What Does Sustainable Mean?

Organic coffee is not only good for you but it is good for the environment because organic coffee growers use sustainable farming practices. The United States Department of Agriculture tells us that USDA certified coffee must meet standards upon inspection.

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.”

The term often used to describe the constellation of practices in organic farming is sustainability. But what does sustainable mean really? To a large degree this term has been hijacked by big and non-organic food companies to attract buyers. Here are some thoughts on sustainability.

Regenerative versus Degenerative

Alternet writes about how we should stop using the term sustainable and instead use regenerative or degenerative. They suggest a regeneration revolution.

With the “sustainability” label co-opted by Big Food, it’s time to re-frame agriculture into two categories: regenerative and degenerative.

Last week, PoliticoPro reported that the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture wants “farmers and agricultural interests to come up with a single definition of sustainability in order to avoid confusing the public with various meanings of the term in food and production methods.”

We agree with Secretary Tom Vilsack that the word “sustainability” is meaningless to consumers and the public. It’s overused, misused and it has been shamelessly co-opted by corporations for the purpose of greenwashing.

Their argument is that at best sustainable practices maintain the status quo and at worst the term is used as an outright lie. Their proposal is that people should be able to choose food that is produced using organic regenerative practices based on sound ecological principles that rejuvenate the soil, grasslands and forests; replenish water; promote food sovereignty; and restore public health and prosperity – all while cooling the planet by drawing down billions of tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil where it belongs.

The point being that it is possible to repair the earth and not just maintain the status quo. The problem is if people are willing to pay the cost by purchasing more expensive food.

Individual Shopping Decisions

Whole Foods Market is a supermarket chain where you can reliably find lots of great organic food. Whole Foods is also commonly referred to as whole paycheck! We recently wrote about the most popular coffee brands.

The ranking of the top 5 sellers with sales in billions is this:

  • Keurig, $2.57 billion
  • Folgers, $1.56 billion
  • Starbucks, $950 million
  • Maxwell House, $820 million
  • Dunkin’ Donuts, $420 million

Major factors for many people when they buy coffee are convenience and price.

The fact of the matter is that Folgers, Maxwell House and Dunkin’ Donuts are not selling high end shade grown, fair trade organic coffee. They are providing a reasonable product for a reasonable price. This does not mean that we should not be able to get truth in labeling however. What does sustainable mean? The word has been coopted by big business and has lost much of its meaning. It is a good idea to look for better ways to describe coffee and all foods that are grown using practices that replenish and improve the environment. Then the consumer can make an informed decision.

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