Posted by: A Part of the Solution | March 7, 2013

Shopping Responsibly for Tropical Foods

As a locavore, I eat seasonally. I look at where a particular food originates to decide if I want to spend the carbon-footprint: strawberries from Argentina, avocados from Peru, bananas from Guatemala, spinach from the Yucatan. I prefer to eat the foods grown within my watershed, but I still consume a few tropical foods regularly.

If I choose to buy these foods, it behooves me to support those companies whose values reflect mine. American agricultural labor customs still have a ways to go before they’re at an acceptable level. Agricultural practices in emerging economies are exponentially further from human rights, health and safety thresholds.

How do I wade through thickets of certification categories? How do I stay abreast of developing food issues? How do I promote my values with my dollars?

My first level of assessment: is it certified organic? It may say ‘organically grown’ or ‘organically produced’, but without a certifying agency, and the USDA Organics icon, the product is not guaranteed to be organic. Look for the distinctive USDA seal. It’s often no more than half an inch on smaller packages.

My second level of assessment: is it fair trade certified? Fair Trade certification means the farmers who grew the product I choose to buy receive a better-than-subsistence wage for their harvest. My dollars won’t stop at the corporate office, they will support the health and growth of grassroots economies abroad.

My third level of assessment: is it ecologically produced? Organic practices allow for latitude in stewardship of the land and complex eco-systems. Migratory bird friendly, shade grown, wild crafted designations let me know farmers took the sustainability of their cropping practices into consideration. Given the amount of oxygen returned to the atmosphere by tropical flora, I can’t ignore the necessity of maintaining as much of the existing canopies as possible.

I like a variety of resources to assist me in purchasing decisions.

Mother Jones is a lefty publication without the which I cannot do. Their environmental responsibility extends to an excellent website, tumblr account and ongoing twitter commentary. This organization delights in keeping the government’s nose to the ethical grindstone, as well as exposing the chicanery and deviousness of big capitalism. Devote a little time to Mother Jones once a month or so, and you’ll know who’s being boycotted, which of your civil rights are being abrogated in what states, and how the government continues to exploit plausible deniability.

On Facebook, I like Food and Water Watch for staying up to date. They keep the information flowing through their page, and the links are functional. Only about one alert in 25 is on the squirrelly side. Do verify for yourself before re-tweeting, re-posting or pinteresting.

For hard copy, there’s the Better World Shopping guide. Over the years, Ellis Jones regularly updated this pocket print classic. The website’s outdated, and there’s no app yet–but it’s close to comprehensive with over 2000 brands broken out.

Lastly, I keep my eyes open and my ear to ground. If it sounds too good to be true (agave syrup, gmo corn), it probably is. And to me, it’s a flag to start asking questions and initiate research drives.



  1. Thanks for the resources. I’m going to find them useful.

    • You’re welcome. A guilt free cup of coffee is a beautiful thing.

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