You know how some people like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and the professor who taught me how to code wear the same thing every day—to keep things simple. I’m kind of like that with food. Eating the same food every week simplifies shopping and allows me to spend time on other things.
Therefore, it’s quite easy for me to give you my standard grocery list:
- Seasonal fruit (can’t wait for berry season!)
- Seasonal veggies (winter involves lots of carrots and cabbage)
- Almond milk (unsweetened vanilla)
- Nature’s Path granola and cereal
- Walnuts and mixed nuts from the bulk bins
- Raisins, dried pineapple (also in bulk)
- Eggs (large)
- Bread from a local bakery
- Crackers + cheese
- Goat milk kefir (sometimes yoghurt)
- Luna protein bars (chocolate peanut butter)
- Some kind of nut butter (if I’m running low)
- Kettle chips (salt & pepper)
- Fair trade chocolate
- Ice cream (sometimes)
- Baking supplies as needed
- Grass-fed, local ground beef for whatever my husband is cooking up (he buys about half the food for our household, but I’m not making him participate in my experiment)
Slow Food Buying
This month, I’ve had to switch my mindless “grab-and-go” approach to slow grocery shopping to ensure I’m not buying products from Big Food. Here’s what I found:
- The bananas I buy are fair trade, which means they are automatically okay.
- Aside from bananas, I buy mostly seasonal fruits and veggies, because they taste better and are more likely to be local or regional. Of course, there are some exceptions. For this project, I’ve decided to trust the produce at the co-op, where I do most of my shopping. (During the summer season, I also buy a market share from a CSA.)
- I’d like to give a shout-out to Salad Girl dressings, which I don’t buy weekly, but love, love, love to pour on top of my salad.
- The almond milk I buy is from Blue Diamond. Blue Diamond® Growers is a cooperative owned by half of the almond growers in California. I like the cooperative model. But it is a big company with over $1 billion in revenue. From the website: “The California almond crop is marketed to all 50 states and more than 90 foreign countries, making almonds California’s largest food export, the sixth largest U.S. food export and the #1 specialty crop in America.” I decided to try Tempt hemp milk for a change, but when I started researching this brand, it took me down a long winding path. Tempt hemp milk is branded “Living Harvest.” Living Harvest appears to be part of a company called Healthy Brands Collective. Healthy Brands Collective in turn is a subsidiary of Cell-nique Corporation. All in all, the company seems very focused on health, organic, and so on—and it appears to be a family-owned business. (Whew!)
- I’m grateful that my breakfast cereal and granola is from family-owned Nature’s Path.
- The food in the bulk bins isn’t always marked with a brand, but the mixed nuts I get come from Tierra Farm, which is reasonably sized at $11 million (in 2102). The company is also really solid on corporate responsibility—and employees get a quarterly bonus based on profits.
- Eggs and bread come from local sources, which makes me feel good.
- Cheese is often regional (we do live next to Wisconsin), so that’s not really an issue. I love all sorts of soft and hard cheeses.
- I’ve been enjoying the Back to Nature brand of crackers. Turns out the company was purchased by KRAFT in 2003 and then partially sold to Brynwood Partners, “a private-equity firm that focuses on acquiring smaller, overlooked brands from big corporations.” I’m not feeling so good about this, except for the fact that the quality of the products appears to be good and the company gives back to The Nature Conservancy and The Rainforest Alliance. But where is the profit going?
- I was so sure that the goat milk kefir I buy was independently owned that I almost didn’t look it up… But a quick “who owns Redwood Hill Farm” search tells me it was sold last year to the Swiss dairy cooperative Emmi—a big company. However, it seems the previous owner of the company, Jennifer Bice, didn’t just sell out to the first buyer that came along. She made the decision with intention, and said that “the company will be run independently and that employees will stay in place.” (Is this consolidation inevitable?) I’ll keep buying the kefir. It’s a unique product and, well, goats are awesome.
- I thank God every day that Luna protein bars are made by the family- and employee-owned Clif Bar company. (I’m just a tad obsessed with the Chocolate Peanut Butter variety.) And I love this: “Clif Bar provides employees with an onsite fitness center, personal trainers and concierge services such as haircuts and organic produce delivery. Employees can also opt for a flexible workweek and are encouraged to participate in volunteer opportunities during the workday. They also enjoy a sabbatical program, sustainability benefits, and onsite childcare. In 2010, the company implemented an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) recognizing employees’ roles in helping build the business.”
- I really need to wrap this up, but I’ll leave you with one more finding. Kettle Chips is owned (sob!) by Diamond Foods, which is owned by Snyder’s-Lance (Big Food). Yes, committed to sustainable snacking, but also to making lots of money. The CEO, Carl Lee, has a total compensation package of $2+ million. So I bought Good Health chips instead (made with avocado oil—fancy). It looks like it’s privately owned, but I can’t tell much more than that. Any other suggestions are welcome!
Where vs. What
I understand that not everybody can buy most of their food from a food cooperative—at least not without some major re-prioritization of the budget. But the where matters just as much as the what when it comes to slow food buying.
If you want to avoid giving money to big business, buy your food either directly from the farmer or producer, from a food cooperative, or from a local/regional grocery store. This is how money stays in the local economy.
Once you’re there, use your smart phone skills (or plan ahead on your computer at home) to determine which brands and companies you want to support. I love when our co-op indicates that a brand is produced by a B Corp or that products are from a local source. Then I know it’s already been vetted.
This same approach applies to eating out. Find the locally-owned eateries and nix the the chain restaurants. Local restaurants are more likely to buy local and regional food, and the meals generally taste better (and are better for you). Sure, you may pay a couple of dollars more for your dinner, but think big picture. Where does that money go?
Now the big, lingering question is “what about Whippy Dip ice cream?” It’s local, so it must be okay, right? :)