Diet for Health: Part 3: Procuring healthful food

Amish Dairy Farm

by Catherine M. Haug,  November, 2007; updated April 2019. Image, right, from Wikimedia Commons.

OK, now that you know WHAT you should be eating for optimal health, where is the best place to shop?  Those who know me will know what’s coming next: The best place to shop is NOT your local big-box store or supermarket. So then where to shop? Consider:

  • What are sustainably-grown/raised foods, why are they important, and where can I find them?
  • If I shop at my local supermarket, what should I look for, and how can I know where the foods come from?
  • How can I avoid plastic food containers and plastic bags?

These are all discussed in this article.

Where To Shop and NOT to Shop

Image, right, from Wikimedia Commons.

This means “Irradiated”. Don’t Buy fresh foods with this symbol
(in any color).

The best place to shop is NOT your local big-box store or supermarket.  I say this emphatically for a lot of reasons:

  • Box stores and supermarkets are usually owned by out of state corporations, so the profits leave the community.  A side effect of this is that the foods are typically lower quality (less healthful), because the profit-takers are not as accountable to the local community.
  • Foods have to be trucked over long distances and are often warehoused for long periods, so not as fresh.  Many foods have chemical preservatives added to prolong shelf life; dairy products are ultrapasteurized for the same reason; all of which is not healthful.
  • Large box stores take up a lot of land, not only for building but also for parking lots; land that could be used for farming or housing.
  • Box stores take the business out of the traditional town, encouraging suburban growth and over-use of automobiles, contributing to pollution, global warming, etc..
  • Box stores and supermarkets sell and promote foods from non-sustainable sources.  What’s that, you ask? Read more about sustainability, below.
  • ‘Box stores’ includes not only WalMart, Costco and their ilk, but also Natural Foods and Whole Foods. While Whole Foods markets themselves as ‘natural’ and organic,’ they are also a Fortune 500 company.  Clearly not a ‘neighborhood market.’  Check out Mercola’s article (1A) on this subject, for more.

Instead, shop local, from farmers/ranchers you can trust.

Where To Shop

For the most healthful and sustainable foods: shop local, from farmers/ranchers you can trust.

  • Farmer’s markets;
  • Directly from the farmer;
  • Roadside stands that sell locally-grown foods;
  • Smaller, locally owned natural food stores, especially those that feature locally-grown foods.

For more about sustainable agriculture, see that section, below.

Other Ideas for Procuring Healthful, Sustainable Food

  1. Grow your own in a garden;
  2. Form cooperatives with your neighbors — one might provide a vegetable garden; another a fruit orchard; another might raise chickens for meat and eggs; another might raise dairy cows, or steers for beef; another might raise grain crops; etc.
  3. Hunt for wild game; fish for wild fish.
  4. Buy a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture);
  5. Buy a cow or goat share for raw milk from a local dairy farmer

PLU (Price Look-Up) Codes

If you must shop at a conventional supermarket, learn to read the PLU codes on produce, to learn about their quality.  These are 4 or 5 digit codes, usually on a sticker, and are used to identify the food at checkout, and for inventory purposes.  The format of the code can tell you a lot about how healthfully it was produced (see page 7 of the PLU Code Booklet (5)):

  • Conventionally grown is always 4 digits; e.g., “4011” for a conventionally grown banana. (Conventionally-grown means use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. It also means the soil is tilled, disrupting the  vital microbiome in the soil).
  • Organically grown is always 5 digits beginning with “9”; e.g., “94011” for an organic banana
  • Genetically engineered (GE, GMO) is always 5 digits beginning with “8′; e.g., “84011” for GE banana

Sustainable Agriculture

I believe the most sustainable food sources are also the most healthful. But just what is ‘sustainable agriculture?’  Here are a few definitions from:

  • National Safety Council: “Environmentally friendly methods of farming that allow the production of crops or livestock without damage to the farm as an ecosystem.” (2)
  • British Columbia Organics: “Agriculture that meets the needs of the current generation while conserving resources for the use of future generations.” (3)
  • Native Habitat:  A form of agriculture that is economically viable, ecologically sound, and culturally responsible.” (4)

To us, the consumers, this means sustainable agriculture:

  • Supports the community and is supported by the community;
  • Ensures quality, healthful, nutrient-dense food grown/raised in your local community;
  • Is good for the soil, water supply, and the environment in general;
  • Produces food free of chemical contaminants, and full of vital nutrients;
  • Ensures our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond will inherit fertile soil and a safer environment;
  • Conserves energy sources and fuels.

For list of groups supporting or promoting Sustainable Architecture, check out Mercola’s article: Promoting Sustainable Agriculture (1B).

What to do instead of plastic

Swans and plastic

Be a responsible, green, shopper.  When you’re shopping, REFUSE to use plastic bags.  The photo, right says it all (originally from a Mercola article that has been lost (1E)). But in case that doesn’t convince you, check this out (6):

  • Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags they mistake for food.  More than 1 million seabirds and even more fish die every year in the North Pacific alone, because of plastic pollution. 7,8
  • Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation.  A plastic “stew” twice the size of Texas, and dubbed “the Eastern Garbage Patch,” has formed on the Pacific Ocean (6,1D).
  • Plastic bags DO NOT biodegrade.  Instead the photodegrade (degrade by the action of radiation from the sun), breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways, and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest. (6)
  • Plastics contain zenoestrogens;  chemicals that have estrogen-like activity that can cause many different types of cancer. (6, 1G). 
  • Not only are plastic bags and containers harmful to the environment, but also they can be harmful to your own health.  Their petrochemical makeup gets absorbed into your water system, or the foods you consume.
  • Plastic bags are known to contain “lead, cadmium, mercury and diethylhexyl phthalate (a carcinogen).” (1G) 

Avoid plastic bags like the plague.  Not only are they harmful to the environment, but also they can be harmful to your own health, as their petrochemical makeup gets absorbed into your water system, or the foods you consume.  Plastic bags are known to contain “lead, cadmium, mercury and diethylhexyl phthalate (a carcinogen).” Many plastics make you sick by mimicking or blocking your own sex hormones, resulting in endocrine system imbalances that result in disease (such as cancer). 7

Plastics also require HUGE amounts of oil to make them:  430,000 gallons of oil to produce 100 million plastic bags. 7 If your average trip to the supermarket uses 5 plastic bags (including those for fresh veggies), and you make 3 trips to the store per week, that averages 780 bags per year, and equates to 3.3 gallons of oil.  If your average trip requires 10 plastic bags, that equates to nearly 7 gallons of oil.  That might not sound like a lot, but multiply that by all the shoppers just in your community, and it really adds up!

When you shop at your local supermarket, Organic of natural foods store, or at your local Farmer’s Market and the clerk asks “Paper or Plastic?” proudly respond, “Neither, I brought my own. 

  1. Save your paper shopping bags and take them with you when you go to the store.  
  2. Bring a natural fiber canvas bag (cotton, linen, hemp, etc.), or basket, and bring it with you to the store. You can purchase these or make our own!
  3. Reuse smaller paper or cloth bags for fresh veggie purchases.  A cotton bag made from old, plain white dishtowels, with a drawstring at the top is the BEST bag for lettuce and other greens, as it helps to keep them crisp. When they are soiled, just toss them in the laundry!
  4. Refer to Dr. Mercola’s articles   for more ideas:
    • A Plastic Future — Recycle, Reuse and Avoid (1Ei)
    • Top 11 Tips to Become an Expert at Recycling (1Eii)

For parts 1 and 2 of this series on diet, go to:


  1. Mercola:
    2. Promoting Sustainable Agriculture:
    3. (1) ( replaces
    4. (2) This link now goes to: “New Studies Prove Organic and Grass-Fed Are Worth the Price” rather than “Why Our Food Supply is Crumbling”
    5. (6) original link no longer available: (; instead, try:
    6. (8) (replaces
    7. (9)  (replaces
  2. (3)
  3. (4)
  4. (5)
  6. (7)

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