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Conscious Consumer


Make more informed decisions as a food consumer

Lesson Objectives:
• Understand food origins and environmental impacts
• Connect sustainability and personal health
• Explore the value of food labels and certifications
• Make informed decisions when purchasing food

Lesson Summary:
During this lesson, we help demystify some of the noise surrounding our current food production cultures. We will discuss where food staples are being sourced and explore the differences between organic and conventional farming practices and how they can impact your health. With the experts from Centered Chef, we will educate you to make informed decisions about the foods that you choose to eat.

History Lesson

As humans, we’ve been adapting and learning to adapt our environment since the dawn of civilization. How lucky are we that we don’t have to go hunt for 3 weeks, but instead we have instant access to foods.

Since the 1860s, the U.S. has had a 882% increase in population. But the percentage of farmers in the workforce has gone down by 86%.

Types of Farming

Pastoral farming involves raising livestock such as chickens or cattle.

Arable farming involves growing crops like wheat, corn, soy, and other produce.

Organic, or sustainable, farming does not use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or hormones. It also avoids overpopulating crop land and unnatural grain based diets for livestock. However, the organic crop yield is smaller, tends to be more expensive, and can be time consuming for the farmer to meet the rules and regulations to be certified as organic.

Conventional farming yields larger crops, is less labor intensive for the farmers, and you get more bang for your buck. But it also comes with higher energy costs, negative environmental impacts like pollution, overpopulation of livestock, overuse of crop land, and uses chemical pesticides, fertilizers and hormones.

Why should you care?

Organic farming provides ingredient transparency, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, and supports local business.

Livestock farming contributes to air and water pollution as well as overall climate change. Land used for livestock farming destroys local biodiversity. Livestock farming, cattle in particular, has an impact on the carbon footprint, producing nearly 18% of total greenhouse gases every year – that’s more than the entire transportation sector.

Sustainable Farming

Over time, sustainable farming can satisfy human food and fiber needs, enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base, make the most efficient use of nonrenewable and on-farm resources, sustain the economic aspect of farm operations, and benefit the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

Professional Opinion

Grass-fed beef: The difference in the diets of the cattle changes the nutrients and fats you get from eating the different types of beef. Grass-fed beef may have some heart-health benefits such as: less total fat, more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and more antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin E

Organic foods: The USDA has established an organic certification program that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards. Potential benefits of organic foods are increases in some nutrients, most significantly in types of flavonoids that have antioxidant properties, higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, lower levels of toxic metals , and lower detectable levels of pesticide residue. However, there is not enough research to make a definitive claim that organic is more nutritious.

Clearing Up Confusion – Product Labeling

  • Free Range/Free Roaming: animal allowed outside to eat and roam
  • Cage Free: animal not confined to a cage
  • No Hormones: no hormones used in raising the animal
  • No Antibiotics: no antibiotics used in raising the animal
  • Grass Fed: animal has outside access in order to graze
  • Natural: no artificial ingredients or added colors
  • Local: grown within 100 miles from its point of purchase
  • USDA Organic: organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances
  • 100% Organic: all ingredients and processing aids are organic
  • Organic: up to 5% of product can use non-organic ingredients
  • Made with Organic Ingredients: at least 70% of product must be made with organic ingredients
  • Specified Organic Ingredients: only certain ingredients can be labeled organic
  • Certified Naturally Grown: no synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms, including in the feed provided to livestock
  • Fair Trade Certified: products sold at a fair price to producers in developing countries
  • Certified Sustainable Seafood: the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) recognizes and rewards sustainable fishing practices
  • Go Clean Label: a resource that offers a clean label certification seal for retail and food service products

GMOs Uncovered

Genetically Modified Organism. What does that even mean? Essentially, that the genes of a plant have been modified in a lab to create a new crossbreed of plant or to make the plant demonstrate certain qualities. GMOs are used for a range of functions including addressing insects and weeds, advancing nutritional benefits, medicines and vaccines, and many benefits for the farmer, like greater crop yield.

So, what’s all the fuss about? Well, GMOs are relatively new to the market so research is still being done to uncover any potential health risks. As of right now, there is no proven current health risk or added benefits.

The Spectrum of Processed Foods

  • Minimally processed: foods processed for convenience (bagged and cut vegetables, roasted nuts)
  • Processed at peak: canned and frozen to preserve nutritional quality and freshness
  • Ingredients added: ingredients such as sweeteners, spices, oils, colors, preservatives added to sauces, dressings, yogurts, baking mixes
  • Ready to eat: foods like crackers or deli meat
  • Pre-made meals: foods like frozen pizza or microwaveable meals

These processed foods make our lives easier by being convenient, easy to prepare, and often destroy harmful pathogens. But we are also risking all of the added sugars, sweeteners, fats, chemical preservatives, artificial colors, and sodium as well as foods being stripped of valuable nutrients such as fiber, good fats, and antioxidants.

Convenience can still be nutritious – Fortified foods are processed but still provide beneficial nutrients. Fruits and vegetables that are canned in water or their own juices are a nutritious, and cheap, alternative to fresh produce. Pre-cut foods make food prep much quicker and easier. Just be sure to recognize the food in its original form or as naturally occurring.

Food Waste

A whopping 30-40% of all food that is produced in America is wasted. This statistic is even more shocking when we think about the fact that 1 in 8 Americans is food insecure. Not to mention all of the resources put into producing, processing, transporting, storing, and preparing the food has now been wasted as well. Food waste is the largest component of landfills, which are the 3rd largest contributor of methane in the U.S.

Being a Conscious Consumer

At the store: only buy based on need and use, read and understand the food label, make food decisions based on application of knowledge to your own life.

At home: maintain a well balanced diet, cook with whole ingredients, be responsible for your food waste