This article is sponsored by Organic Valley. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas. 

When you walk up to the dairy refrigerator at the grocery store and look at more than one dozen varieties of milk, you may wonder which is the best option—not just between 2% and whole milk, but among the different brands. The truth is there is a big difference and that applies to just about everything at the store. 

From where the seeds are planted or animals are raised to how each ingredient is transported to you, there are so many factors that can affect the quality of what you consume. Taking it even a step further, the production of food can positively or negatively affect the world based on how it is handled.

True ethical eating involves looking beyond food that is simply healthy or organic to consciously seek out products that are good for people, animals and the planet—not only because it makes the best products, but because it’s the right thing to do.

What Are the Basics of Ethical Eating?

Ethical eating describes a holistic approach to purchasing food products that support the well-being of people, animals, the environment and more. As you begin to look for ethically produced food items, you should take into account…

  • USDA Organic labels, which ensure the food is made without antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides and GMOs. 
  • Animal care standards, which the brand should share transparently. There are ample benefits when animals are allowed to exhibit their natural behaviors—not only for the animals and land, but also for consumers of these delicious products.
  • Impacts on the earth, such as the brand’s commitment to limiting their carbon footprint and using climate-wise production practices.
  • Support for people—from consumers to employees—so that today’s generations can help empower the generations of tomorrow.

Look, for instance, at Organic Valley. From start to finish, the cooperative of farmer-members are committed to ethically made food. Their pasture-raised cows get to happily spend their days in the sunshine and fresh air while grazing on as much organic grass as they please. Their food is made with climate aware practices. Their organic, sustainable farming practices are better for the land and result in even more delicious products. By adding up each of these conscious practices, the result is an assortment of products that are just as good for the earth as they are for the people who consume them. 

But, here’s the thing: Rather than starting with an all-or-nothing approach, you can take baby steps toward more ethical eating. By educating yourself about best practices for shopping at the store, you can help the world while also giving your taste buds a treat.

Learn Which Phrases on Labels Matter…

There are regulations for certain phrases used on labels, meaning that manufacturers have to demonstrate their products are made in compliance with high standards before they can advertise with these phrases. 

When specifically searching for ethical foods, one keyword to keep an eye out for is “organic,” which is regulated by the National Organic Program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In order to get an organic certification, the products must be produced “using agricultural production practices that foster resource cycling, promote ecological balance, maintain and improve soil and water quality, minimize the use of synthetic materials, and conserve biodiversity.” 

When buying dairy, look for the Certified Grass-Fed Organic Dairy seal, which is granted by the Organic Trust Plus to brands that adhere to strict standards and pass annual audits. When you see the Certified Grass-Fed Organic Dairy label on cartons of Organic Valley milk, for example, that means a third-party organization confirmed the cows were 100% grass-fed, got annual wellness checks and received plenty of days out in the pasture.

And Which Phrases Deserve Skepticism

Product marketers are paid good money to inspire shoppers to pick their company’s product over the rest of the options. However, the words that are used on labels are held to different regulatory standards. For example, if you are on the hunt for a word like “organic,” then it seems reasonable that products labeled as “natural” are also good options. The problem is that the FDA doesn’t have guidelines for use of the word “natural” on labels. In many cases, products labeled as such may still come from land or animals treated with chemicals, antibiotics or hormones. 

Consider Animal Welfare

The humane treatment of farm animals has positive repercussions that trickle down through numerous layers: Not only are the animals better off, but the land they use is also properly supported and the products they produce are of a higher (and more delicious) quality. 

You shouldn’t have to put on your detective hat to discover the truth of how a company treats their animals. Instead, look for brands and products that are open and transparent about what’s happening on the farms. This can be behind-the-scenes videos or social media posts that are open and honest about animal care practices. Organic Valley takes it even further by showing raw footage from their farms and they have invited hundreds of people on their farms in the past and sometimes giveaway farm stays.

Organic Valley is also very detailed about their animal care standards, such as how their average cow spends 50% more time outside than USDA standards require. Better yet, if you still have questions about on-farm practices, Organic Valley is ready to answer them on their customer relations hotline. After all, we’re talking about the food that ends up on your table… Don’t you deserve to know how it was produced?

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Think About Production Impacts

Beyond the plants and animals that make food, it’s also important to consider the impact of production and transportation. The food industry has a large carbon footprint—but that’s not the case across the board. 

Organic Valley, for example, committed years ago to using 100% renewable energy in their offices, warehouse and plants. And they didn’t stop there: The company is now investing money to explore creating a carbon positive model, which completely offsets their carbon footprint. 

The truth is that we all make hundreds of choices about the food we eat on a monthly basis. Those choices can have big implications, not only for the health of our families—but also for the health of our world. By striving to seek out products that were ethically made in ways that support animals, the environment and people involved in the process, you can do your part to make the world a better place. Not to mention, when you realize how much better this food tastes, it’s really an easy decision to start reaching for ethically made products at the store.

Explore Organic Valley’s products in your local grocery store and learn more on their website.