If you have been following me, you are probably already trying to shop at your local farmers markets, do more cooking at home to control your menu ingredients, enhance your family quality time, and experiment with all those cool recipes you see on cooking shows.
To add to your tools and information sources, I tripped across a couple of sites I found helpful.
The Sustainable Table site has a variety of kits (in PDF file form) which can be used as teaching or display tools and for your own family information use.
They also have a kit for the Sustainable Dinner Party which can give you some ideas for Supper Groups.
(I have been thinking off and on of potentially setting up 'secret suppers' -- it would require quite a bit of planning, but is fun to contemplate. I will let you all know if I get serious!)
Another site to visit for information is the Animal Welfare Institute, which certifies humanely raised livestock farms. They are dedicated to supporting the small-scale and family farm. http://www.awionline.org/
The troubling issues with factory farming continue to, finally, get more and more attention. Even when a farmer wants to do things right if they make the mistake of getting into contracts with large processors -- the real manufacturers when you come down to what you are buying -- they are trapped in unconscionably egregious contracts which leaves them captive to corporate whims or in bankruptcy.
Read what some chicken farmers are up against.
How can you get more control over what you buy? I have noticed more and more food manufacturers are getting the message. I just saw an ad for Hunts Ketchup which loudly proclaimed on the label 'no high fructose corn syrup' -- good start!
They are listening. The real challenge to getting healthier and better quality foods is to make sure you are clear about what you want them to offer to you.
I participate in online consumer surveys. I am troubled when the elimination questions (I don't have the ability to complain about the questions) are frequently aimed at getting the survey participant to use emotions to explain how they purchase something. That is not to say there are no questions about what do you purchase - recently I had a survey on dairy and cheese and how much was organic, or natural, or other - that was a good one.
One good thing I noticed about the surveys in the last 6 months are the options in prepared goods or shelf-stable foods which offer more environmental, natural, local, family farm options for selections in answering the survey.
So why might that be a problem? Because those buzz words can be grabbed by food processors to label something which amounts to bait and switch - "So and so's family farm produces only naturally prepared..."
Back in January, 2010 "Tyson Foods Inc. has agreed to settle a lawsuit that accused the poultry giant of falsely claiming its chickens were "raised without antibiotics."
"In 2007, Tyson began advertising and labeling its poultry products as having been "raised without antibiotics." The following year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered Tyson to remove the labels when it found that the company had injected its chickens with antibiotics before they hatched. Tyson argued the labels were accurate because chickens aren't "raised" until after they're born."
So how do you like that corporate logic?
Isn't that enough to make you want to scream at them! The quote attributed to Voltaire goes something like "If you wish to converse with me, define your terms." Don't you wish we could tell corporate food producers they need to define their terms so we know what they are really saying?
What is a consumer to do? You need to know your suppliers like your grandparents did, your local farmers, meat producers, egg sellers, and cheese makers.
Some of the material on the sustainable table site are sheets of questions to ask sellers of food.
Oh, and on the subject of organic - organic picked green and shipped hundreds or thousands of miles is not a whole lot better for you than "somewhat" regional and non-organic.
Organic and natural are two words used at your local farmers market. Here is what THEY mean:
Organic means it was grown locally in a USDA certified program, picked local and sold local.
Natural for most of our local small-scale farmers means they grew the foods or produced the foods in much the same way as organic producers but without going through the expense of official certification.
Our farmers market vendors and farmers are happy to tell you all about their foods and origins - they are proud of their products. Ask them questions.
There is now a "Certified Naturally Grown" label for small-scale farmers and food producers. Check them out at: http://www.naturallygrown.org/
What is a natural flavor or anything proclaimed natural?
AND don't forget about growing some of your own food, raising a couple of chickens for eggs, or even consider having a dairy goat or two (you need to know your areas zoning limitations).
You may wish to join the Phoenix Permaculture Guild forum - they have groups on different subjects. I am a member of the micro-livestock group and soil culture group. Nice people, made up of newbies, getting there, experts - who still learn - and all are very helpful with answering questions.
If you have an interest in my books, the publishing site is still offering free shipping on orders totaling 19.95 shipped to USA addresses.