Environmental Buzz Words

organicAdvertisers slap environmental buzz words all over their products, hoping to entice you as you wander around the grocery store. But now that “being green” is becoming mainstream, I think it’s time we all properly understand the eco-vernacular…especially when it comes to food.  Here are the top five eco-adjectives I’ve seen being tossed around, and what they actually mean.

Organic

Probably the most commonly used buzz word, organic refers to the process through which something is grown. For produce, it means it was grown free of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, etc. For animal bi-products like meat or dairy, it refers to not treating with antibiotics or growth hormones. Be sure to look for the USDA organic seal here! But don’t let the label fool you, the term doesn’t address the conditions that the animals were raised in or if the process was environmentally friendly.

Cage-Free or Free-Range           

Both terms essentially mean the same things – the animals are not constricted to cages. But be wary here too, it sounds like they are free to roam about grassy fields for days on end, but the reality is far less pleasant. Most cage-free or free-range poultry is contained within a barn and has limited, if any, access to the outside. And because there is no third-party auditing, this term gets thrown around quite loosely.

Grass-Fed

Ideally, cattle would feed on grass their entire lives, but corn and grain are far cheaper to produce and often become the majority of a cow’s diet. Nutritionally, grass-fed cattle produce beef with less saturated fat and more nutrients than grain-finished beef. Grass-fed beef ensures that the animal has an grass-and-hay-only diet and has access to a pasture year-round. Just like organic, look for a USDA seal here as well.

Sustainable

Here is perhaps the most vague of all the eco-buzz words. Sustainable is NOT a certified label or official policy. It can be used to refer to anything from an environmentally-friendly growing structure to an energy efficient production method to eco-friendly packaging. The term is an ad hoc device, a catch-all used in marketing to appear “greener” and rally consumers’ support.

Local

Local food, be it produce or otherwise, refers to food produced or grown within a certain distance of you as a consumer, the thought in this being that consumers are pledging support for your local economy and cutting down on your food’s carbon footprint. Unfortunately, there is no set definition of what distance qualifies something as local – so use the term as a clue to check where exactly the food is coming from and then decide about your purchase.

I know all these definitions seem rather skeptical, but I think it’s important that consumers are wary of the products they purchase. Supporting better products, means better products will be provided – it’s simple supply and demand. So demand food that’s not only good for your but also good for the environment.

Suburban Backyard Chickens

chickens

Sorry for the hiatus – I spent most of November and December locked in the library finishing up my thesis. After that I spent my winter break bouncing between informational interviews in San Francisco and taking care of chickens…yes, you heard that right, chickens. And that’s actually what I write about.

First, allow me to preface this post with the fact that I am afraid of birds. So when I agreed to pet sit for my new neighbors, I assumed I would just be feeding some fish or scooping a litter box – not letting five chickens out to roost and collecting eggs. I mean, who keeps chickens in their suburban backyard? Apparently quite a few people do…and for good reason.

As it turns out, chickens are an incredibly environmentally friendly pet choice. First, just look at their eggs. Not only is it convenient to wander into your backyard for fresh eggs, but those eggs have virtually no carbon footprint. Talk about a “local” food source! Not to mention, they’re downright delicious. Plus, because you’re raising the chickens yourself, you know what the chickens were fed and what their living conditions were. Organic, cage-free, whatever – it’s more than just a label on a package.

But, to my surprise, chickens offer more than just eggs. The birds are scavengers and can be fed much of your kitchen waste (though I don’t recommend feeding them leftover pot-pie if you know what I mean). For those of you who don’t have a compost collection, this is a great alternative to help keep scraps out of landfills. Plus, at the other end of the spectrum, chicken waste is an excellent and nutritious fertilizer for your garden.

Who knew chickens were so green?

Now before you go out and get a few chickens, I will warn you there is a time commitment associated with them. You’ll need to feed them, let them out in the morning, put them in at night and clean their coop. Plus, I would do some research on which variety of chicken you want – what size works best for you, what type of egg production do you want, etc. After my experience, I would recommend a heritage-breed variety; they’re not only beautiful and quirky, but they’re threatened by modern production standards and their numbers are beginning to dwindle. Forget about them as an entrée and start thinking about chickens as pets.

Better, Greener Beer

bar-growler-w650From shopping to Starbucks to cheesecake, we all have our vices – after all, we are only human. For me it’s all about a good beer. And with the growing popularity of growlers, my good beer vice could actually be good for the environment…okay, well it’s not as bad anyway!

For those of you who have yet to get on board with the growler trend, or have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to make my case. A growler, as seen in the picture, is a squat, 64-ounce sealable container that you can get filled with your choice of beer at a variety of refill stations or breweries. The growler gets sealed with CO2 and stays fresh for up to three weeks, or three days once opened.  But why should you choose a clunky jug-o-beer over the classic six-pack you can pick up at 7-11 around the corner? Here are some reasons, to name just a few…

Less Waste

You use a refillable water bottle, why not a growler? Choosing one washable container will quickly cut down on the number of 12-ounce bottles or beer cans cluttering up your kitchen and recycling bins. Plus, you don’t have to rummage through your drawers looking for that pesky bottle opener.

Think Local

Most growler refill stations offer up a wide selection of beers, many of which are local crafts or microbrews. Beer produced closer to home and on a smaller scale has a significantly smaller carbon footprint (or water ring?) than a common domestic beer. Supporting local businesses supports your local community. It’s a win-win really.

Cost Effective

I’m not going to lie and say that growlers are super cheap, but they’re cheaper than you’d expect. Growlers generally run about $8-14 a refill, which isn’t any different than a pitcher of beer at bar or buying a local 6-pack at a specialty store. Not to mention that you don’t have to pay those darn bottle recycling deposits.

Better Quality

This part is both blatantly opinionated and fairy self-explanatory. Growler stations and tap houses have a wide selection of beers so you can choose the beer that’s best for you. Or, you can do what I did, and mix a couple beers together – chocolate espresso stout and pumpkin ale any one?

So let’s raise a glass, or growler, to better, greener beer. Cheers!

Is Fair Trade Really Fair?

Screen shot 2013-07-12 at 11.48.24 AMYou’re standing around in the grocery store trying to figure out what coffee to purchase. It’s not longer a simple question of regular or decaf, or even just brand loyalty. Now you’re choosing between things like roasts and flavors and organic and fair trade. I know that a pumpkin spice blend will probably taste like autumn in a cup, but does fair trade coffee taste like freedom?

What exactly is fair trade? According to Fair Trade USA, the largest coffee fair trade certifier, it’s a “global movement to alleviate poverty in farming communities around the world in ways that are socially and environmentally sustainable.” Sounds pretty great – paying a few extra bucks out of your pocket to help protect the planet, build businesses, fight poverty and empower farmers. But remember, you’re also paying for that “green image” and the fancy seal on your coffee bag.

Let me be clear, I am not against fair trade; in fact, compared to most environmentalists, I’m a pretty avid supporter of it. But I support the foundation of the movement, the roots, not necessarily what it has turned in to.

Here are the facts.

Fair trade has helped thousands of farmers go from loosing money in coffee production, to actually being able to turn a profit. That being said, it doesn’t really allow them to make much of a profit. The “C Trade” requires growers make $1.40 a pound, whether their coffee sells for $4 a pound…or $14. Fair trade levels the playing field, but it also squanders opportunity for growth. You might ask, “But where does all the money go?” There’s growers, roasters, distributers, etc. And don’t forget that you’re paying for sustainable growing standards as well. There’s a lot at play, to say the least.

So is fair trade really fair? That’s not really a conclusion I can draw for you. Fair trade has its fair share of pros and cons and it’s up to you to take a stance. Just know that with every purchase of coffee you are pledging your loyalty – the only question is to whom.

Good for You, Good for Eugene

market-homework-lgI’ve recently started doing research for a new client through one of my journalism courses. My client is the Lane County Farmers Market…but the problem is they don’t know who their client is. And, perhaps more importantly, they don’t know why people are choosing to shop at their market.

As someone who quite often frequents the farmers market, I’ve started to ask myself (and other shoppers) what it is that keeps me coming back. Most responses included mentions of the local produce, the freshness of the products and getting to know the farmers. All this information is well and good, but I think it hints at something more…

We’re not just braving the heat and crowds for flat of strawberries – we’re doing it because, whether consciously or not, we’re buying into the local food movement. It’s not that the farmers market is more convenient or better priced than the super market, one might even argue the opposite, but rather people are coming back week after week to do some good for their community.

Maybe it is a niche market, but it is growing. A city as green as Eugene has really embraced the market, making it a staple in many people’s weekly routines. Shoppers know that with every piece of produce purchased, we are supporting our local economy. And knowing the farmers, knowing where your food comes from, that’s not just a passing trend. It is a grassroots movement that many Eugene locals have adopted, and it is something my client needs to capitalize on.

Sustainable. Organic. Fresh. Local. These are key ingredients in what makes the famers market so unique. LCFM needs embrace this mentality and expand its market whilst still representing these core customer values. Simply, others need to know not only why customers choose to shop at the farmers market, but also why they keep coming back; they need to know that LCFM is good for you and good for Eugene.