Can You Buy Local and Organic at Cub Foods? Part Two: Recommendations

Two days ago, I ventured into the Minnetonka Cub Foods to (a) become more informed about what kinds of local and/or organic food were being sold there, and (b) to use that information to help Cub shoppers make better food choices.

My post yesterday was a synopsis of my walk through the store, my initial observations, and my discoveries.

Today, I’ll make specific shopping recommendations: What are the best foods you can put in your Cub Foods shopping cart? Let me explain how I’ll do this.

First, the food I recommend will be the food I would buy for myself and my family.

Second, I will base my recommendations on the same set of guidelines that I follow when I shop, which are…
-  Is it local?
-  Is it organic?
-  Is it fresh?
-  Is it free of artificial ingredients?
-  Is it sustainable?
-  Has the environment been respected?
-  Have animals been treated humanely?
-  Have workers been treated fairly?
-  Is it priced reasonably?

Finally, these guidelines aren’t arranged in any particular order; they’re all important. A food doesn’t have to meet all of them to get recommended – few do – but it does have to have the right combination of them.

Here’s an example: Cub Foods has local, but not organic, tomatoes for sale this week. They’re Bushel Boy, grown in a hothouse in Owatonna, Minnesota, 365 days a year. So hooray for a Minnesota grower that creates local jobs and fresh, ripe tomatoes that don’t have to be shipped from California or Mexico. And yet, I can’t overlook how much petro-fuel is being burned keeping those greenhouses warm enough and light enough to ripen tomatoes in our coldest, darkest months. Do we really need to eat fresh tomatoes in December?

So, based on their large, ecological footprint combined with their non-organic farming practices, I could not, in good conscience, recommend Bushel Boy tomatoes.

As Lee said in his great series about Thousand Hills Cattle beef, “As the word ‘local’ gets twisted into whatever marketers want it to mean, It’s incumbent upon us to do a little bit of research, to ask questions, and to trust our instincts.”

With that most appropriate lead-in, here are my recommendations for what to buy at Cub Foods this week.

The four local offerings are Organic Valley acorn squash, Regent apples, Bushel Boy tomatoes, and fresh cranberries from Wisconsin. We’ve alredy eliminated the tomatoes, but the squash is a keeper because it’s local and organic. Buy it. The apples and the cranberries are local, but not organic, so as long as you’re comfortable with that, buy them, too. (Just remember to wash them thoroughly, in soap and water, before eating or using them in a recipe.)

I recommend MBA’s Smart Chicken. It’s not local, but it is raised without antibiotics on “free-range farms” and fed a 100% vegetarian diet. It also earned a humane certification from Humane Farm Animal Care. Plus, there's no water added to plump up the meat, and at $6.49 a pound for boneless, skinless breasts, it's fairly priced. It may not be a perfect choice (I know the term "free-range" isn't always as good as it sounds), but it's a reasonably smart one.

When buying milk at Cub Foods, let’s first consider price. At $2.99 a gallon, the Cub Foods brand is the least expensive, but it meets no other buying criteria. At $3.99 a gallon, Kemps milk is local and rBST-free, but not organic. The next jump up in price is a big one; at $5.79 a gallon, Old Home offers milk that is both local and organic. Finally, at the top of the range is Stonyfield Farm organic (but not local) milk, priced at $4.69 for a half gallon; do the math – that’s $9.38 a gallon!

Let’s make this choice a bit easier by eliminating the milk sold at the lowest price, Cub Foods, and the highest price, Stonyfield Farm, which leaves two to choose from: local, rBST-free Kemps, or local, organic Old Home. Maybe to you, the organic certification is worth two dollars more per gallon; or maybe hormone-free is good enough. Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong. Which one you choose may just depend on your budget and how much milk your family drinks.

No bread in the entire store is made with organic flour, but Cub Foods does have its own in-store bakery. And that’s about as local as you can get. I also liked the woman who worked there, patiently answering my questions as she stacked fresh loaves of bread on the shelves. It seemed like she was good at her job, so I would like to help her keep it. That’s why I recommend buying the fresh-baked, local Cub Food bread over the national brands.

Here are my three most enthusiastic recommendations in the entire store, though I have to warn you, they are not the most economical. But consider them a luxury worth enjoying on special occasions -- like breakfast, for instance.

1. Cub Food’s own Wild Harvest breakfast-blend coffee. No, it's not local. But it’s ground from 100 percent organic Arabica beans, it's fair-trade certified, and it's priced at $6.49 for a 12-ounce package.

2. Wild Harvest Chai green tea. Again, not local, but also fair-trade certified and $3.19 for a box of 18 individually wrapped bags.

3. Pure maple syrup from Hamel, Minnesota. Definitely local! A 16-ounce bottle will cost you $8.79 but it's worth it; nothing beats the flavor of real maple syrup. (If you disagree, consider that The Angry Trout in Grand Marais includes a shot of local maple syrup on its dessert menu.)

Those are my recommendations
based on my visit to Cub Foods two days ago. I know it’s not complete, and you will certainly need more to round out your shopping list. But it’s a start. And it’s significant. Imagine how much the food industry would change for the better if all of us bought just one local or organic item each time we went shopping.

One more thing: if you need help deciding what to do with some of these fresh, local, organic foods, check back on Sunday, when I’ll publish a simple, good and tasty recipe that utilizes three of the ingredients on this list.