Quiz: How Green Are Your Groceries?

If you’re trying to lead a greener lifestyle, grocery shopping can seem positively treacherous. Confusing terms and labels, conflicting information about what’s environmentally responsible, and the latest developments about what’s good and what’s not good for ourselves and our world…keeping track of it all is harder than remembering to bring your reusable shopping bags into the store with you! If you think you’ve got the scoop on the most responsible choices at the supermarket, take this quiz to see how much you know…and which topics you need to brush up on.

1 -  You want to get more of those heart-healthy Omega-3s in your family’s diet with some fresh fish, but you’re afraid of ingesting too much toxic mercury. Which fish would be the best to splurge on for Sunday dinner?

A. Bluefin Tuna
B. Wild Alaskan Salmon
C. Farmed Atlantic Salmon
D. Atlantic Mackerel

2 - True or False: The “free range” eggs in your morning omelet were laid by hens that spent most of their day outside in the fresh air and sunshine.

3 - That biodynamic wine you bought sure is tasty, but do you know what sort of techniques and methods went into growing such flavorful grapes? Pick which of the following is NOT used in biodynamic growing methods:

A. Cow horns
B. Human hair
C. Lunar calendars
D. Deer bladders

4 - The only thing in your produce crisper is a shriveled lime left over from last weekend’s margaritas, and your bank account is equally empty. But your number-one New Year’s resolution was to eat only organic fruits and veggies—which are often pricier than their conventionally grown counterparts. If you can’t afford an all-organic shopping list, which two of the following conventional produce items are lowest in pesticide contaminants?

A. Peaches
B. Apples
C. Avocados
D. Onions

5 - True or False: Your morning cup of coffee is fair-trade, and you love the idea of buying a socially responsible product, but it’s the only type of food item that is available with a fair-trade certification.


1 - D. Atlantic Mackerel has roughly twice the amount of Omega-3s as tuna (2.45 grams per 100-gram serving), contains little or no contaminants, and is eco-responsible. Bluefin Tuna, delicious and popular as it is, is one of the worst choices because it contains very high levels of toxins like mercury and PCB, and is also becoming severely overfished, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, an industry watchdog. Salmon is also high in Omega-3s, but take note of where it comes from: Wild Alaskan Salmon is a responsible managed fish resource; Farmed Atlantic Salmon is not a good choice because not only are the fish high in toxins, but many of the salmon-farming operations create pollution. If you want to make sure you make good choices in restaurants or at your fishmonger, download one of the many pocket guides available online from Environmental Defense Fund, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, or other similar organizations.

2 - False. Although the USDA requires that poultry products bearing the “free range” designation are from animals that have access to the outdoors, it does not specify how much time, if any, they actually spend outside. Activist organizations like PETA claim that chickens are often in such crowded conditions that it’s unlikely any of them actually ever make it out of the henhouse. If you’re concerned about the eggs and poultry you eat, talk to the manager at your local Whole Foods or other natural-foods store; if they care about the environment, they’re also likely to have a responsible source for their eggs. Another option is to look at your local farmers’ market or community-supported agriculture programs for a local, small farmer who raises hens—chances are his animals live in far better conditions than in a large commercial poultry farm. Finally, if you don’t have a nearby source, team up with some friends to order eggs online.

3 - B. Biodynamic farmers believe that the earth is a living organism, and their methods to keep it healthy go a few steps further than organic philosophies. Some of the more unusual biodynamic practices include creating soil treatment preparations from manure that’s been fermented inside a buried cow’s horn or yarrow flowers fermented inside a deer bladder. Farmers also rely on a calendar based on the moon’s passage through zodiac constellations to dictate the timing of sowing and cultivating plants. But human hair doesn’t play a part in biodynamic farming…as far as we know!

4 - C and D. Analysts at the Environmental Working Group ranked more than 40 types of produce by the levels of pesticides measured by the FDA and the Department of Agriculture. Avocados and onions are among the least contaminated, and peaches and apples are among the highest. Download the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” pocket guide for a handy reference to the produce that’s highest (and lowest) in contaminants. And you just might be able to find some room in your budget for a few of those reusable hemp shopping bags you’ve been wanting.

5 - False. You could be sipping tea or noshing on chocolate that come from small artisans and farmers in developing countries that are being paid fair wages for their goods, according to the Fair Trade Federation. Other fair-trade products include rice, grains, sugar, fruit, and even flowers. Organizations such as TransFair USA work with suppliers to ensure that farmers and producers are paid above-market prices, that working conditions are safe, and that farmed products are grown in an environmentally sustainable way, among other conditions. Look for Fair-Trade labels on the goods you buy.

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