Here at Kate’s we see ourselves as a small but integral part of the evolving “sustainable” food industry committed to improving the global food system that we depend on to feed us, nourish us, and give us the energy we need to lead active and healthy lifestyles. We make ingredient decisions based on what tastes good and what we want to put in our bodies (as well as what, we imagine, you’d choose to put in yours.) But this food system grows increasingly convoluted and we exist in a grocery category -“energy food”- that is growing increasingly saturated. We are challenged to make decisions that delicately balance our core values against a “reasonable” price point.
To make these decisions, we have to define what we consider core to our work: “sustainable food”. It is a term used pervasively amongst a cadre of food producers but isn’t regulated in any formal way. Several sub-issues build the foundation of this overarching theme. Three of the primary (and controversial) issues are: organic, GMO/non-GMO, and independent business. The last one is less strictly food related but plays a major role influencing the food industry at large.
As a consumer, it’s important that you develop your own opinions about each of these issues as well as prioritize them. But as a company, we know where we stand.
Organics – We do our best to support organic agriculture whenever we can. Stroke for stroke it is better that farming happens organically rather than conventionally, it is better for farm workers and it is better for the environment (protecting water tables, promoting biodiversity etc). We also recognize that today, the organics industry is a global one. Buying organic oats doesn’t mean supporting our neighboring farms just up the road here in Idaho. We wish it did and we hope that someday it will but for the most part, commodities farming is in the hands of a small number of multinational corporations. Beyond that, our own products are certified organic by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture but not by the USDA. We are working towards the USDA certification which requires that a minimum of 95% of ingredients are certified organic. So far we are just shy, but are improving our supply chain to accomplish this goal. There is always room for improvement, there probably always will be and we want to make sure we’re making the best bar from the best ingredients we can.
GMO/non-GMO – Monsanto (the undisputed kingpins of genetically engineered (GE) foods) would have you know that “hundreds of millions of meals containing food from GE crops have been consumed” we’d add to that, probably unknowingly. The GMO/non-GMO debate is a hot one. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms and Monsanto has single handedly changed the face of entire categories of crops like soybeans (soy, pretty much found in everything processed), corn, beets and tomatoes among others. Monsanto has modified these crops’ genetics to be resistant to pesticides and herbicides. And you would be surprised how difficult it is to buy something that is GMO free that isn’t certified organic or specifically labeled as such. Vegetable oil for example, if not certified organic, is nearly guaranteed to contain something derived from GMO vegetables. Anything that is not certified organic that contains “sugar’ (not “cane sugar”) is sugar from sugar beets, which means it’s from GMO beets. Right now there is some compelling dialogue about whether foods containing GMO ingredients should be labeled transparently. Unsurprisingly, Monsanto doesn’t think so affirming that companies are welcome to market their products as GMO free if they want. Or if the product is certified organic by the USDA, according to today’s standards, it should not contain GMO ingredients by default. At Kate’s, we don’t support the genetic engineering of our food and think that as consumers, we should be informed about what we are putting in our bodies. We’re working towards our non-GMO certification so that we can feel good about what we are supporting.
Independent Business – Most of the food we buy at the grocery store (conventional or organic) is controlled by a few large industrial food processors, and for the most part, as consumers, we’re left in the dark about which company we ultimately support with our purchase. This chart is helpful in diagramming the industry (though it was from 2009 so it’s safe to assume, if anything, the universe of organic food has only gotten smaller). There are plenty of small businesses making delicious products, but they generally cost more (cost of operations and ingredients are higher for smaller scale businesses that can’t source in quantity or mechanize their operations), and they might not be distributed nearby. So when you can, support the lil’ guys and buy local to the extent that it means independent.
It’s heady this “sustainable food” stuff but we care deeply about making the food system better. We always love to hear your thoughts on this as well. What issues do you think make up the core foundation of “sustainable food”? We’re in this so that everyone is able to play longer, bike further, climb higher, and huck it more dramatically. What helps you decide who and what to support?
Jenais is a food nerd living in Jackson and chasing dreams of cowboy powder.