Whether you're determined to "buy local" to support the economy, you're concerned about farming and labor practices used to produce the food you eat, or you're just curious to know where your dinner was grown, you can usually discover where your food is made. Here are some strategies for finding this information.
Laws to provide consumers with more complete information about where our food is produced have been in the works for some time, and in March of 2009, extensive regulations went into effect requiring County of Origin Labels (COOL) on most meat, poultry and seafood, as well as nuts, fruits and vegetables. Foods sold in supermarkets and warehouse clubs are required to display this information. Restaurants are exempt from the requirements, but try asking your server if he can find out where your entrée was grown.
At the market, you will usually find the COOL information on the item's packaging. If the food doesn't have any packaging, look for the information on a rubber band, sticker or twist-tie on the food, or on a sign near the food display.
If a meat is produced partly in the USA and partly in another country or countries, the label must say that. For instance, if a steer is born in Mexico, and then raised in the States and processed here, the label will read "Product of the U.S. and Mexico." Only meats born, raised and processed in the USA can be labeled "Product of the U.S." For sample labels, see the brochure in the resources below.
Fish and seafood must be labeled with Country of Origin and sometimes method of harvest (wild or farmed). Look on a can of tuna (put your readers on first, the print may be really small) and you'll find "wild caught" and hopefully "dolphin safe" as well as, perhaps, "Product of Thailand." Be patient and look carefully. The information could be at the end of the list of ingredients or under the name and address of the company, blending in with the rest of the tiny text.
Processed foods are exempt from the requirement. Processed, for meat, means that it has been cured, smoked or cooked, or combined with other products like breading. Boxed meals, snack foods and drink mixes are other examples of processed foods.
Examine the packaging of these products minutely. Sometimes the Country of Origin information is provided. If it isn't, you can probably still find out. There is almost certainly a toll-free telephone number or a website address listed on the package. Call or go online, and a company representative will tell you its policy. The Kraft employee who answered the number on a box of crackers, for example, said that if no other country is listed on the label, you can assume that all ingredients are products of the U.S. The representative answering at Natural Directions said the same thing. Nestle, on the other hand, does not disclose the country of origin for the ingredients it uses. Call the number or visit the website for the product you are curious about, and see what you can find out.