Imported vs. Domestic Foods: Eating Cheap
Whether for pride of country or a want to see economic growth, Americans see value in buying local. It feels good to support a local business owner, wearing a ‘Made in America’ tag, dining at a non-chain restaurant, splurging on a farm to table meal. But sometimes, in fact quite often, our equal want to save money and indulge in what we want, when we want it, trumps the farm, fuzzy, buying local feels. In fact, unless we are making a conscious decision to buy local, we probably aren’t even thinking where the food in our grocery store or restaurant comes from. And, likely, even if we are eating local- the food they are serving isn’t. Really, it isn’t as though we don’t want to source from our neighbors, it just isn’t economical or convenient. For consumers in the United States, the quantity of imported food continues to grow as does the American reliance on foods that are not plentiful in the states.
There is a variety of reasons why imported foods are attractive and on the rise in the US. For one, labor costs are lower, therefore production and processing costs are lower. And, climate, specifically one that does not experience extreme seasonal changes, can allow for year-round growing of a particular food. The more robust the quantity of a product, the less ‘valuable’ and expensive. And, Americans like variety and exotic flavors! We like the spices and fruits and vegetables and even the meats from other lands. The problem, however, is that only 1% of imported foods are physically inspected. Once procured by the US, according to the Association of Food and Drug Officials, the foods’ safety is on us. Regulation, then, can be challenging. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the capacity to verify that every import is both safe and in alignment with our standards.
The Dangers of imported Food:
Imports from other countries such as Mexico, Chile, China, Brazil, and New Zealand, come with risks. Our consumption of foods both domestic and imported carries the risk of exposure to parasites, bacteria and other foodborne illnesses. In the US, however, we have safeguards and high standards along the way – from production to processing to distribution and preparation. This isn’t to say we do not have contamination – we do and it can happen at any point in the farm to table process. Finding the source, however, when an outbreak occurs, is simpler when the chain of production to preparation is shorter. The reliance on imported foods makes this a challenge. Foods imported from Mexico, say, cilantro for example, arrives in the US with little to no inspection and is distributed to dozens of states-showing up in our restaurants and on dinner tables in huge waves.
So then, how do we mitigate the risks associated with our addiction to imported foods? Experts say to check for recalls and pay attention to food safety alerts. And, when making your purchase try to stick to well-known brands and buy from reputable vendors. Or, just stick with buying local and feel good for a multitude of reasons.