are an excellent option for clean eating - especially if it's an item on the dirty dozen list. As a bonus, these foods are also competitively priced with conventional foods, so you get more bang for your buck.
We discussed briefly that genetically modified organisms are plants that have been scientifically altered to achieve certain characteristics. When you see something that is advertised as "seedless", or a hybrid item (Remember the "Grapple" from the 90's?!) it is a modified seed. One of the controversies surrounding GMO's is over the labeling of such products. When you see the Non-GMO Project Verified label, it means that it is a natural plant. My stance on GMO's? I suggest avoiding them if possible (we just don't know enough), but not letting it rule your life. I can't even count the number of seedless watermelons our family has eaten this summer!
It's the world we live it; we can only do our best to navigate it with awareness and balance.
Organic food labels have a number that starts with the number 9 and has five digits. Farmer's using Organic Farming Standards follow rules focused on sustainability, and safety. Foods produced organically are not pesticide free. However, the types of pesticides used are natural - think safer for the environment and us. When you purchase an Organic food, you also know that it is not a GMO. Sometimes you will see a product labeled both Non-GMO and Organic and then another labeled Organic. They are both the same quality item; one simply carries an additional seal ( and you might pay more for that!).
If you are new to purchasing clean food, refer back to the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists as guidance. It's also good to stock up on organic frozen fruit and veggies when you can. Frozen produce is a cost effective way to start putting more clean food into your body. You'll save yourself some guilt if you have to toss spoiled food from your crisper by keeping some frozen items on hand.
Next time you meander through the shiny apples and freshly misted greens be strategic about your bounty. Let's talk about how we can optimize your shopping, save you money, and put more clean food on your family's plate.