What Is A "Locavore" Anyway?

By Melanie Gold

Understanding “Green” Lingo

In the Lehigh Valley and across the country, increasing numbers of people are contending with food-related allergies, celiac disease and neurological disorders such as autism. And some are just trying to eat in a healthier fashion. Many people, driven by health experts’ suggestion that poor diet compromises genetics, are reading nutrition labels and attempting to verify food manufacturers’ claims about their products. To take the guesswork out of understanding what can be some confusing jargon, we’ve researched some terms you might see and hear: All-natural: This term has a healthy sound to it and is often used on food labels, but in fact it can be misleading. For instance, gelatin is an all-natural product used as a thickener in many foods. It is made from the tendons, skins, and bones of cows, pigs, and fish, and it may not be appropriate for people who have aversions, allergic reactions, or other issues with those foods. In addition, all-natural is not synonymous with organic. Typical commercial chickens, for example, are a natural food product, but they may have been fed with an inappropriate diet, injected with hormones, or “plumped” with saline at the market to improve their meat’s appearance.

Biodynamic: Farms that use organic methods are sometimes called biodynamic, but the term encompasses organic soil preparations—that is, composting—too. For instance, Genesis Farm in Blairstown, New Jersey, is biodynamic because it uses no synthetic fertilizers and also uses its own plant waste to compost. Composting enhances the nutrients and biodiversity in the soil.

Bisphenol-A: Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a synthetic hormone (estrogen) used to harden clear plastics, such as those used in epoxy can linings (such as for canned beans or infant formulas), beverage bottles, and baby toys. It is considered a health hazard by some because BPA plastics begin to break down when heated or washed with strong detergents. In 2004 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found detectable levels of BPA in the urine of 93 percent of Americans over the age of six. However, the greatest concern for BPA toxicity is among the unborn and the very young. BPA exposure can lead to cardiovascular, endocrine, neurological, and reproductive abnormalities, in addition to chemo-resistant cancer. There is currently no regulation on BPA, but watchdog groups advise against using clear plastics both for their potential BPA contamination and their limited recyclability. Instead, they say, use glass whenever possible and avoid putting plastics in the microwave.

CSA: CSA is an acronym for community-supported agriculture. Its premise is that consumers will pay in advance to support local farming and to purchase a “share” of locally grown foods. By researching the farms in your area, you can select a farmer whose growing practices are in alignment with your own preferences. CSAs typically raise organic crops. To search a nationwide database of CSAs, go to www.localharvest.org.

Irradiated: In an effort to stanch E. coli, salmonella, and other toxic food outbreaks, animal meats—particularly beef—may be irradiated. That means meat is treated with electricity or gamma rays to kill foodborne bacteria, and then labeled with a required radura sticker. According to Consumer Reports, the typical irradiation dose is 150 times the lethal dose if applied to a typical adult body, and 15 million times the energy used in a single chest X-ray. That same report concluded that irradiated meats, while containing fewer bacteria, tend to have a slight off-taste and provide no real benefit to those who thaw meats in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or less and cook them to the proper temperature (at least 160 degrees for beef; 170 degrees for chicken).

Free range: Typically, free range means unfenced. It indicates that meat animals, egg-producing chickens, and dairy cows are allowed to roam freely. But according to the USDA, the term applies to animals that are “allowed access to the outside.” Free range is often equated with the humane treatment of animals, too, particularly chickens. When confined for commercial purposes, chicken’s beaks are sometimes removed to prevent them from cannibalism.

Gluten-free: Found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains, gluten is a protein that creates elasticity in dough and may be used as a thickener in foods. Webster’s dictionary calls gluten “tenacious,” which could also describe the negative gastrointestinal symptoms for those who suffer from gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Gluten-free, then, is a food product—such as corn, oats, potatoes or rice–that lacks the protein. Trace amounts of gluten have been found in gluten-free foods when they are processed by factories that handle both types of foods.

Locavore: In response to popular demand for fruits and vegetables all year round, grocery stores stock their produce bins with foods from far-flung places, such as South America and Asia. In 2005 the term locavore officially entered our lexicon as “one who eats foods grown locally whenever possible.” Some people use a 250-mile radius as a guide, as it indicates a minimum of energy used to get the food to market.

Organic: In general, organic refers to foods that are grown and processed without drugs, synthetic chemicals, or hormones. It also suggests that food is raised with a conservation mind-set. Since 2002 the certified organic seal by the USDA ensures that the foods you buy are at least 95 percent organic. However, small farmers point out that the USDA label promotes large-scale “corporate” farming because the application process is tedious and expensive. Some consumers prefer buying produce and other foods at farmers’ markets, where they can speak directly with a farm representative about specific farming practices.

Sustainable: Often synonymous with renewable, sustainable agriculture is that which is not depleted or permanently damaged. For instance, bamboo is a popular material for flooring, clothing, and other products, as it is quickly regenerated. To learn more about local sustainable practices, visit the Alliance for Sustainable Communities Web site at sustainlv.org.

Vegetarian/Vegan: Vegetarians are those who choose to eat a plant-based diet devoid of animal meats, poultry, and fish. Vegans go one step further and do not eat animal products of any kind, including eggs and honey.

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