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Everything You Need to Know About Sustainability and Food

From GMOs to wild-caught fish to organic to natural—here are the cold, hard facts.

There’s a growing emphasis on knowing where your food is coming from, how it affects the environment, and if healthy for the earth means healthy for your body. But in trying to eat a sustainability-conscious diet, we’re inundated with labels like wild-caught, grass-fed and free-range. For your average-Joe, how do you eat well, do your part, and not drain the bank?

According to Chris Hunt, Special Advisor on Food and Agriculture for the Sustainable Table, an outreach of the Grace Communications Foundation, sustainability is a very broad concept that covers issues ranging from animal welfare to environmental implications to personal health to fair labor.

“[Sustainability] is going to incorporate a lot of different elements, and different elements are going to matter more to different people.”

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As a consumer, the key is focusing in on which issues are priorities for you. Do you want to avoid pesticides? Ensure no animal cruelty? Support businesses that reduce air and water pollution? The difficult thing, he mentions, is that there aren’t great labels to differentiate all the different goals that fall under sustainable eating.

That’s where stores like Whole Foods Market step in. Jody Villecco, Global Quality Standards Coordinator for Whole Foods, and her team create labels and systems in their stores when there are not official designations. For example, for seafood, they only sell products certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, or rated green or yellow by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but produce doesn’t have such regulations. So, they’ve created a responsibly-grown produce rating system which labels products good, better, or best, so consumers know what they’re buying.

In other stores, Villecco recommends buying products with third party certifications, like certified organic products. Organic products are free from persistent pesticides, added growth hormones and chemicals, and encourages environmentally-friendly agriculture practices. If you’re just kicking off a sustainable-minded diet, buying organic is the easiest way to go, Villecco says.

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