Americans spend a lot of money on food. How much? In 2010 total food expenditures in the United States exceeded $1.24 trillion. Yep, trillion with a T. Naturally, with that size of spend there is a lot of power in the decisions that we make regarding food. This concept is nothing new to activists of any stripe. Boycotts and buycotts are powerful tools in getting companies to change their behavior.
But what about our own personal behavior? How do we do better on a day in and day out basis? It’s easy to avoid eating grapes because you want to show solidarity with pickers striking for better conditions. How does one choose what kind of fish to buy when staring at a fishmonger’s case with three people in line behind you? How do I know what vegetables are in season when I am wandering among the abundance of the farmers’ market on a glorious weekend morning?
My iPhone comes to the rescue. More to the point, apps on my iPhone come to the rescue. Two apps in particular—Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Eat Local.
Choosing what seafood to eat can be almost infinitely complex. Wild caught or farm raised? U.S., Canadian, Nordic, or Chinese? Gill net, seined, or trolled? Coho or Cobia?
For years the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been handing out free pocket sized guides for people to consult. However, times have changed and the one indispensable item in almost everyone’s daily arsenal is a phone. So, there is an app:
It’s pretty easy. Just type in the name of the seafood and the best choice will appear at the top of the list—assuming there is a best choice. If you type in Chilean seabass you should get smacked upside the head for even having to consult an app. Really? Why not just type in whale meat.
There is also a location service that uses your current location to choose the best seafood option. Cool.
The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Eat Local app is similar in that it helps to provide better choices when we are at the farmers’ market or green grocery.
The app provides two avenues of information: locating farmers’ markets near your location and telling you what produce is “in season” at those markets. The idea is good, but it needs a little work. For the region I live in—Iowa—for this time of year apparently Alaskan Pollock is in season. Maybe so, but is flying fish in from Alaska really in season or local? I do not think so.
Nevertheless, the Eat Local app provides another data point for trying to figure out what is the best option when I am inundated with the abundance at the farmers’ market. It is so easy to become swayed by the colors and smells:
Additionally, the app lets me locate farmers’ markets when I am travelling. In Hawaii one of my favorite things to do is visit the closest farmers’ market to get food rather than paying the prices for imported food from the mainland. Nothing beats getting a bagful of limes and a pineapple freshly cut to enjoy on the lanai. Being able to search for these markets with an app in my pocket will make finding those experiences just a little bit easier whether I am in Hawaii, Colorado, Florida, or Iowa.