Friday, October 29, 2010

Greenwashing - Am I a Victim?

I finally found out the name of thing I have been fearing in this search for sustenance: greenwashing.To put it in my terms, this is a company or organization pretending to be greener than it actually is (see Sourcewatch for a much more in depth and "official" definition). This has been something I have always worried about in my search, but as of late, I have to say, it was really starting to haunt me. I have had this nagging question in my mind about the labels I trust and whether or not I have become lax and allowed the label to mean everything to me.

I Am Beginning To Have Trust Issues

It began about a week or so ago when I went shopping and I was looking for my Certified Humane eggs in Stop N Shop. They weren't there. I guess they were sold out or something, but this was the second week in a row this had happened and I began to wonder... why can I find organic eggs, but not certified humane? Why is everyone always talking about "organic" but never talking about "humane"? AM I BEING SWINDLED HERE?

I wondered...

                       it festered...

An Ally Emerges

And then I found a blog last night entitled: Why I Am Not Enthralled By "Organic" I thought to myself, "Here is someone having the same issue I am, but with the Organic labeling of products!" The timing of this couldn't have been better. (This like-minded soul recommended the film Bananas! as an exemplar of some greenwashing caught in the act.) On my trip to my now unfamiliar King Kullen yesterday I became a bit inquisitive about the "certified organic" foods as well.

Issue 1: Plastic Produce?
First of all, I was in the produce section and I was confused because all of the organic produce was packaged. Maybe I have gotten too used to my weekly trips to the Farmer's Markets (I will miss them when they are gone!), but is this normal? I like to touch my produce before I buy it, it is part of my selection process.

 Issue 2: The Non-Committal Berries

Secondly, and I am just remembering this now, I was a little bit confused by the strawberry situation: both the organic and non-organic strawberries were distributed by Driscoll farms - why not just do all organic? How did they suddenly decide what part of their farm would be dedicated to organic berries? Is Driscoll a company that practices greenwashing? I could go on here, but I hope to do some research to find out these answers.

Issue 3: Unseasonal Fruit

Thirdly, I can still see where the traps lie if you don't shop smart. One package caught my eye and, at first, I did not know what it was until I looked closer. It was a package of kiwis, in October (nearly November), in New York! So I looked even closer to answer the question: where did these come from? The answer: New Zealand. Now I don't know much about shipping fresh fruit, but can these kiwis from New Zealand still be considered fresh? And a scarier question - were these kiwis exposed to some sort of preservative to help them make the trip? Is that allowed?

My Great Question

It is clear to me that no label is going to be exactly what I want it to be. So I can not afford to become lax in my shopping routine. I must always remember to ask myself, Is this what I value in my food?
And to be able to answer that I have to continue to answer my greatest question of all:
What do I value in my food?
This is my great question, because it is still developing, and maybe always will be (which is why I always have to ask it!). 

Some Of My Answers

So after reading the Organic blog, I recognized that my lack in faith in my labels was well-founded, because I forgot something I knew innately at the beginning of this search: trust nothing at face-value because I always feared big-business, or agribusiness getting their clutches in the labeling process. I also feared something that I now know is called greenwashing. Either way, the lesson is the same stay knowledgeable - educate yourself. Get down and dirty with ins and outs of the labels; what do they really mean.  

I didn't want to feel disenchanted anymore about things I have chosen to trust, so I decided to re-educate myself as to why I selected to trust these labels and see if I still agree. Here's what I found:
  • I trust Certified Humane products.  After reviewing their standards and even read an article fighting for and against certified humane product labels, I remembered why this label became so important to me. Temple Grandin. I was at an education conference a couple of years ago when I saw this book for sale called, Animals Make Us Human it had nothing to do with my teaching, but everything to do with my life - I had three dogs at the time and had just given up my cat due to my husband's allergy. When I bought the book the seller pointed to a room behind me and said, "The author is giving a talk right in there now. You can have her sign it." It had been a long day, I was on my way out so I said, "No thanks," confused as to why she would be giving a talk at an education conference. Oh! If I could turn back time! The book was amazing, Dr. Grandin is even more amazing (I can't believe I haven't blogged about her before), and I learned about humane slaughter of cattle. Oxymoron, you say? Well, meat is still a reality in my house - I am working hard on my husband, but he has forgotten the horrors of Food, Inc. So if I am buying meat and animal products, they will be certified humane.
  • I need Organic Certification to guard against GMOs. While there still may be loop holes in the organic certification process, it still guards against this one giant nightmare. Another blog I read last night, Natural Corn? made a very good argument for organics as well as avoiding high fructose corn syrup (which we Riveras are on the bandwagon for also!). This "Natural Mom" had a very informative blog with a recommended viewing of Fresh, a movie I have yet to see - so it is on my to-watch list!
  • I like to buy local produce. I am still not sure how I would prioritize this in a supermarket given the option of locally grown or organic, but I do know that I do prefer to get my produce from the farmer's market than the grocery store. I need opinions/information on this one - am I being greenwashed at the farmer's market if I am buying produce that is not necessarily certified organic? Is this just as bad as going straight to the supermarket and buying non-organic? Let me know what you think or know about this topic!
So, in the end, it is basically an old lesson learned a-new for me here: be vigilant, read your labels carefully and then research what those labels mean.

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