You've seen the buzzwords at the grocery store: organic, GMO-free, shade-grown, but do you know what they really mean? In the new Eco-Foods Guide (New Society, 2002), author Cynthia Barstow, a sustainable agriculture marketing consultant and teacher, offers vital information and guidance to help you shop for healthy groceries that are easy on the environment. Use this quiz to test your current food knowledge.


1. How far on average does our food travel, from plant to plate?

2. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 60 percent of all herbicides, 90 percent of all fungicides, and 30 percent of all insecticides cause what deadly disease?

3. True or false? If you live in a cold climate, it is necessary to import some fruits and vegetables to get enough variety for a healthy diet.

4. True or false? If you want to buy foods free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), you can look to the label to learn which ingredients are GMO-free.


1. 1,300 miles. Buying locally and in season can help shorten the distance, reducing the travel cost and cutting down on waste. You'll also support your neighbor—and the environment. In one 2001 study, researchers from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University found that if Iowans got 10 percent more of their produce from local food systems, they would save between 294,000 and 348,000 gallons of fuel each year.

2. Cancer. The EPA considers a significant number of pesticides to be carcinogenic. And unfortunately, some of these pesticides are all too common. In the United States, conventional farmers used close to 658 million pounds of pesticides in 1987 and an alarming 806 million pounds in 1996.

3. False, according to at least one study reported at the International Conference on Agricultural Production and Nutrition in 1997. Researchers analyzed menus to determine the nutritional adequacy of a regional diet using a USDA-based, local-products-enhanced food guide for the Northeast. Except for an iron deficiency in the winter nonvegetarian diet, all diets provided at least 100 percent of recommended intakes for macronutrients and major vitamins and minerals.

4. False. Up to 70 percent of processed foods contain products of genetic engineering, including soft drinks, ketchup, potato chips, cookies, ice cream, and cornflakes. You don't know it, though, because the Food and Drug Administration doesn't yet require labeling. However, according to the new national organic standards, certified organic foods cannot contain GMOs.

—Pamela Emanoil