The number one trend in the food category for 2018? Not ghee, bulgogi dumplings, or changa mushrooms: it’s mindfulness. And no, that doesn’t refer to thinking about what you’re going to snack on after work. It’s about traceability and transparency. We aren’t just grabbing food in the supermarket that looks good, we want to know the ingredients, where the ingredients came from, and how it was made. Going beyond the product itself, consumers are interested in the brand. Does the brand engage in ethical labor practices? Do they give back? What are their values?
This societal shift from deal hunting to ethics hunting may be due to the rise of transparency in social media. Suppliers from across the world can expose unsafe working conditions in seconds on Twitter, consumers can call a brand out for animal cruelty on their Facebook page, and an image of the sneaky different names for sugar can go viral on Instagram .
Social media, and the rest of the web for that matter, provides consumers with information on products and brands at the tap of a button. Don’t know what that ingredient is in that granola bar? Google it. Not sure where that “free range” chicken came from? Google the company. Want to hold your smartphone up in a supermarket aisle and have all of the vegan options highlighted?….There’s an app for that in the making.
This leaves a lot of power to consumers. While businesses do have responsibility to make ethical decisions when it comes to the planet, their products, and their employees, its up to us to determine if they fail or succeed. After all, a business without customers isn’t a business.
So where do we start?
Farm to table foods are great when it comes to determining traceability. If possible, buy from your local farmer’s market: that’s as farm to table as you’re going to get. However, given not everyone has access to, nor can afford farmer’s markets, so you may have to do some detective work at the grocery store. That being said, this list has some great budgeting tips that might make it possible to at least do some shopping at your local market.
When it comes to your regular supermarket, if they really are farm to table, a company will highlight who their suppliers are, as well as the chain of command that brings it from production to, well, your table. This allows you to not only ensure your food hasn’t endured a mass amount of transportation (which, for perishables, generally means it has been frozen or genetically modified), but also ensure they are using sustainable, safe growing processes. The USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project verified seals are the most trusted and well-known certifications for non-GMO, organic food.
However, farm to table may mean the product itself is fresh, but it doesn’t ensure fair labor practices. Unfortunately, beyond being Certified Fair Trade, it can be more difficult to find information regarding this. When looking at a specific brand, a quick Google search may give you some answers. Back in 2015, the SEC did rule that publicly-traded companies must disclose the ratio between the median worker and CEO, so that information should be readily available for applicable companies. Glassdoor may also be used to evaluate pay, work environment, and approval level of the CEO.
Don’t know where to start? here’s a list of 10 companies that do pay a livable wage (Not all are food-related).
Something else to keep in mind beyond freshness, sustainability, and fair working conditions are the values of the company itself. These values may determine their charitable contributions, labor practices, and sustainability methods. That being said, actions speak louder than words. Always check to make sure said companies have concrete actions behind their values.
But mindfulness doesn’t stop at the store: once purchased, ensure that you’re minimizing your garbage footprint. This can be done by engaging in “nose to tail” cooking (or root to stem, for fruits and vegetables). If you aren’t able to eat all of your food, attempt to compost it, if possible. And always remember to recycle!
As the internet and technology advances, it will become easier and easier to find food produced by companies that are invested in corporate social responsibility. In the mean time, we hope this helps. What methods do you use to find ethical companies? Let us know in the comments!