Make sure to read the label.
It’s not uncommon that you’ve heard or said this before: Make sure to read the label. When purchasing food or products from the store, we’ve become conditioned to check its ingredients, how or where it was made, and any certifications it received. But as our consumer-based industries have evolved over time, it has also become more difficult to understand what these new phases of labeling actually mean. “Is organic even worth it?” “Are there different standards when it comes to how something is raised?” “Where do I even start?” At a time when life feels busier than ever and each dollar we spend matters, we hope to support you in making more empowered choices with your purchases by sharing information about all the options available to you.
When it comes to food, you’re probably pretty familiar with the standard labels seen regularly: Conventional, Organic, Non-GMO, even Biodynamic…but what are the distinctions? Our current food system is based primarily in large-scale, industrial agriculture often labeled as “Conventional”, the baseline when it comes to produce and product purchasing. Common crops used in a myriad of things we produce, from animal feed to human food, such as soy, corn and cotton are often genetically modified, or GMO. Conventional, or “industrial” large-scale agriculture, often uses synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals which harm the soil in the process. When soil health is suffering, synthetically-produced nitrogen (a massive energy-depleting process of our resources) is often used to overcompensate, attempting to enhance the soil, which unfortunately, does not even begin to solve the true problem.
To meet the demands of our wild overconsumption of meat and dairy, “factory farming” was born, where farmers raise pigs, chickens and cows in massive quantities and house them in small, confined spaces. These inhumane practices also require unhealthy chemicals to meet quotas and sustain these animals’ lives, while wasting a great deal of energy and polluting our air, water and soil through methane excretions. In turn, we began to see certifications of “cage free”, “pasture raised”,“grass fed”, “grass finished” and “certified humane”. These labels helped shape a new standard for more ethical practices and they build on one another in terms of their value and specificity.
“Organic” labeling began to take strides in a new direction, away from using pesticides and other harsh chemicals on our food and in our soil, and without the use of genetically modified crops (GMOS). It’s an important first step, but while organic often denotes what is not allowed in the processing of our food, it doesn’t necessarily include how its agricultural practices give back to our earth, which is where “Regenerative” and “Biodynamic” come in. Regenerative agriculture utilizes farming principles that help increase biodiversity, enrich soil health and help drawn down excess carbon from our atmosphere and return it to the ground where it belongs. Biodynamic practices go a step further, using holistic principles to connect soil, crops and animals into a thriving ecosystem, and offers specifics around planting cover crops to protect the soil, crop rotation, and even being mindful to the time of planting and harvesting.
Currently, “regenerative organic” is a burgeoning new standard that, according to David Bronner of the Dr. Bronners brand, brings together the best of soil health, animal welfare and fair labor into a single consumer-facing certification standard. It ensures consumers can feel confident to know that not only was something grown in a way that respects the soil, but all the workers, farmers and individuals involved were also treated fairly and any animals or livestock involved were raised on a pasture-based system - a new level of animal welfare criteria than even the current organic standard includes. It calls into question the long-term sustainability prospects of our practices, because if we truly want to transition to a more regenerative way of living, eating and farming while integrating livestock, we need to eat a lot less meat to be able to accommodate that. While veganism is a lifestyle movement that has skyrocketed over the last ten years (even fast food chains have jumped on the bandwagon, showcasing “vegan options” and using meat-free alternatives in their dishes), the imbalance of carnivorous demands still outnumber plant-based eating. So limiting the amount of meat (and dairy) being eaten all around is massively important and being mindful of how your meat is raised and produced makes a big difference.
The reality coming to light is that our current climate is suffering - and soil could very well be the key. The value of soil fertility when it comes to growing nutrient-rich food for animals and humans alike, pulling carbon out of our atmosphere and back into the earth, and helping to balance and stabilize our environment is, in fact, vital. Transitioning to organic, and particularly regenerative principles, with respect to the sustainability of ecosystems and without the use of harsh chemicals or pesticides, factory farming, pollution of environments, etc. can help to transition our precious planet back into a state of balance and health - from seed to table.
Ultimately, the important thing, in anything, is trying our best. When it comes to being a more conscious consumer, we believe in the importance of focusing on just that - doing your best! Nothing will be perfect, so taking strides towards selecting companies that are doing their best, too, will help strengthen the chains of commerce towards healing our planet on all levels. We must constantly evaluate, and re-evaluate, our impact in all areas of social, environmental and agricultural health. While there is still certainly room to grow in becoming fully eco-conscious in our practices, awareness and knowledge are great first steps to a lifetime of change.