It started at Minneapolis airport when I bought a yogurt and did not read the list of ingredients. The Battle of Finding Tasty, Healthy and Ethical Food from USA. I lost the first round but luckily the journey was only beginning.
When I got to my residence at St. Thomas University, I tasted the yogurt. It looked slimy and tasted weird. At this point I looked at the ingredients list. Yuck! What was the gelatin and three corn based food additives doing in my yogurt? I threw the jar to the trash.
I like to know what I eat and I’m very conscious about ethical issues that are related to the food. My first non-fiction book Raised to be Eaten: How Your Food Lived its Life was published last year. So I’m kind of an expert what comes to the animal welfare in Finland. But there is a lot I would like to learn about agriculture and food business in US. The WPI fellowship offers a great deal of possibilities to visit US agriculture giants and farms. But even going to the local grocery store is a great learning experience.
So after the yogurt accident I googled where is the nearest Whole Foods. Oh yes, it was just few blocks away, great! So I walked there right away in the morning. I had heard about it but never visited so I was really curious.
The first sight inside Whole Foods was the beautifully arranged fresh fruits and vegetables department. Almost everything was organic. I really liked the fruit and berry jars. If you want people to eat healthy, you got to make it easy for them. Productizing healthy snacks as they have done in Whole Foods might be something we should try too in Finland more than we do now.
When it comes to meat, even Whole Foods is not perfect. But at least it is very transparent and the animal welfare issues are well in sight.
The meat is rated in 5 steps that tell you how the animal lived its life (more information here). I would not buy meat that is only on step 1 because it does not fulfill my requirements. Unfortunately step 1 seemed to be the most common one in the Whole Foods. But luckily there was also meat that was on step 4 and even some organic meat.
At Finland I eat only organic meat. But because it is not often available when you travel, it is easier to say I’m a vegetarian.
There is a lot to improve in Finnish agriculture. But on the other hand there are many things that are good – and things that are done very differently from US. For example hormones are not permitted at all. In Finland a vet gives antibiotics to animals only if they are sick but antibiotics are not permitted to use to prevent diseases. Good management is a better way to maintain animal health. But in US some of the products have labels that tell that in this product no antibiotics and hormones are used. For me that is absurd. “No antibiotics and no hormones” should be a norm, not an exception.
While Whole Foods was almost like a food paradise for me, visiting Target got my feet back on ground. An average American does not shop organic or does not care about 5 steps animal welfare rating. In Target there are long aisles full of pre-cooked and frozen food. Don’t Americans know anymore how to cook? Fruit and vegetable department was scarce. But even in Target there are shelves that are labeled Choose well. There you find some organic or natural and healthier products. So even in Target there was something for me.
While there is a long way to go, having a variety of products gives people a possibility to choose well. That is a start.