Labels Are No Substitute For A Real Relationship



I’m hearing so much confusion out there about labels, sustainable farming terms and certification stamps. It’s a mine-field out there when it comes to understanding new  sustainable terms and my inbox is repeatedly full of people asking for information. What does grass-fed mean? What does organic mean?  What is free-range and the more complex – is organic, free range? Does free-range mean no antibiotics? Does certified organic mean free-range? Does organic mean grass-fed? Does certified organic include grain? And so on and so on.
What I want you to know from me, a person who has been intimately involved in this arena for 4 and half years now and has walked through and represented all sorts of sustainable farming terms, walked many sustainable farms and met many great farmers as well as my fair share of charlatans and misinformed –  this is the summary of what I want to say to you to help you maneuvre around this mushy mashy field.
If you need a label – the context of your buying relationship with the supplier of your food  is all wrong, is disempowering and is probably riddled with illusion.
Contentious.  I believe this to be true.
Don’t outsource your families nutrition to logos, labels and outside agencies that don’t talk to you.
You are worth more than that and trust me that there are great farmers out there that need you and would love to be connected to you. Every inch of bureaucracy that stands between you and them and encourages more distance between you and them is counter productive to the revolution we need in how our food is produced and how we relate to it.
We don’t need more labels. We need better connection to our farmers.
When you are buying a label that is meant to offer you assurance – if it does not provide you with access to real, detailed information about the farm that produced it, then the label is meaningless and is standing in to compensate for the great distance between you the consumer and the farmer.
We do not need to pay for expensive external assurances of this and assurances of that if we not only know the farm that has produced the product in hand – but can also be linked to more detailed information about how that farmer farms as we need it.
Think about it. You only need the assurance when the farmer is anonymous and hidden from you. If the farmer is revealed and is an accountable human being, you should have real information about him, her. If you don’t and you’re pointed to some logo from an external assurance company that does not provide you with detail, then I don’t believe this is a safety net or assurance at all. It is not transparent.
I know of a supplier of a range of certified organic produce that absolutely will not reveal the identity of the farms they buy from to you. The message is, ‘it is certified’, that is all you need to know and no we won’t give you any further information. That renders the logo meaningless. For most of the time, I find that the consumer doesn’t even really understand the difference between standards written by different organic certification agencies. If you don’t understand what it means, then why is it valuable to you? It’s outsourcing your power to just another logo. If the packet can link you to a description of their protocols, why that ‘organic’ label is meaningful and who the farmer is, I rest my case. Most times, this is not what I see.
A vital part of the new behaviours and skill that we need to cultivate within ourselves in order to move the food revolution forward as consumers, is to dig deeper than labels, be clear about what our buying priorities are, buy from real farms with an identity and a connection point – you must be able to have questions you pose about the farmer behind the produce answered otherwise you are in the wrong context. You are in the old context that disempowers you.
You’re in the old context – where you were taught to trust marketing brands, logos and illusions and the farmer was never  and still isn’t revealed to you. That’s old school and the distance that this illusional relationship has caused, is where our health has been harmed and where all manner of abuse occurs.
My commitment to you as we strengthen The Jozi Real Food Revolution is to connect you to the most sustainable farmers in South Africa and their produce.
The identity of the farmer is the brand  – not some meaningless logo. It’s Mandy’s dairy, it’s Keith Harvey’s beef, it’s Dimitri from Gourmet Greek’s yoghurt, it’s Cammy from Ambersky Organic Farm’s meals and kale. it’s Ruth’s eggs, it’s Peter’s ice-cream, it’s Fatima’s humus etc.
I will give you as much information as I can about how they farm, what they farm, who they are, and be available to answer any questions you have about them.
If you have that type of transparent relationship and connection with real farms, why do we need anonymous labels that few people understand anyhow.
So in summary – as a food activist who has waded deeper than most into this terrain – my advice about labels- don’t let labels replace your connection with the real farmer or producer of your food. They are not a substitute for real information.
If you are in a store that refers you to a label that cannot give you any information about the farm, farming method or the farmer – you’re in the wrong store and you’re in an old paradigm.
If you see a ‘certified organic’ label on something – and it means that the ‘retailer’ doesn’t feel like they have to answer any further questions – they are asking you to trust a label that has no meaning, if it cannot link you to real data or connect you to further information, it isn’t valuable in the food revolution.
If somebody who used to be an organic nazi is saying that, trust it. I am livid nowadays when I see a ‘certified organic’ logo on something and am told to just trust it, the identity of the farm is not revealed – not even the conditions of the certification –  then I don’t care what anybody says – it is not meaningful!
Don’t put your trust in labels, put your trust in your own ability to ask questions about the food that matters to you and if you’re in a retail store that cannot connect you to the real farmers and producers, that doesn’t provide you with information about the farms, the animals, the diet etc. etc then leave.
Find the new era retailers that can, that empower you with information, that show evidence through their store practices and what they support that they support you in your quest to find real food and real information or get to your nearest farmers markets.
Labels cannot replace a real relationship or the need for real information and real connection. And they don’t. Trust me.
Yours for and on behalf of The Jozi Real Food Revolution,

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