The Triangle has some of the most diverse and numerous farmers' markets in the country—there is no substitute for talking face-to-face with the grower. More info: www.ncfarmfresh.com/farmmarkets.asp.
Even buying food produced in the United States can make a big difference: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency bans certain pesticides in this country, but that doesn't prevent an imported apple from South America from containing pesticides not allowed on U.S. produce; and more and more of our food is coming from China, which has an increasingly poor safety record. More info: www.foodnews.org.
Processing destroys vital nutrients; the closer food is to the dirt, the more vital its nutrients remain.
Anything "enriched" tells you that nutrients were lost in the processing; real food grown in well-nurtured soil needs no amendment.
Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, tells those new to food awareness to start by simply preparing their own food, especially their children's lunches. More info: www.westonaprice.org/modernfood/dirty-secrets.html.
Certified organic food is by definition non-irradiated. More info: www.ams.usda.gov/nop.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture standards also require that organic foods be free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The majority of American corn and soy are now genetically modified, a distinction that is not required on food labels.
Organic foods are also raised without chemical pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, artificial growth hormones or subtherapeutic levels of antibiotics.
Grow your own
The Triangle has three full growing seasons.
Tomatoes and squash are remarkably easy to grow in the summer; lettuces and other greens take hold in the fall and spring.
Sustainable agriculture classes are offered through Central Carolina Community College, as well as through many counties' agriculture extension offices. More info: www.cccc.edu/continuing_ed.html.
Read past the label
Study the fine print. For example, the label on Newman's Own Organics cat food says "Made with organic chicken," but the No. 1 ingredient is conventional chicken meal.
"Zero trans fats" is not the same as "no trans fats." Companies manipulate the serving size so that trans fats measure less than 0.5 grams; any product with ingredients labeled "partially hydrogenated" contains trans fats.
MSG hides in food under myriad disguises: yeast extract, any "hydrolyzed" protein, gelatin, autolyzed yeast, glutamate—and many others (www.truthinlabeling.org).
Food co-ops and natural food stores are politically active in food regulations and politics. Supporting them helps send the message to state and federal regulators that these issues are important to the public. Some local Web sites: weaverstreetmarket.coop, durhamfoodcoop.org, chathammarketplace.coop, companyshopsmarket.coop.
Local groups such as the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (www.carolinafarmstewards.org) work to promote local and organic agriculture by education and organizing farmers and consumers.
Join farmers, consumers and retailers in persuading the USDA to change the rulemaking requiring all almonds grown in the United States to be "pasteurized." More info: www.cornucopia.org, click on the Authentic Almond Project.
What to Eat by Marion Nestle
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig
Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck
Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills by Russell L. Blaylock