Last week we wrote on the importance of staying loyal to local brands. While this is a vital part in creating a secure food system, we realize the Montana seasons make it difficult to purchase locally all year round. One could vow to change their diet with the seasons, finding these savory recipes to come in handy. However, most people will choose to continue their eating habits throughout the year. This doesn’t mean we cannot still be mindful of our purchasing power.

EI1109_Beef_Squash_Stew_lg BEef and squash stew RECIPE

Making Responsible Choices

As consumers, we support companies when we purchase their products. Food for thought : if western Montana consumers spent 15% of their grocery bill, or $4.60 per person per week, $66 million of new farm income would be generated within the region! It is apparent that buying local really is the best route. However, if we are unable to support our local farmers during the fluctuating seasons, let us make informed decisions.

Forgo Factory Farming

As our population has increased drastically, many farm operations have expanded production by utilizing intensive and strictly controlled conditions. It is widely known that factory farming methods are devastating to our health, the environment and animal welfare. How do we help put a stop to factory farming? Boycotting foods produced in such a manner is a start.

During the warmer months there are many options for purchasing direct from local farms. Consider signing up for a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture this next season! There are also opportunities to receive a winter CSA share that includes over 350 pounds of vegetables all suitable for canning, freezing or storing. Don’t have the correct materials to can or the know-how? Missoula Urban Demonstration Project (MUD) offers canning workshops and has all the equipment you need! Visiting the farmers markets is another great way to purchase local food while interacting with your fellow community members. Too excited to wait until next season? Check out the Heirloom Winter Farmer’s Market at the Fairgrounds on Saturday’s from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm.

One of the best ways to ensure your food is grown exactly how you intend is to raise it yourself! Keep an eye out for future blog posts on how to plan for your garden this next season. Don’t have the growing space? There are many community garden locations available. A great opportunity to work with the land and learn from your fellow Missoulians!

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Stay Savvy in the Stores

Choosing USDA Organic or grass-fed options is a good practice for avoiding factory farmed animal products in the grocery stores. However, these certifications don’t always guarantee the highest level of animal welfare or the best pasture standard. As consumers, we need to take it upon ourselves to read the labels. Keep an eye out for products that are animal welfare approved or levels 4, 5 or 5 + in the Global Animal Partnership’s 5-step Animal Welfare Rating Standards. It is important to remain aware that many labels such as Cage Free and Certified Humane are not what they seem. Educate yourself on what each label entails in the “Consumer’s Guide to Food and Animal Welfare” published by the Animal Welfare Institute.

Stretch that dollar

While food from factory farms may be cheaper, you get what you pay for – less nutrients and more harm done to the environment, animal welfare and your own well-being. Choosing meat that is organic or certified grass-fed offers a higher nutrient-dense option that will allow consumers stretch their dollar. Nonetheless, pay attention to the companies’ pasture claims. There is no legal standard for “pastured.” One may assume this term implies the animal has been raised primarily outdoors. However, the quality of the pastures vary significantly from nutrient rich grasses to areas the consist primarily of dirt and gravel with no plants. Currently, products certified as American Grassfed Certified and USDA Organic guarantee the highest pasture standards and nutrient density. However, if consumers really want to pinch their pennies, perhaps they should review this list of foods ranked by nutrient density – meat may not always be the best choice.

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Dr. joel fuhrman’s nutrient density chart

Beef isn’t always what’s for dinner

There is no doubt that Montana beef and other meat is delicious and a great way to support our local farmers. Yet, cutting back on our meat intake is another way to boycott factory farms. While grasslands need to be grazed in order to remain healthy, there is simply not enough space on this planet for the billions of factory farmed animals to be raised on pasture. By choosing to be a healthy omnivore or vegetarian, we supply less demand for the factory farming industry. Even animal products produced in a sustainable, high-welfare way should be treated as a luxury purchase.

When in doubt, choose local!

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There is no doubt that the seasons in Montana test us in many ways – including our ability to purchase local food all year round. If we decide not to take the challenge of altering our diets, or growing our own food, may we remain mindful of how our purchases support companies. Let us become the responsible consumers who encourage awareness of these major food issues of our time.

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