Spring is here! It’s time to plant seeds or seedlings for all the fruit and vegetables you’d like to enjoy toward the end of summer or in the fall. There’s nothing like biting into a fresh, home grown tomato, carrot or watermelon after many months of care and attention.
One of the many great things about eating food grown in your own garden is that you know exactly what’s on your plate. You have a very good sense of the food’s nutritional value and are completely aware of its entire life cycle. There’s no mystery when you grow your own food— just pure enjoyment.
Unfortunately, the food produced in our conventional food system is much more of a mystery; its origins are heavily cloaked in secrets and lies. Many people want to know more about their food, but there are big companies and government regulations that make that challenging to the average consumer.
Last year, California was just a handful of votes away from passing a law that would have required mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered (GE) foods. Proposition 37, also called the “Right to Know” Food Act, would have required that manufacturers label all raw or processed foods stating that the food had its DNA artificially altered in a laboratory. The proposition also prohibited the labeling or advertising of genetically modified food as “natural.” The passing of this law would have meant that consumers could make informed decisions about the foods they put into their body.
It was a closely-watched conversation. In ten short weeks, the Proposition 37 campaign gathered nearly one million signatures from people all over California. Many different types of organizations endorsed the proposition— from media outlets to faith-based groups to politicians and food companies. Donations poured in and people began to really speak up about the way in which our food system works and the dangers of “Big Food.” Supporters raised over $9 million and included Lundberg Family Farms, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Amy’s Kitchen and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap.
The corporations that backed the No on 37 side included major pesticide and junk food companies such as Monsanto, DuPont, Nestle and Coca-Cola. It is in the best interests of these companies that their “food” is not clearly labeled. These companies invested huge sums of money into misleading television and radio advertising, claiming that food costs would increase $350-$400 a year for California families and that the labeling of food would be incredibly costly, putting farmers out of business. In the end, the No on 37 campaign raised $45.6 million.
The fact that this bill was even proposed in California is a great indication that people are hungry not only for pure, chemical-free food, but also more information as to how their food is handled and processed before purchasing. In the last few months approximately 20 other states have proposed labeling laws. There are already 62 countries worldwide that already have labeling laws in effect.
Food labeling is becoming more important as food labels are more confusing. The terms “natural,” “all natural,” “100% natural” and even the varying levels of food labeled “organic” (the level of organic depends on the certifying organization) create a challenge for most people who don’t have the necessary information needed to make informed choices about their food purchases. Overall, its difficult to distinguish between the truth and the hype.
Of course, climate change plays into this debate. The companies that are against informing consumers about genetically-modified ingredients in their food are those that harm the planet the most. The companies against Proposition 37 listed above, and many like them, utilize incredibly energy-intensive industrial farming practices and use toxic chemicals that seep into all parts of the environment, such as the water and air systems.
Additionally, these “food companies” contribute to up to 51% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (O2, Methane, Nitrous Oxide) as a result of the production and processing of their products. This number includes the fertilizers and pesticides used on their crops, the deforestation as a result of their farming techniques, the pollution that spews from their farms and factories, the energy-inefficient processing of their food, and the fact that most of this “food” is shipped anywhere between 1500 to 3000 miles before it is eaten. This is a huge amount of emissions created by only one industry.
Consumer pressure to label food packaging is affecting a large, national food chain that many believe is the Holy Grail of Healthy Food. Whole Foods recently announced that the packaging on all products sold in its stores would need to indicate if it contains genetically-modified ingredients by 2018. This is a bold move that will hopefully influence other retail stores to do the same. “We are putting a stake in the ground on GMO labeling to support the consumer’s right to know,” said Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, in a press release. He continues, “The prevalence of GMOs in the U.S. paired with nonexistent mandatory labeling makes it very difficult for retailers to source non-GMO options and for consumers to choose non-GMO products.” This declaration will not go unwatched: there are many individuals and food-related organizations that will be keeping a close eye on exactly how Whole Foods will implement and execute this new program over the next few years. A new Whole Foods will open in the Coachella Valley in 2014.
The best way to know what’s in the food that you eat is to simply grow your own food. Growing your own food is better for the environment and has an incredibly small impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Anyone can grow vegetables or fruit in even the smallest spaces, and in any type of weather, thanks to the innovation in hydroponics and indoor lighting. With more people putting their energy into personal gardens there will be less of a dependence on Big Food companies for food, thus decreasing the devastating effects of climate change and weather disasters. Plus, food grown in your own garden just tastes better!