Because there are no official standards for sustainable food, you need to ask the right questions to find the information you need to make the best choices for you and your family. There are generally three types of places you can buy fresh food from – direct from the farm/farmers’ markets, stores and restaurants – and you can ask questions at each outlet.
To start, know that it’s okay to ask questions. When I first started eating sustainable food, I tended to look for organic because I was hesitant to ask farmers questions about how they raised their meat, dairy and produce, and I knew what I was getting with organic (or so I thought). My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t like something about the way the farmer produced the food and would have to walk away. It seemed a bit rude.
So, first off, understand that you are not rude or inappropriate for asking questions. If you buy a car, you ask questions, and odds are you won’t buy the first one you look at. You shop around – and you don’t feel guilty for doing so. You do the same for any large purchase – appliances, computers, electronics – so why would any of us feel uncomfortable asking questions about our food? It’s your money and your choice.
Also, asking questions sends a clear message to farmers and businesses. If all of us asked for pesticide-free or pasture-raised food and shopped around until we found it, farmers would find a way to start producing food that was completely pesticide free or from animals raised on pasture. Many consumers may not understand that even organic food is permitted to be produced with a certain class of “natural” pesticide. This is much better than the chemical pesticides sprayed on industrial food, but if you want to go a step further and you make some inquiries, you may find farmers who use no pesticides at all, and yet their produce may not be labeled organic. So it’s important that we learn the issues and then go out and start asking questions.
Farm Direct/Farmers’ Market
If you’re shopping at a farm stand or a farmers’ market, odds are you’ll be speaking with one of the farmers who works the land. Ask them general questions about their farm so you can get to know them better – remember, they’re your neighbor. Questions you could ask include:
Where is your farm?
How long have you been farming?
What type of farming do you do?
What do you raise?
What are your favorite crops?
What’s your favorite way of cooking (kale, chicken, squash, any product they produce)?
You can also ask about their growing practices. Sustainable Table has wonderful handouts that give you both questions and answers for meat, dairy and poultry, so you can find out such things as –