Truth in Labeling

Yesterday I was at a local grocery store which shall remain nameless. I selected the freshest of the not-so-fresh cucumbers and then realized they were all on a shelf with a banner tag that said “LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL.” (I wish I’d taken a picture.)

A CUCUMBER. IN FEBRUARY. IN STATE COLLEGE, PA.

I’m not someone who has to make a point out of everything, but somehow, even with two kids in tow, I couldn’t let that one go.

I suggested to the produce manager that they probably should take the sign down. Even under the most broad-reaching definition of “local”, those cucumbers were mis-labeled.

He said he couldn’t. It’s a corporate policy.

OK.

It’s corporate policy to offer some kind of local produce at all times? (No.) It’s corporate policy to label something local at all times? (Apparently.) And why would that be, Mr. Corporate? Because you think your customers will be green-washed into buying more cucumbers if you say they are grown locally?!?

I pointed out that since we all knew those cucumbers were mis-labeled, it did raise questions about other labels that are very important in a produce section. Labels like ORGANIC; and COUNTRY OF ORIGIN?

Look, I’m not a purist. I bought the cucumber. I wanted one. I didn’t expect it to be grown locally in February. Some of our local farmers are masters of extending their seasons with high tunnels producing gorgeous greens year round – and this season, that certainly is saying something! But even these pros can’t make miracles happen… cucumbers in February?

I just don’t want the grocery store to tell me something about the food that isn’t true. Although the Friends & Farmers board has not begun serious discussion about inventory labeling, we’re working toward it with the online market and it has always been seen as one of the major contributions of the co-op.

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Meat case labeling at Weaver’s Way Co-op, Philadelphia

Here’s an example. Above the meat case at Weaver’s Way Co-op in Philadelphia, you’ll find each brand listed with a brief synopsis of their growing methods. A little further down the case you’ll find an explanation of what everything means, definitions for words like “conventional”, “organic”, “grass-based”, “free-range”, “humane”, etc.

 Imagine a store where the labels were trustworthy and comprehensive. Not just “organic” or “country of origin”, but which farm? What are their growing practices? What can they do on their small local farm that industrial scale organic producers in central California can’t? How much more nutritious is that food that was harvested yesterday, than the stuff that was harvested half-ripe three weeks ago?

You see, when a produce manager KNOWS where the food comes from and how it is grown, they can actually tell their customers! What an amazing idea!

It’s not just a sales pitch… It’s honest commerce.

Want to shop at Friends & Farmers? Join now and get your best friend to too. Membership is the only thing that stands between us and our vision for truth in labeling.

Elizabeth Crisfield

(I am a former co-op board member standing up for local cucumbers.)


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