For Consumers

Why buy organically grown and raised food?

Fresh Fruits and VegetablesFoods that are grown and raised organically and sustainably are not only better for the planet and for your body, but they also taste better. Not only that, you get more bang for your buck with organically grown food than with conventional foods since organic foods contain higher levels of essential vitamins, minerals and important cancer-fighting compounds. By eating organic foods, you can avoid food additives, artificial flavors and sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup, genetic modifications, pesticides, and other contaminants, making you healthier and less likely to develop diabetes, cancer, heart disease, food allergies and other devastating diseases. Check out these statistics provided by the Organic Consumers Association.

The importance and benefits of buying organic is not just about produce. Beef and dairy that comes from non-organic animals that are given growth hormones are linked with increased rates of cancer. Organically raised animals, on the other hand, are not given antibiotics, growth hormones, or genetically modified vaccines. They also are not fed byproducts of corn ethanol production or waste from slaughter houses; the latter reduces your chance of developing Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (aka Mad Cow Disease in humans). The animals also have a better life, are treated more humanely, and are themselves freer from sickness and disease.

Conventional farming and ranching techniques are also linked with pollution of the land and waterways, including our drinking water sources, from pesticides, fertilizer, and animal waste runoff. To learn more about how these practices in America’s farming belt impact the Gulf of Mexico, read about the dead zone on this interactive site. Organic and sustainable food production avoids using dangerous pesticides and practices crop rotation and other sustainable agriculture practices, which can negate the need for fertilizers.

Farmers that use organic and sustainable practices are closer to you than you may think. Buying local not only supports your community and small farms. Most of the vegetables we like to eat are grown within 20 miles of our homes, yet the ones for sale at American grocery stores travel great distances to reach the store. In fact, the average American meal travels between 1,500 and 1,800 miles from the farm to our dinner tables, using a tremendous amount of fossil fuel to bring it to us. At Green My Restaurant, we strive to link local organic producers to restaurants, stores, and directly to consumers. You can also find local farms, including those with community support agriculture (CSA) initiatives, at Local Harvest. The farms should include whether they use sustainable or organic practices, but do not be afraid to contact them and ask!

What’s the catch with seafood?

Rainbow TroutChoosing seafood is a complicated matter and most consumers or restaurateurs don’t know where to start. Luckily, seafood is our expertise at Green My Restaurant. There are also many great resources readily available for you to learn more. Seafood is complicated because determining whether or not it is sustainable depends on where it was caught, what fishing gear was used, and oftentimes even who caught it. Aquaculture, or farm-raised fish, and wild-caught seafood have different issues. This section focuses on wild-caught seafood, though more information will be added on aquaculture shortly.

One of the biggest problems in many fisheries is bycatch. Bycatch is the catch of organisms during fishing that are not being targeted by the fishermen and cannot be sold either because it is illegal or because no market exists. Particularly problematic for many species and troubling for many Americans is the bycatch of marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, and even sharks. The concern of Americans in the 1970s about dolphin bycatch in the tuna fishery of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean resulted in boycotts of the seafood and in turn led to the development of new techniques that reduced the bycatch of dolphins in this fishery by about 98%. Bycatch can occur of any species, including fish and invertebrates. For instance, it has been estimated that for every pound of shrimp that is caught in some parts of the U.S., ten pounds of other species are caught as bycatch.

In addition to bycatch, fishing gear can negatively impact habitat, and fishing effort in some regions can be so intense as to result in overfishing, or more fishing that the population can sustain. Since the status of the fisheries is not static, it is important to know what the issues are and what questions to ask a fish seller, producer, or waiter at a restaurant. One of the resources we trust most and use most frequently at Green My Restaurant is the seafood watch cards provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They research each fishery and color-code the fish, depending on whether or not it is currently sustainable. Green means go for it, yellow means proceed with caution, and red means avoid the fish. The Aquarium takes into account the status of the fishery, gear used, and other factors related to sustainability. Regional pocket guides are available that fit into your wallet so you always have them handy. They have also created an iPhone app to check the sustainability of a fish when you are one the go. If you want more information about why a fish is given a particular color, you can visit their website for more information.