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It’s always surprising to see the places my foods have been! If only plants could write their history…earth-437670_1280


This winter, when I shopped for some of my kitchen staples, I paid attention to how far food travels to get to my kitchen. The lemons, garlic, mushrooms, avocado, carrots, celery, canned tomatoes, and assorted frozen berries now in my kitchen are renowned world travelers — visiting my home from Argentina, Chile, Italy, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, Spain, Turkey, oh and yes, unknown states in the USA.

While I do like to have many of these particular foods on hand for nutritional and gustatory reasons, there are many downsides to this long-distance relationship with the foods I love.

Photo by Lisa Missenda

Photo by Lisa Missenda

First, quality: To be packaged for shipping, many times these vegetables and fruits and picked before they are ripe. This is particularly true of tomatoes. At some point along the route to my table they might be sprayed with a little ethylene gas to make them appear riper. Truth is, in spite of shippers; best efforts, many fruits and vegetables do not continue to ripen once taken off the vine, out of the ground or once they stray too far away from the sun’s reach. So, when they get to my kitchen counter, they may look ripe, but they just don’t have the fresh taste of the ones I can get at the farmers’ market.

Second safety: The more food travels and the more hands it passes to get to my table – the more risk there is of food borne illness. Over the past 10 years the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has rejected numerous shipments of plant foods like green beans and mushrooms due to illegal pesticide violations, excessive filth and unsanitary conditions of the products. Luckily, the FDA is looking out for us.


Strawberry Harvest Pixaby photo – Public Domain

Third – labor standards: I am never sure what the working conditions might be in the country of origin. Where children skipping out on an education to work in the fields and harvest my berries? Did a woman give birth in that same field because she was not allowed to take a day off? Where workers exposed to dangerous pesticides and fertilizers that we would not use in the USA?

While ultimately, I would love to be a locovore, eating only foods in my bioregion, I am happy these labels exist; they can be found at almost any grocery store. Consumers and non-profit groups like Food and Water Watch and National Family Farm Coalition fought hard to make the 2008 rule for mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL), for meat, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and several kinds of nuts. While the law is not perfect, at least I do know more, and have a choice when I reach for lemon and start my day. Learn more about the foods you eat using Food and Water Watch’s interactive shopping cart.


July – absolutely the best time of year to source fresh, ripe, locally grown tomatoes. Farmers’ markets all around the metro DC area carry some really fabulous heirloom varieties. Here’s what to look for, and then how to store it and use it when you get home!

Look for red and ripe tomatoes. Lycopene, the star antioxidant available in tomatoes has a higher concentration when tomatoes are red and ripe.

Tomatoes should be FIRM, but yield to a little pressure; it is best to avoid tomatoes with bruises, cracks and a puffy appearance (Murray, et al., 2005).

Shy away from green: If the seeds of the tomatoes or any of the insides are green, than the tomato was most likely picked green and treated with ethylene gas to hasten its ripening. This is especially true for “vine-ripened” varieties that are priced higher than other conventionally grown tomatoes.

SMALL: There is more lycopene and vitamin C in tomato skins, therefore cherry and plum tomatoes are more nutritious and often taste sweeter than other varieties (Robinson, 2013).

ORGANIC: A ten-year study revealed that under the same climate conditions, organic tomatoes contained increased levels of the antioxidants, quercetin and kaempferol than conventionally grown tomatoes (Mitchell, et al., 2007). Choosing organic will also reduce consumer exposure to organophosphates, insecticides that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified as acutely toxic to bees, wildlife and humans.

Or if you want to skip the fresh tomato and go straight for the salsa or sauce… Tomato products are great because processed tomatoes are more bio-available than raw tomatoes, pastes and sauces are a good choice if one is looking to increase dietary antioxidant intake.

When buying tomato products, consider the packaging. U.S. products follow more strict packaging regulations related to exposure to toxic metals, and plastic-lined cans which may release bisphenol A (BPA). This hormone disrupter more actively leaches into acidic foods like tomatoes. It is much safer to buy tomato products packed in glass jars or Tetra packs (Murray, et al., 2005 and Robinson, 2013).


Environmental Protection Agency website: Gartner, C., Stahl, W., and Sies H. (1997). Lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 66(1), 116-122.
House, P. (n.d.). Top 10 Foods Highest in Lycopene., Web. 03 Jan. 2014.
McGee, H. (2004). On food and cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen (Revised). Scribner: New York, NY.
Mitchell, A.E., Hong, Y., Koh, E., Barrett, D.M., Bryant, D.E., Denison, R.F., and Kaffka, S., (2007). Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 55, 6154-6159.
Murray, M. Pizzorno, J., and Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. Atria Books: New York, NY.
Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side: The missing link to optimum health. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.

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I am always challenging clients to get rid of what is in their way to having the healthy life they were meant to live. And in terms of naming the obstacles, I have to say that the holiday season ironically ends up being one of the biggest obstructions to living a balanced life. Holiday parties with their rich food and lavish drinks throw people off healthy eating routines, and gift-giving rat-race turns the whole holiday season into a material frenzy.

It’s often hard to remember that we have choices during days like BLACK FRIDAY. We can consciously decide to spend the day far away from the commercial chaos and instead find ways to reconnect with ourselves and the people we love. Mother Nature Network featured a blog last week encouraging people to buy nothing on Friday, November 26.  I encourage you to think through the four reasons to buy nothing, and see how much of this is true for  you.

It the face of Black Friday and its corresponding ads and  gimmicks it is easy to forget that living a balanced, well-nourished life has nothing to do with stuff.  For many of my family members and friends Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday because it is about being together with people you love around a table. Yes, there is eating and often over-eating involved, but what really nourishes us on a day like Thanksgiving is our gratitude for the relationships in our lives that we hold dear.

Stay tuned for future blog posts where I intend to write more about consumerism’s impact on Earth and its people as malls around the country declare open season for shopping. Happy Thanksgiving!

Health & Nutrition Counseling

An integrative approach to health and nutrition which includes Earth consciousness.


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