The stress of 5 o’ clock traffic; the parking lot melee; the search for the least-squeaky grocery cart. By the time you enter the grocery store you’re blindly grabbing items that you need to make dinner and hardly glancing at the labels. While you may look for words like “organic” or “fair trade” when buying your produce or coffee, do you really know what these terms mean? Here are the “cut ‘n dry” definitions of such food labels to help you become more informed in your meal planning.
Local – Local food is usually defined as food that has been grown within 100 miles from a certain place, without any official certification, inspection, or standards involved. These local foods, which do not have an official local seal, may be found in a specific area of a grocery store. Although some local farm companies are able to pass the inspection exam technically, many lack sufficient funds to get the organic certification.
Organic – Organic food, as described by the USDA, is food “produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.” Food and farm handling companies are inspected by a government approved facility first in order to pass as “organic.” Some certified food labels include “100% organic,” which is made with at least 70% organic ingredients. Another one is “organic” (95% organic ingredients), and “contains organic ingredients” (less than 70% organic ingredients). This is the best food term to look out for as it has passed the necessary inspections.
Fair Trade – Fair trade standards are made to alleviate poverty and are applicable to both producers and traders. Offering better trading conditions, fair trade standards contribute to more effective sustainable development. The FLO-CERT Company is responsible for the “fair trade certification.”
Natural – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s website explains that, “It is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth… The agency has not objected to the use of this term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavours, or synthetic substances.” Therefore, it is best not to rely on this food term. Check the food nutrition facts on the back of the package and decide for yourself whether it is “natural” or not.
Other misleading labels include: “good source of fibre,” “made with real fruit,” and “made with whole grains.” These labels should trigger you to look more closely at the ingredients.
Do not be misled by enticing food labels. Always be informed about where your food is coming from and how it’s produced. After all, “You are what you eat!”