food safety and my food journey

My food journey, as I like to call it, was born out of the 2006 spinach recalls.  When I first started hearing about the potential of e. coli in spinach that I would buy from the market, I immediately panicked.  I mean, people were dying because of this.  And many more were sick and in the hospital.  It didn’t make sense to me, food safety was something I had always assumed was in place.  But then, my eyes were opened to the entire agribusiness of the US, and how it operates.

Yesterday, I saw that there was another spinach recall.  This one, voluntary, and for organic spinach.  Also due to “potential e. coli contamination.”  I’m not entirely sure why spinach seems to be such a vulnerable plant, but there it is.  
Recently I have been more inclined to buy veggies at the grocery store.  There were a couple years where I would only get veggies from the farm, and then fill in with grains/beans/pastas, but my diet has evolved even more to include mainly vegetables and fruits, ie not as local of a diet as I would prefer. 
I have no idea what the answer is to all of this.  
I try to vote with my food dollars.  I am a member of two wonderful CSA shares, I buy food from our co-op and farmers’ market, I try to grow my own and preserve as much as I can (it isn’t much, unfortunately), but I find that in the winter I am constantly buying more and more fresh veggies.  .  I definitely follow the dirty dozen and clean fifteen.  I try not to buy organic produced in other countries, I don’t buy strawberries in January (even though I want to!).  I tend to not buy things that I know that I can grow or get locally while in season.
I guess my largest struggle is the desire to eat a plant based diet, and then also to eat a local diet.  I don’t know how to do both, at least not in the current climate that I live in.  Perhaps getting more than one winter share from our CSA farm would help, although eating roasted veggies and soup all the time does tend to get old after a while.
Maybe I need to look at it from a different angle.  I should be thankful with all the choice that I have available to me.  If I am sick one week, or don’t want to cook, I can easily buy something from the grocery store, life doesn’t stop that way.  Whereas 100 years ago, that wouldn’t have been an option, and I would have eaten what I had preserved and be happy about it.
I think that food is such a personal choice, and I know that not everyone wants to eat a local diet, and not everyone struggles with the same food issues that I have.  I am just throwing my thoughts out there to see what others do.  But, the recalls are something that really bother me.  I am concerned about what my kids eat, will it be something that makes them sick?  How can I teach them good food habits if I don’t include certain foods due to their availability in my area.  Will they be damaged if they never eat rice, and only eat potatoes (totally being sarcastic here)?
I guess that I need to be more serious about producing my own food.   
That seems to be the thing that I always come back to.  Well, you could just grow more green beans this year for the freezer, you can buy more tomatoes and have them canned and ready to go, you can find a local source of winter squash and then store them.”  

Do you struggle with opposing food philosophies?  How do you determine whether the food you are buying is truly safe?  

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  1. This is definitely something I struggle with. We don't grow enough to last us year-round, so I do rely on the grocery store in the winter quite a bit. Like you, I follow the dirty dozen list – I just can't afford to buy everything organic. When we garden, we do it organically so I happily eat what we grow.

    One thing I struggle with is buying locally grown food that is NOT organic. Most of what is available at our local farmers market is grown conventionally, so is it better to buy organic produce that has been shipped in from far away, or local produce that has been sprayed? I don't know! I have been choosing organic over local when I have to. I am definitely frustrated by this!

    1. I think the local vs. organic conversation needs to be had more often. For me, when I go to the farmers' market, I try to talk to the farmers and find out exactly what they are doing. They may be conventional and spray the living daylights out of everything, or maybe they only spray when there is a bad infestation of something, or maybe they have organic practices but are unable to pay the fees associated with becoming certified organic.

      It is hard to make the right decision, definitely. I tend to buy more locally, especially when it is available, but I understand how that would be a struggle if everything around you was heavily sprayed.

      But, maybe if you found a small farmer, and continued to talk to them about the benefits of organic gardening (and others did the same as well!) then the farmer might be inclined to change his or her growing practices.

    2. Organic certification is somewhat difficult and expensive to get, so some small farmers decide it's not worth the trouble. They may be using all-natural methods of pest control but not allowed to use the term "organic" because they're not certified, or they may spray only certain crops but this prevents them from being certified for their other crops. Definitely ask the farmer when you can!

      Setting aside health concerns and thinking of the environment, transportation (esp. of food that has to be refrigerated the whole time, like spinach) is very polluting and uses irreplaceable fossil fuels.

      I usually go with local that might have been sprayed over organic from far away, when that's the choice.

  2. It is hard to try to eat locally AND plant based in the winter. I'm not sure either what the answer is.
    P.S. I am guilty of buying strawberries in January. (sigh)

    1. Oh goodness, we have bought strawberries in January as well. I think they are probably my kids' favorite fruit! And we have such a short season of them 🙂 But, it is something that I have been thinking about recently – making sure that we pick enough to have in the winter for the kids so they don't want to buy them in January 🙂

  3. Your post really resonated with me and it's definitely a reason why I've been getting more serious about growing more of our own food and this year I am aiming to preserve more of that (not just sweet jams etc.) for months when the foods are out of season.
    I have found since starting a more plant-based way of eating that I'm having to buy less locally and seasonally – I try my best to avoid things wildly out of season like strawberries in January but do compromise on more now than I did before when we ate more meat, cheese and processed carbs.
    It's a difficult thing, isn't it?

    1. That was exactly my issue. It is easy to find local and organic meat for us, and we live in an area where hunting is a big thing – so we could eat venison if we wanted. But, I feel better eating plant based foods, and I am trying to figure out how to do that especially in the winter.

      I know that our state produces a lot of quality beans and winter storage veggies, but it is getting them that is difficult! It is hard to pay $2.75/lb for beans locally, when I can buy them for $1 at the grocery store.

      And like you, I am planning on preserving a lot more food this year for the winter. Things that are easy to freeze, like green beans and corn, and then continuing to look for good sources of root veggies which we can center our diet on in the winter.

    1. Oh the squash bugs! We had a stink bug in the house a couple weeks ago when we had some warm weather up here. I drowned it in a glass of soapy water, and almost sent you a picture along the lines of "it's already starting!" I am hoping for a good year this year, but I don't know exactly how to conquer those things! Floating row covers will be made this year though…and hopefully that coupled with me picking them off the plants, I will be able to get rid of them.

      It seems like every year there are more and more pests in our organic gardens, and they are difficult to get rid of. I keep coming back to how so many farmers to spray, and what that is doing to the bugs and in turn to the organic farmers that don't spray. Saying a little prayer for the eradication of squash bugs (and cucumber beetles!) this year 🙂

  4. Oh my goodness, I could have written this same post. In fact, I may have written one just like it last year…the day I broke down crying as soon as I got into my car in the grocery store parking lot because I had hit the breaking point after a particularly bad shopping trip. Where I live, it is very difficult to feed my kids a balanced diet, including lots of fresh produce, unless I buy food that has been shipped across two countries (or more) to get to me. I try to buy produce that is in season and local but our winter is LONG…and I know that they need the vitamins and nutrients in foods we just simply can't grow. For a while, I was shopping through the winter at our farmer's market because 1 of the vendors there is local-ish and grows lots of produce in a series of greenhouses, but now he individually wraps everything in plastic or shrink wrap which I figure is just as bad for the environment (so I "vote with my dollar" to not buy from him until he stops wrapping everything – which he knows). So, I try as best I can. I expand the garden each year. I eventually just want a pineapple/orange/pomegranate/mango, etc already…buy one, and then start again. Thank you for sharing this post. It is always nice to know I am not alone (my extended family and friends here think I am quite crazy to think about it in the first place).

    1. I sometimes forget how lucky I am to be able to find what I can find in my area. I think that it would take a lot more planning on my part to eat a plant based diet because our winters are quite long as well – and our growing season is incredibly short!

      That is really unfortunate about the farmer that shrink wraps everything! Is it possible for you to bring your own containers to the market for him to put the foods in? Or does it come shrink wrapped?

      Have you tried this website I'm not sure how updated it is, or if it is in your area, but you might want to give it a go!

  5. Seriously scary stuff, and sometimes I do feel like nothing is safe! I think eating what you grow and but locally via the Farmers Market, a CSA, etc is ideal. For me that needs to also balance with our budget and our time. So important and thank you for starting this discussion!

    1. Yes, budget and time. Those are two things that I need to be better about. I already feel like I spend the majority of my time on those two things. I wonder if there is a better way of planning, so I am not spending every waking minute thinking about these things!

      At the same time, I often view the way we eat as the way people 100 years ago may have eaten, and then I think about how much of their time was spent preparing foods and preserving foods and tending a garden etc. That makes me think that maybe I am not prioritizing my time the right way 🙂

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