When I talk about the benefits of food, I usually focus on things like nutrition, convenience, and price—things that directly affect you. But there are many more people affected by food than simply the person who eats it. And the things that benefit us personally may come at the expense of the workers and the environment that make it all possible. Buying while being mindful of fair wages, sustainability, and environmental issues makes the processes less like a transaction and more like a community, which ultimately benefits us all. From the global to the local scale, there are many ways to be a conscientious consumer.
The amount of imported food consumed by Americans is increasing in both volume and variety. Beyond the staples of tea, coffee and cocoa, fruits, oils and shellfish are increasingly produced on the world market. Although commercial farming has certain benefits, many producers seek higher profit margins by denying fair wages, making detrimental changes to the environment, and creating unstable economies in the areas in which they operate. The concept of “Fair Trade” is intended to correct some of these issues and to promote accountability among consumers. For example, Kelapo Coconut Oil is certified “Fair for Life” by the IMO Fair Trade Program, a third-party organization that evaluates all aspects of the production system to ensure that certain social and environmental benchmarks are being met. By being aware of different fair trade programs and seeking out these products, we can participate in building a stable and just community of international food production.
Although certain foods are essentially exclusive to the international market, there are many ways to enhance your local food community by purchasing produce and other goods from nearby farms. One benefit is the much-smaller carbon footprint that results from transporting food only 15 miles instead of 1,500. Additionally, these smaller farms are more likely to offer organic produce, which eliminates the pesticide hazards experienced by farm workers. Farmers’ markets offer an assortment of what local farms have to offer, and the ability to pick and choose is great to ease people in to the local scene. Another thing to consider is joining a form of community supported agriculture (CSA) or farm cooperative. Many variations exist, but you are essentially buying a share of a farm and will receive a portion of whatever the farm produces for the season. This benefits the farmers as they have a reliable stream of income, and consumers have the opportunity to use fruits and vegetables they might not pick themselves. Not to mention that paying in advance is a wonderful incentive to keep up your fruit and vegetable intake!