Ask An Organic Mom

How to Make Food Shopping Healthy

Conscious Kitchen Challenge, Week 2: Food Shopping

csa share

As a longtime The Daily Green blogger, on the occasion of the publication of my second book, The Conscious Kitchen, I'm using my "Ask An Organic Mom" space for the next 8 weeks – give or take – to invite you to join me on the Conscious Kitchen Challenge.

What does it mean to have a Conscious Kitchen? It's a little different for every person, but at its heart, it means knowing where your food comes from, what it is, and how good it is (or isn't) for you and for the environment. It also encompasses the energy it takes to cook, what you're cooking on and storing food in, and even how you clean up and handle waste.

We all know we need to be eating better foods – local, organic, local and organic, humanely raised meat, wild and well-caught fish, packaged foods containing five pronounceable ingredients or less – but they're not always so easy to find. Or it's not always so easy to motivate to find them. Think of this like you think of New Year's resolutions. Choose your own personal goal – make it attainable for better success – and then together we'll methodically get you there. Keep in mind that any conscious steps are better than no conscious steps – 10 percent is better than no percent.

Week 1: The Kitchen Self-Exam

Week 2 Challenge: Shopping

To procure conscious food, stack the odds in your favor. It takes an education to get the good stuff at a supermarket, but you have to work really hard to get the bad stuff at a farmers' market. If you join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm or grow (some of) your own food, it's literally impossible to get the bad stuff. So your challenge this week, if you choose to take it, is to back slowly away from the supermarket and attempt to up the ratio of food you buy outside supermarkets. If you only have supermarkets as an option, pick up a copy of The Conscious Kitchen. It will offer you the education needed to shop in them, and plenty of resources for locating farms and other options you might not know are truly just around the corner from you.

Places to Shop (Other than Supermarkets) for Conscious Food

farmers market shopping

There's no better way to get a wide variety of what's growing in season than to shop at a farmers' market. It's one stop shopping, much like a store. If you want organic and don't see the sign, ask questions to find out what, how much, and when farmers are spraying their crops. Many small farmers grow organically but are not certified, or only spray if absolutely necessary. More and more markets now have stalls for cheese, bread, prepared food, meat, eggs, and even soaps and lotions. Some markets have requirements regarding how the food at the stalls was raised and where it comes from. Others don't. Get to know the governing rules at your market. And always ask questions when shopping at these stalls. If you're interested in pastured eggs, find out if the quiche or baked goods contain them. If you want local cheese, find out where the cheese is from. Sometimes a local cheese shop sets up a stand and can sell any kind of cheese from any country. Be extra vigilant when buying meat and fish, even at a farmers' market. Animal treatment and feed varies from farm to farm, and local waters may not be safe to eat seafood from. I'll address meat and fish more in upcoming weeks. And remember, local junk food is still junk food – keep this in mind as you inhale those (delicious) cider donuts, or fried first-of-the-season asparagus. Whole foods are the most conscious choices at any farmers' market.

Challenge: Identify a farmers' market in your area using the "Get Local Info" tool on The Daily Green's homepage (or at Local Harvest) and make your next shopping trip there.


csa community supported agriculture
Buying a share in a community supported agriculture farm is a great way to support a local farm and receive healthy, amazingly fresh -- usually organic -- produce in weekly deliveries during growing season. It's also inexpensive – members get more bang for the buck than they would shopping for the same items at farmers' markets or supermarkets. It's a great system for farmers, too, as members share the risks involved with regional farming (bad weather, blight), not just the bounty. Some CSAs require members to do some volunteer hours at weekly distribution, others don't. It's a great way to get to know your farmers as well as your neighbors. CSA farms sometimes also connect members with local fruit, cheese, honey, syrup, meat, bread, or even coffee.

Challenge: Use the Get Local Info tool to identify CSAs in your area, and consider buying a share. If a whole share is too much, consider a half share -- or share the share with a neighbor!

Another great way to shop for food is to go directly to a farm, if you live near any, for eggs, meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Many farms do direct sale. One caveat about farm stands: don't assume everything in them comes from a local farm. If you see nectarines in May, ask where they're from. This happens every year at a stand near me. Once I asked – a few years ago, when I was first consciously trying to eat more locally – I started to notice that many of their items aren't local at all. The nectarines were from the other side of the country.

Challenge: Use the Get Local Info tool to identify farm stands in your area, and ask whether the produce is local.

herb window box

What's more local than your own yard? And no driving to get there! If you're green-thumbless or space-challenged, start small. A herb window box might set you off in the direction of a full-fledged vegetable garden. Test your soil before planting, use organic soil if adding any, and make sure any container you're planting in is safe for edible plants. While you're at it, set up your compost pile. I'll address compost in more depth in upcoming weeks.

Challenge: Consider your soil, your sunlight and your time, and plan to grow at least one garden vegetable this year. Here some beginner gardening tips to get you started.

conscious kitchen book

Choose health food stores or larger natural food markets over supermarkets. And make careful choices as you go through these. Pick up a copy of The Conscious Kitchen for tips on how to navigate the aisles of any store or supermarket, and on how to convince your supermarket management to carry more conscious food options.

Week 3: Fruits and vegetables
Week 4: Meat

The Conscious Kitchen: The New Way to Buy and Cook Food - to Protect the Earth, Improve Your Health, and Eat Deliciously is an invaluable resource filled with real world, practical solutions for anyone who has read The Omnivore's Dilemma or seen Food, Inc. and longs to effect easy green changes when it comes to the food they buy, cook, and eat.

Alexandra Zissu

Alexandra Zissu

Alexandra Zissu is co-author of The Complete Organic Pregnancy and author of The Conscious Kitchen.
read full bio.
buy the book

buy the book

The Conscious Kitchen: The New Way to Buy and Cook Food — to Protect the Earth, Improve Your Health, and Eat Deliciously
Real world, practical solutions for anyone who longs to effect easy green changes when it comes to the food they buy, cook, and eat.
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