The majority of Canadians and Americans are barely meeting recommended fruit and vegetable intake. The USDA as well as Canada’s Food Guide suggests that at least half, if not more, of every meal should come from fruits and vegetables. Given these guidelines it would only make sense that the emphasis on the quality of fruits and vegetables in North America would be the most significant of the five food groups. The quality of our produce supply over other countries should be of even greater importance due to the percentage of our overweight and obese population. Unfortunately, this is not the case and other countries are supplying their citizens with product of a higher standard.
Several years ago the European Union banned the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). GMOs are plants that have been genetically altered in order to yield a larger crop that has a greater resistance to pests as well as a longer shelf life. Sounds very much like the preservatives or chemicals used in traditional prepackaged foods that we’re repeatedly advised not to eat. Aside from the 28 countries of the EU, countries such as Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Russia, Japan, Algeria, Brazil, and others have also banned or have made restrictions regarding GMO imports. So, why is North America falling behind when its population needs a significant nutritional revamp?
Money of course plays a large role in supporting the use of GMOs. It costs food producers much less to use high fructose corn syrup, which is mostly made from genetically modified corn, than to use real sugar. For this reason 80% of processed food in the US is made with GMOs. Also, the FDA states that there is no proven research to suggest that GMOs change the quality and safety of our food supply. Because of the lack of research the FDA does not believe it’s necessary to label products as “containing GMOs”.
What other food practices are other countries doing better than our own?
Think about the last time you were in the produce section of a grocery store. Do you remember what the signs said about where your favourite fruits and vegetables come from? There is a good chance they were imported from Central or South America, China, and even India. About 80% of Canada’s produce and about 70% of America’s produce is imported. Importing produce is not only questionable because of its affect on our economy, but also because of its affect on the nutritional value of our produce.
Fruits and vegetables have the greatest nutritional value when they are picked ripe and ready to eat. Imported produce is picked before reaching ripeness and then stored in warehouses, trucks, etc., before reaching its final destination to be sold to the public. Local produce, on the other hand, is picked at the peak of its freshness and is therefore more nutrient dense. Unlike our foodie culture, the common practice in both European and Asian countries is to buy produce from local markets. Some of these markets are so popular that they’ve become famous tourist destinations, like La Boqueria in Spain and Machane Yehuda in Israel. Farmer’s markets in North America are popular, but nowhere as frequented as those abroad.
In fact, the easiest way to buy local or even organic food in America or Canada is to shop at Whole Foods or the like. The cost of the produce is much greater than conventionally grown produce and most people cannot afford the cost. The same goes for GMO containing foods. In order to ensure your produce hasn’t been genetically modified you have to compulsively label read and shop at trusted supermarkets. Our food culture truly needs a facelift. Here are a few tips to buying the most nutritious produce:
1) Search for local markets and get to know your local farmer. Developing a relationship with farmers will allow you to pick their brain with questions and learn how your food was grown.
2) Eat seasonally. You will know right away which fruits and vegetables were imported when you see them being sold during their off season.
3) Properly wash all produce before eating in order to eliminate pesticide residue.
4) Understand Produce Look Up (PLU) codes. Every fruit and vegetable sold in the supermarket must be labeled with one of these codes. A PLU that begins with an 8 means that the produce has been made with GMOs.
5) Smell the produce before you buy it. Perfectly ripe berries and melons exude sweetness.