Made in USA Series: The Grocery Store

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

I have always made an effort to buy local. Usually this has translated into frequenting the local farmers’ market or perhaps stopping by a roadside stand. However, I still go to the grocery store for most of my food items. This is where the challenge begins.

The bulk of my grocery items tend to be fresh produce. I know a lot of people buy frozen veggies and canned goods, but something about fresh, crunchy fruits and vegetables just makes me happy. They smell better, taste better, and overall make me feel better. But does it matter where exactly they come from? I think so. Not necessarily for health reasons, though many would say this is a factor, but also for environmental and economic reasons. Buying locally grown produce helps support local farms (economic benefit) as well as increased sustainability (environmental benefit).

If you’re standing in the grocery store and you want to buy tomatoes, as I was the other day, most of the labels are likely to say “Product of Mexico” on them. (Please note, I have nothing against Mexico, or any other country where many things are grown, I just think it’s important to support U.S. farms and lower our carbon footprint by buying in the U.S.). However, if you search through the different tomato varieties, you can find some that say “Product of USA.” They may cost the same. The Mexico tomatoes might be a little cheaper. But think about the cost of getting those Mexico tomatoes into your grocery store compared to the USA tomatoes. It took more gasoline, they’ve likely traveled at least a day longer and are therefore not as fresh, and they’re not products of U.S. farms. It’s like outsourcing our call centers to India. We’ve outsourced our tomatoes to Mexico. But why? We certainly don’t need to if we can produce tomatoes here in the U.S. Well, I pose that it’s because when faced with the decision of which tomatoes to buy at the store, many people will still buy the tomatoes produced in Mexico. It’s not that they mean to choose between Mexico and USA, they just don’t think about it.

So here is my challenge to you, a challenge I am currently taking on myself. Try to buy fresh produce that says “Product of USA” on the sticker. It’s not as difficult as you might think. Sure, there are a few things you might sacrifice. Last week I couldn’t find any grapes from the U.S., nor could I find local bananas. But everything else has a U.S. grown version if you just take the time to look. Tomatoes, peppers, all kinds of lettuce, fennel, apples, oranges, berries…the list goes on.

Please feel free to share what kinds of produce you can find with a USA sticker, and what produce you can’t find. It will be interesting to see what kinds of U.S. grown fruits and vegetables are more easily available around the country.

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