organic vegetarian meals for the trail

Know your Food

It is a good idea to get into the habit of asking yourself these questions about your backpacking food: Where did it come from? How was it produced? Does it contain genetically engineered ingredients? It it Organic? Conventional? Natural? We’ll explore what some of these terms mean here.

The “Natural” phenomena

Food manufacturers know consumers will pay a premium for minimally processed, wholegrain products. And to many of us, the word natural implies wholesome earth grown ingredients. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Regrettably, many food manufactures stamp the natural label on products containing the most unnatural of food ingredients. ‘All Natural’ is a popular term because the FDA does not have any regulations for its use. It is an open-ended term that can describe just about everything. For instance, natural can apply to a food or substance that naturally grows on earth (i.e. corn) or is modified into something that originated from earth (i.e. high fructose corn syrup). Consuming lead is not sensible even though it is technically a natural element. True, you probably won’t find lead advertised on the ingredient listing for a package of food, but this gives you an idea about how open-ended the terminology is.

So, the next time you see natural advertised on the label – scrutinize the ingredients. Is it a genuine statement or just a marketing tactic to increase the item’s perceived value? See our guidelines for tips on comparing backpacking foods and understanding food ingredients.

Traditional is not Conventional

You will notice most produce and packaged foods bear a label boasting if the goods contain any organically sourced ingredients. That is because organic is a desirable selling point. On the other hand, if you don’t see organic advertised, you can assume the food was grown in the conventional manner (especially if you are at the grocery store). Fresh food is sometimes labeled conventional in cases where most of the other items are organic. So what does conventional food represent?

The conventional wording is a bit of a misnomer because it does not represent traditional agricultural practices, at least not the “Tried and True, Safe to Consume” guarantee from generations of farming. Conventional can represent one or more of these characteristics: grown from genetically engineered seed, laden with pesticides/herbicides/fungicides, treated with antibiotics, sprayed with growth hormones, or containing other miscellaneous chemical warfare for your consuming pleasure. All these chemicals exist to allow us, the consumer, to be supplied with a constant overabundance of packaged food and fresh food (regardless of the season) for a cheap price while surviving a long transportation and shelf life.

One way to remember it: Conventional = Crude. Crude because a lot of oil or petrol is involved in the cultivation (most agricultural chemicals are derived from petroleum) and the transportation of the food. It does not have to be that way.  The alternative option is organic.

Organic is Traditional

Organic is what conventional is not. Organic represents the agricultural practices used by past generations, when crops were mostly grown on small, family farms and gardens in the traditional manner – prior to the industrial age. Organic is the “Tried and True, Safe to Consume” that we came to know and love from generations of farming, prior to the age of manipulation and mass production that now dominate the food chain. Some think organic is a scam to make you pay more money for an equal product. This is not correct. Organic prohibits the use of genetically engineered seed, synthetic pesticides/herbicides/fungicides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and other harmful chemical substances. Organic certification is strictly regulated and is a safe choice – at least for now. We are skeptical that organic will continue to represent what it was intended as it gains widespread popularity. Will Big Business craft a way to dilute the meaning? We sure hope not. Check The National Organic Program to stay updated about what is currently happening.

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Creating trail-worthy foodstuff and playing outside.
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