7 Ways Your Grocery List Can Be a Ballot for Positive Change
One of the easiest and most powerful ways we can make a difference is through our decisions as consumers. What we choose to buy not only says a lot about who we are and what kind of values we have, but also has many cumulative repercussions, from helping to shape corporate and public policy to affecting animal welfare, public health, social justice and the global environment.
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And one of the best ways to vote with our wallets is through our grocery shopping. According to a 2014 Gallup poll on consumer spending, Americans are opening up those wallets more for groceries than for other household essentials. Fifty-nine percent of Americans reporting increased spending on food shopping, ahead of spending on gasoline (58 percent), utilities (45 percent), healthcare (42 percent) and rent or mortgage (32 percent).
According to Progressive Grocer Magazine, supermarkets made more than $638 billion in sales in 2014. Clearly, as long as money talks, grocery shopping remains an ideal opportunity to "cast your vote" in numerous ways. Here are seven ways to help transform your grocery list into a ballot for positive change.
1. Buy organic
It's a good instinct to seek out organic products over non-organic ones. Unfortunately, the word "organic" is problematic. If a product has the "100 percent organic" label, it means that is passes the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) definition: meat, eggs and dairy are antibiotic- and hormone-free; animals are raised in living conditions that permit them to engage in natural behaviors (like grazing on pasture); produce is made without fertilizers that are synthetic or have sewage components; and no genetically modified ingredients. But the USDA's certification permits certain pesticides and herbicides, and also allows five percent of the ingredients to be non-organic, meaning that food producers can add some 200 non-organic substances to their products and still get the USDA's organic stamp.
When it comes to imported foods labeled organic, the issue is even thornier. For these products, "an extended bureaucratic chain increases the opportunities for fraud and lax enforcement, especially when food is imported from places rife with corruption, such as Ukraine and Kazakhstan," says Peter Laufer, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon and author of Organic: A Journalist’s Quest to Discover the Truth Behind Food Labeling.
For organic purists, the USDA label isn't enough, and there is no other regulated third party certification. So getting something that is actually "100 percent organic" isn't always possible. But though the term "organic" is conflicted, it is still most often a better choice to go organic over non-organic foods. Your best bet would be to support your local organic farmer at the nearest farmers' market: Not only will you be helping your local economy, which benefits you in the long run, you will be choosing foods that didn't require too much transportation to get to you (and therefore, less carbon emissions) and also supporting local farmers instead of Big Ag corporations and multinational food conglomerates.
As the organic markets mature, hopefully a better certification process will be developed. But a big hurdle remains cost effectiveness: In many cases, organic food is costlier to make, and thus pricier, than their traditional counterparts. Hopefully, the surging consumer demand will inspire more farmers to convert from conventional to organic farming, which could bring organic prices down.
A 2014 Gallup poll found that 45 percent of Americans actively seek out organic foods, 38 percent say they "don't think either way" about organic and 15 percent actively avoid them. For many farmers, food producers and distributors, the organic-seekers represent a potential customer base that too big to ignore. Clearly, there is a huge demand for food that is free from man-made additives like from antibiotics and pesticides, and is produced in a way that is better for the environment. And with younger people more likely than older people to eat organic, that segment of the market will likely grow. (Last year was the first year that Gallup asked about eating organic foods in their annual Consumption Habits survey, so it will be interesting to follow this trend in subsequent surveys.)
2. Buy in bulk
When it comes to product packaging, convenience comes with a hefty environmental price. Much less plastic is used for a gallon jug of water versus 16 eight-ounce bottles. (And anyway, plastic water bottles of any size should be avoided at all costs; refill a steel water bottle with a Brita instead.)
"While it may seem easier to get individually wrapped snacks and beverages, that convenience is adding to the over 60 million tons of paper, plastic and glass packaging thrown away in the U.S. every year," according to Green Home.
Look for products with minimal packaging, choosing paper over plastic as the lesser of two evils. Buy in bulk and then transfer the products into smaller, more convenient reusable containers at home.
3. Stop using plastic bags
Plastic pollution is an increasing nightmare for ecosystems around the globe—just look at the Great Pacific garbage patch. "Until we shut off the flow of plastic to the sea, the newest global threat to our Anthropocene age will only get worse," says Charles J. Moore, a captain in the U.S. merchant marine and founder of the Algalita Marine Research and Education Institute in Long Beach, California.
Plastic bags are particularly troublesome. Lightweight and easily carried by the wind, they easily end up in rivers and oceans, where they wreak havoc on wildlife, killing sea birds, sea turtles, fish and marine mammals. They also clog landfills and leach toxins into the soil and water. A single plastic bag can take 500 years or more to degrade.
Though some cities and states have initiated fees or banned altogether the use of plastic bags, Americans still use and discard 100 billion plastic bags every year, which requires 12 million barrel of oil to produce and cost retailers $4 billion.
Instead of bringing new plastic bags home, reuse old ones or bring some reusable cloth bags with you when you do your shopping.
4. Choose animal welfare
Animals make up a large part of the food system. More than 8 billion land animals and 56 billion sea animals were killed to feed Americans in 2011 alone. And the vast majority of those land animals—cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks and rabbits —suffered greatly for their entire lives before they were killed. Of course, the best way to avoid animal cruelty in your diet is to go vegan.
But if you've got to have animal products on your plate—and the many fake meat options just don't cut it—you can help reduce that suffering by choosing products that have animal welfare certification. As a general rule, avoid any processed meat and animal products from factory farms. Choose local and organic; chances are your local farmer's chickens have spent a good amount of their lives actually being chickens, pecking at worms in the the grass and sun, not trapped in dark warehouses with no access to the outdoors and sleeping in their own feces.
5. Choose sustainable fish
The human appetite for fish combined with skyrocketing human population has resulted in overfishing, one of the biggest threats to the world's oceans.
"Today, 90 percent of the world's fisheries are either fully exploited, overexploited or have collapsed," according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. "The global fishing fleet is operating at 2.5 times the sustainable level—there are simply too many boats chasing a dwindling number of fish."
To help consumers make ethical seafood choices, the Monterey Bat Aquarium has created an online Sustainable Seafood Search. Also available as app, it can tell you, for example, which is the best kind of tuna to buy (troll- or pole-caught albacore tuna from the U.S. North Pacific) and which is the worst (longline-caught albacore tuna from the South Atlantic). The nonprofit Marine Stewardship Council has created a similar online resource, the Sustainable Seafood Product Finder, which identifies fisheries that are helping to protect the world's oceans.
6. Eat less red meat
Of all the meats, red meat is the worst for the environment: According to a Bard College study, raising cows requires 28 times more land and 11 times more water than raising pigs or chickens. “The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat,” said Tim Benton, a professor of population ecology at Leeds University and UK Global Food Security Champion.
Then there's the health benefit of eating less meat. A National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 people found that those who ate the most red meat daily were 30 percent more likely to die of any cause during a 10-year period than were those who ate the least amount of red meat. Those who ate primarily poultry or fish had a lower risk of death. The mounting evidence that people who eat less meat, especially red and processed meats, tend to be more healthy, helped the U.S. 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the nation's top nutritional advisory panel, recently make the recommendation to stop eating so much meat.
7. Shop online
If you normally drive to do you food shopping, consider leaving the car in the garage and doing that shopping online. According to a Carnegie Mellon study, shopping online almost always uses less energy than traveling to a brick-and-mortar store.
"E-commerce is the less energy-consumptive option approximately 80 percent of the time,” according to the report, which cited transporting customers to stores as the single most important factor. Co-author Chris Hendrickson said he was most surprised by how small an impact packaging really has, particularly with the growth of recycling channels for packaging."
Another good option would be to walk or bike to the grocery store. You won't be able to do as much shopping as you would with your car or truck in one trip, but walking and biking have environmental and health benefits that you won't get by sitting behind the wheel.
Shoppers of the world, unite and take over
Dr. John Fleming, chief scientist for Gallup’s Marketplace Consulting and HumanSigma Practices, points out that "consumer spending is the lifeblood of a healthy economy." And because of that, consumers wield a significant amount of influence in steering that economy in terms of which companies and products succeed and which will fail. To be sure, by making responsible, ethical decisions at the cash register we can be the change rather than just getting it.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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