August 11, 2017

Have you ever wondered how the veggies in your shopping basket got to the shelves of the grocery store? Or what happened between when those strawberries were grown, and when they were served to you in a restaurant as a delicious smoothie? Sometimes, a food product’s journey can be as short as the distance from a local farm, to a farmers market, to your kitchen.  Other times, food can be flown between countries, facilities where it’s packaged and prepared, and across thousands of miles in energy-guzzling refrigerated trucks. Stories of how food travels from farms to our plates tells us a lot about how good or bad that food can be--for our bodies, and for the environment.  

At Herb-N-Juice, we want to use ingredients that are healthy: for you, our consumer, for the community, and for the environment. If you share our commitment to healthy and ethically-sourced food, you’ll want to shop the way we do--only problem is, choosing the best option is often easier said than done. Typically, large industrial farming companies don’t want to advertise that they use unhealthy pesticides and unsustainable farming practices. The result? These companies use misleading labeling to throw customers off, by using terms that sound good, but don’t mean exactly what they seem to mean. Keywords like “local,” “sustainable,” and “organic” all sound pretty good--but what does it mean for a food item to actually be any of those things?

Let’s break down what these common terms actually mean, so you can be more informed next time you visit the supermarket:

Local: This means produce (or any agricultural product) that has been grown in close geographical proximity to the place you’re buying it. Buying locally grown produce matters because it often comes from smaller farms, which are more sustainable, and it keeps your money in the local economy. The only thing is, there’s no agreed-upon distance that counts as “local” in the agricultural industry. For example, does food grown in the same state count as local, or does it need to be grown in the same town or county? These are things you can only know from asking your grocer; or, if you’re buying from a farmer’s market, the farmer themselves! Getting informed about your local farms is a great way to support the community and the environment.  

Sustainable: “Sustainable” means pretty much what it sounds like: if a practice is ecologically sustainable, it can be “sustained” indefinitely--unlike unsustainable practices, which consume depleting natural resources and will no longer be possible once those resources are gone. But it’s hard to quantify just how much something is using up limited natural resources, and at what rate. If something boasts of being sustainable, it’s good to find out exactly why and how it is. For example (ahem, not to toot our own horn or anything…) Herb-n-Juice’s bikes are completely sustainable in terms of energy, because they use no limited natural resources to operate--just human energy! Learning about specific practices like these is the best way to find out if your food product was produced sustainably.

Organic: Unlike the other terms we’ve covered, “organic,” has an official meaning in the agricultural industry, defined by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture.) If a produce item is labeled as organic at the grocery store, it means it was grown at a farm that meets guidelines set by the USDA to qualify as an organic farm. But if you buy food labeled organic, you can be sure of three key things about the product:

  1. The product isn’t genetically modified; it’s not a “GMO.” It grew out of the ground without human scientific intervention, just like it would before the scientific techniques for altering the genetic composition of plants were developed.
  2. No synthetic substances were involved in the process of growing the product (for the most part.) There is a short list of a few synthetic substances that are allowed, which have been approved by the USDA and are not seen as harmful.
  3. The farm where the product was grown is overseen by the USDA and is confirmed to qualify as organic. Any farm can’t just say they meet the guidelines and stamp an organic label on their products--they need to be officially inspected and approved.  

All-natural: In general, “all-natural” means a food product doesn’t have any artificial ingredients that you wouldn’t expect to be in that food in the first place. For example, you wouldn’t expect chemicals intended lengthen shelf life to be in a package of store-bought cookies--so they wouldn’t be all-natural.  But, importantly, this only refers to ingredients added to the final food product, not unnatural processes and substances used while making the food. Right now the FDA (Food and Drug administration) is working on specifying the definition of “natural,” so it’s use can be regulated like the term “organic,” and be more helpful to shoppers.

I know, the nitty-gritty of these terms can make your head spin. But don’t despair! Knowing exactly what they mean will make the produce aisle, with all it’s promises of green and healthy options, easier to navigate. Happy shopping!


Nutrition, Center for Food Safety and Applied. “Labeling & Nutrition -.” WebContent. Accessed July 19, 2017. https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm456090.htm.

“Organic Regulations | Agricultural Marketing Service.” Accessed July 19, 2017. https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic.

“Organic Regulations | Agricultural Marketing Service.” Accessed July 19, 2017. https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic.

“OrganicGMOPolicy.pdf.” Accessed July 19, 2017. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/OrganicGMOPolicy.pdf.

“SustainAbility » Making Our Future the Cause of the Present.” SustainAbility. Accessed July 19, 2017. http://sustainability.com/.

“Sustainability: What Does It Mean?” Accessed July 19, 2017. http://www.green-innovations.asn.au/sustblty.htm#what-is.

US EPA, OA. “Sustainability.” Overviews and Factsheets. US EPA, December 11, 2013. https://www.epa.gov/sustainability.

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