Local produce?

Names can lie. Brands, too. Think you're buying local? Better check again.  

Credit: iStock / Freshly Picked

Are you someone who reads the label of whatever product you’re planning to buy? You glance at the soup label to make sure the sodium count is minimal. You scan the cereal box to make sure the fibre is high and the sugar low. And if you’re like me, you check out the chocolate bars to see if the cocoa level is higher than 70 percent.

I make all these checks but had never thought to read the labels on my produce until I took a trip to Mexico.

Mexico is beautiful. White sand, turquoise ocean, whales and dolphins swimming in the bay, tequila sunrises, guacamole. It’s all good. However, until you’ve spent the better part of two days getting up-close and personal with the porcelain in your 4 1/2-star resort hotel suite after ingesting what appeared to be an innocuous tomato, you will not understand why I suddenly found the need to get up-close and personal with my produce labels.

How to avoid
foreign-grown produce

  • Buy fruits and veggies that are in season where you live
  • Frequent your farmers market
  • Avoid big grocery store chains
  • Shop at local grocers who carry local, organic produce
  • Check every label that enters your basket

Go one step further

When shopping at the grocery store, ask a manager where their produce comes from and if they can switch to local suppliers instead. While your single voice may not be heard, the scream of many customers voicing up for locally grown food could prove loud enough to make the critical difference.

And when in doubt, use the power of your dollar to support your local food system. As a consumer, your money is your best tool for effecting change. Use it!

Since then, I’ve made a concerted effort to consume as much local produce as possible. It’s not that I refuse to buy any fruits or vegetables grown outside of British Columbia, it’s just that I’d rather steer to the side of caution and relegate my foreign produce purchases to stuff they don’t grow here. Besides, considering the downturn of today’s economy, I’d certainly prefer to support local growers and keep my grocery money in my province.

Disingenuous labelling

The other day, I attempted to buy red, yellow and orange peppers at a produce market, but every vegetable in the bin was from Mexico. Fair enough. I figured I could get them at SuperStore when I did my grocery shopping later. At SuperStore, again, the offerings were all Mexican-grown.

Then I saw them; stacked to the side of the bulk bins were piles of pre-bagged mixed peppers. The brand name on each bag clearly stated “BC Hot House.” Further inspection told me that this company was based in Surrey. Great! I was just about to toss it into my shopping cart when one of those pesky white sticky labels caught my eye. When I looked a little closer at the peppers in the bag, I saw that each pepper claimed the sticker “Producto de Mexico.”

How can that be? How can they do that? Is that even legal? It actually made me angry. So obviously, this week’s groceries did not include peppers. It’s not really a big deal, but I had to wonder how they could get away with it. Later, I checked their website and nowhere on the page did it state that they sell foreign produce. In fact, they claim to be a cooperative of the Western Greenhouse Growers and the Vancouver Island Greenhouse Growers. I’m guessing they think people won’t notice those sticky labels, or maybe they believe people won’t actually care.

Is there anything we can do about this? Probably not. But if you think you’re buying locally, think again. Check your labels.