Does "organic" start at the store? Well, unless you grow your own produce and crochet your own sweaters, for most of us, it does. And that's good news, because with a little bit of knowledge, you can make a positive impact on your health, and the environment.
DON'T FORGET YOUR FABRIC BAGS
Probably the biggest thing you could do is cut down on the amount of non-compostable, pollutant-to-make items known as the plastic shopping bag (did you know Eugene, OR outlawed them all together?). Paper is not as bad, but those still mean dead trees and transport pollution, so just bring your bags. I put mine in my car. I also designate a "produce" bag (it's a slick material that's easy to clean) that I keep sanitized so that I can bypass all the plastic produce bags, and carry them all in one basket.
Look for items with as little packaging as possible, and as sustainable/recyclable packaging as possible. I noticed that for some reason, things in "brown" packaging are almost always more eco-conscious! And paper is better than plastic, unless it says on the plastic that it was made from post-consumer recycled material. It's also a good try when the packaging says a percentage was made using recycled materials (they're required by law to list the percentage). Even if the package says "eco-friendly" or "Earth Smart," make sure it's not just a marketing gimmick by making sure they have "made from recycled..." or at least "recyclable" (or the recycle symbol) on there somewhere.
LOOK FOR LOCAL
Not only do many stores have entire natural foods sections now (Smith's and Harmon's are two great Utah stores who do that), but they also carry items from local vendors and farmers, especially in the dairy and deli sections. A few local items I've noticed in my neighborhood grocer: chocolate, cheese, burritos from a local Mexican restaurant, eggs, milk, sausage and beer, Buy local when you can, because that means it didn't leave a large footprint when being transported to the store, and more money stays in the local economy. When you support your neighbors, community is made! There's no energy better than that.
BE PICKY WITH PRODUCE
In the produce department, head straight for the organic section, if the store has one. If it does, buy as much as you can here, because not only are these versions pesticide-free and usually picked from socially responsible farms, but they're also non-GMO (genetically modified, which some say may cause cancer and other ailments). By law, an item cannot be marked USDA Organic if it's a GMO. If you can't find or can't afford organic produce, avoid the "dirty dozen," or produce most easily penetrable by pesticides. Instead, go for "the clean 15" that can resist toxins a little better.
Also remember to aim for produce that's in-season, which benefits the earth because it doesn't have to travel long distances to get here, and you, because it's naturally riper, which also eliminates any chance of ripening agents or waxes often imposed on non-seasonal fruit.
Don't stand for ingredients you can't pronounce: They usually mean "additive" or "preservative."It's smart to get most of your food from the produce section, focusing on a fresh nutrient-packed diet with endless meal options. After that, aim for nuts and seeds...then move on to your - not only organic, but HUMANE/free range eggs/dairy/meat, if you must (I am, however, a huge fan of goat dairy). A good rule, albeit a hard one to follow, is if it's made in a factory, avoid it. If you have to buy that stuff, make sure it's organic, or at least has as few ingredients (or as many ingredients as you recognize) as possible, and that they're whole ingredients (whole grains, proteins, fiber, fruits, vegetables).
Now, how did you get to the store? Walk? Bike? Grouped it in with errands around the same area? GOOD! And did you buy in bulk so you can cut down on trips? GREAT!
See, you are doing SO MUCH to be greener just by shopping, that I say you're ready for your first pair of Tevas. :)
**********WATCH FOR PART TWO OF 'ORGANIC SHOPPING,' WHERE I'LL GIVE YOU GREEN TIPS REGARDING CLOTHING AND CONSUMER ITEMS.