Quite often despite all the measures we take to keep our kitchens frugal it is very easy to overlook a very important frugal living concept. That concept is social responsibility. Two excellent videos I highly recommend that will give a rather good perspective on how your food is produced is Food Inc. and the importance of putting nutrition first Food Matters. I also encourage you to read the books Fast Food Nation and The Hundred-Year Lie. Food production is the primary human activity world wide. Yet of the foods produced 30% of that goes to food spoilage at many stages from the farmer to the grocery store to the consumer. Think about it 30% of food produce goes to spoilage yet how many people go to bed hungry each night? And that really is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to food production whether commercially or privately grown.
Food consumption cannot come without a social awareness as to the plight of those producing the food for our tables. The bottom line is if we don't support local growers so they too can feed their families our communities are weakened. The end result is the very people responsible for producing our food have to turn to social assistance paid out of our tax dollars, food banks and charitable organizations. Worse than that, small scale farmers no longer able to afford to keep their farms operating are forced out of farming, often selling the land to developers that will use it for another purpose besides growing food. On a global level, many farmers do not earn enough to feed their family as much as one meal a day. At the same time the choices we make with respect to food can harm or benefit the environment both locally and globally. It is our responsibility to be good stewards of the land, whether used directly (eg. gardening, own land) or indirectly (eg. farmland, countrysides). This really is what social responsibility is all about when it comes to food!
How can we incorporate social responsibility into our food choices while maintaining a frugal kitchen? This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 discusses a few ways to be socially responsible while saving money:
- organic - Growing organically or buying organic produce makes good sense both in terms of your health and the environment. Organically grown produce is not contaminated with synthetic pesticide or fertilizer residues. Organic produce is labeled as certified organic or grown organically or simply organic. Certified organic produce must be the standards of the certification body. In many cases organic produce will be comparable in price to if not less expensive than produce not grown organically. Pricing is always influenced by regions so in some cases organic produce will be higher priced but in many areas it is the same price with some organic fruits and vegetables priced lower than non-organic. Packaged organic foods often are higher priced in the grocery stores but some are not.
- fair trade or ethical trade- Fair Trade and Ethical Trade are organized social movements and marketing approaches that strive to ensure those growers in developing countries receive a fair price for the crops they produce, develop local crop sustainability as well as workers receiving fair wages and descent working conditions. Look for the logo of either organization on products (eg. coffees, teas) you buy. It makes little sense that farmers are not paid enough to be able to put food on the table for their families or that workers don't earn enough money to feed their families or work in unsafe conditions. Food producers can apply to have Fair Trade or Ethical Trade certification. Once certified these food producers can display the Fair Trade or Ethical Trade logo on their products so consumers know the product meets all of those standards. Products certified as Fair Trade or Ethical Trade are competitively priced to non-certified products. They often go on sale as well and coupons may be available so the choice really is between buying a product that supports fair and ethical trade verses one that does not.
- union made - Canadian unions ensure that the factory workers in food processing plants have fair wages, fair benefits, adequate and safe working conditions, as well as representation in the event of employee/employer disputes. Union made products will be indicated on the label but there is no logo just the words. Workers in non-union plants are not protected in such a fashion. Now this one is a bit hard because some non-union workers actually have better conditions than union workers. Products from non-union food plants may be slightly less expensive. If in doubt, Google the company to find out what their employee policy is and how they treat their employees. Any substantial problems in this respect will be covered in the media as well.
- grown locally - Recently the grocery stores have been pushing the grown locally and grown close to home labels for produce. Buying locally produced produce is not only eco-friendly as it reduces the carbon footprint due to transportation, the produce tends to be less expensive because the cost of transportation is reduced. Local produce is higher in nutrition as it gets from the farmer to your table considerably faster after being harvested as opposed to imported produce that can spend days in transit losing valuable nutrition in the process. Local produce is usually less expensive than imported produce. Locally produced packaged foods may be slightly less expensive because they have lower transportation costs associated.
- produced in Canada - Canadian grown/produced foods tend to be slightly less expensive than similar imported foods. This is not always the case especially if the company is not Canadian or the company is Canadian but the parent company is not. Paying attention to where the food is actually produced (country of origin) can save a bit of money at the check-out.
- ethical treatment for animals - The ethical treatment for animals is a movement to ensure the animal is raised in a good and caring environment frees from stress, with adequate health care and at slaughter time given a humane death. The food industry doesn't market the ethical treatment for animals using these words though. The buzz words are: hormone free, grass-fed, free range, dolphin safe, farm fresh, and wild (as opposed to farm raised, eg. salmon). In many cases these buzz words are just that. Despite their cutesy commercials showing an old fashioned chicken coop with chickens happily laying eggs to be collected each day the reality is unless you buy from a local farmer who raises a small flock of chickens both your eggs and chicken is coming from large, commercial, over crowded chicken farm factories where the chickens have anything but a good life. Chickens have been breed to have larger breasts thanks to the consumer demand for boneless, skinless breast meat. The problem is these chickens are so heavy they can barely walk. A the list goes on with autricites in each sector of the livestock industry. Refuse to buy meat and poultry produced under such conditions and make your voice heard regarding why you won't buy.
- being involved - Change comes through being concerned enough to become involved. There are several ways to do this. On a local level, get to know farmers and producers. If you aren't happy with certain product packaging, write a letter to the company expressing your concerns and/or possible solution. Write your local councilman, MPP, MP and even the Prime Minister with your concerns over farming issues in your area and across Canada. Of particular concern currently is the food insecurity being faced by many Canadians so this is one area where aside of donating to the local food banks, a letter writing campaign is more than warranted. At the community level, pressure the municipal government for proactive change that supports community gardens and weekend farmer's markets. Become a member of a local service group and/or church group or similar organization that works to combat hunger. On a personal level, promote healthy eating and cooking. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or school breakfast program. Take a new cook under your wing and teach them how to cook. Offer to show other in your church group, or friends and neighbours how to preserve foods as well as supply and use a well stocked pantry. All of this gets the ball rolling and while it doesn't save money on your food costs although if you are able to lobby for changes it may, it does save at the societal level in less reliance on food banks, less social assistance and less hunger.