What is authentic food? Broad answer, whatever food that lines up with your principles and morals. For me, authentic food is real, (as in non-GMO/no crisper gene editing, and animal proteins that are a result of birth and other natural processes, not cloned or grown in a lab) wholesome, nutritionally dense, minimally processed, and regeneratively raised. With the latest labeling farce, it has become blatantly obvious that we cannot rely on reading labels. So how do we find authentic food? With a bit of sleuthing of course. We apply this to our decisions regarding the quality of a school, medical providers and procedures, even trivial things like vacations, so why not to sourcing our food?
Though many of us have gardens and some backyard livestock to ensure the authenticity of our food, very few of us can grow all that we eat in a year, and let’s face it, not everyone wants to be a farmer, so we are still left to source from outside our own production. Farmers markets, roadside stands, CSA’s (community supported agriculture) and PMA’s (private member associations) are fantastic places to start. Here are some things you can ask each producer:
What variety of fruits/vegetables are these? If they are similar varieties of known GMO crops go ahead and ask to be sure.
What are your growing practices? What methods do you use for weed and pest control? The answers to these questions will help you determine if they use organic methods even without the organic label, remember labels aren’t everything.
What are your fertilizing tactics/methods? For me, if the producer doesn’t mention compost in some fasion it tells me they only take from their soil and don’t replenish it.
Do you have a store front on the farm? This is a great way to find producers that aren’t put off by folks asking to visit the farm to see the practices they tout in action. Not suggesting folks are dishonest. Trust but verify.
Many of these questions can also be asked of meat, egg, and dairy producers. Here’s a few extra ideas:
What breed of animal was this? Different breeds are known or produced for different qualities and cuts.
How do you house them? Free range is way different than pastured, this concept plays into the next question, what are your feeding practices and mineral supplementation? Free range production (in most market cases) consists of a stationary barn and a yard. This model still requires a ton of outside feed input, whereas pasture raised is just that. I take it a step further and ask if the pasture raised animals are used in any rotational grazing system. This method helps reduce the chance of over grazing and damaging the soil.
Finally, what soil building practices do you employ? This is extremely important, if an animal producer does not have a soil building strategy, the nutritional content of even pasture raised animals will be minimal or highly dependent on outside inputs.
Now what about those of us who live in climates where farmers markets and roadside stands are seasonal, or we don’t have the storage capacity for large amounts of food storage? This has been a positive outcome of the age of the internet and social media. There are pages and websites dedicated to this. For example, a group of people started a Facebook page for my state of Wisconsin called Farm Direct Wi. Producers from all over the state can post and promote their products direct to customers and customers have the opportunity to talk one on one with the farmer. Sometimes that “local farm” is still quite a drive away, and not all of us are in a position to make such a trip. This is where subscription box websites have found their market.
This route takes a bit more investigative effort. Look through the websites menu to see if they offer information on their producers or standards. Omaha Steaks is a popular meat subscription site but they offer NO information on these topics. Butcher Box doesn’t have a “meet our farmers” section but they do lay out their standards producers must follow. Moink is the best subscription box in my opinion. Not only do they freely share their standards of production but they also have a page dedicated to getting to know their farmers. With this information you could take it a step further and find the farms social media pages, todays day and age most are likely to have a presence, and contact them directly if you have more questions.
Even employing all of these tactics you may not be able to find an authentic version of EVERYTHING you consume. Don’t fret. I like the 80/20 model. Shoot for 80% of your consumption to be your authentic food and don’t fret about the remaining 20%. Bottom line, authentic food can only be found by taking accountability and making a conscious and informed decision.