One of my favorite aspects of traveling is exploring cultural differences when it comes to the way people buy, label and eat their food.
I recently spent some time in Tasmania, Australia and one of my first stops while there was the grocery store. I wanted to check out how Australians eat and buy their food verses how we do in the US. I looked for major differences in the way that Australians label and purchase their food, and here’s what I found:
- Many Americans are primed to look for organic produce (as in recent years, the US has done a fantastic job of ramping up organic produce production), so one of my first investigations in the Australian grocery store was to check out their organic produce section. Much to my surprise, I couldn’t find any organic produce in any of the largest supermarkets I visited.
- I was curious about the “missing” section of the grocery store, so I did some research to find out about the process and popularity of organic produce production in Australia. Based on my research, it seems that Australia has the capacity to grow a lot of organic produce, but there hasn’t been much impetus from the country itself or from the public to pursue major organic crop production. Although the farming practices in Australia are a bit different than they are in the US, and there seems to be a tighter rein (in some cases) regarding pesticide use, I would still have liked to be able to find some organic produce. Note: It’s always important to keep in mind that many small farms do grow their produce in line with organic standards but cannot afford to have a third party certification of their organic standards; I did keep this in mind.
Winner in the organic aisle? US
Genetically Modified Produce:
- Another hot topic in the US is genetically modified produce. We have a variety of genetically modified produce here in the US, and it seems to be expanding more and more. One major difference I found was between genetically modified produce in the US versus in Australia. Although some genetically modified produce does exist in Australia, the total number of crops is far fewer as compared to those in the US.
- Currently, produce sold in Australia that is genetically modified includes soybeans, corn products, canola, potatoes, and sugar beet (used as sugar); although it seems that more GMO produce may be tested in the Australian marketplace soon.
- The other wonderful thing that I found was that Australia labels its genetically modified products, which can help consumers to better know and understand the growing practices food that they’re purchasing (this was a major thumbs up!).
Winner when it comes to restricting GMO produce? Australia
- Because Australia isn’t a huge producer of many different types of produce, there has been an influx of crops imported from Asia (similar to the US importing crops from South America and other places). The major worry about importing crops from countries is that many have looser regulations with regard to pesticide use and other healthful growing practices. Like produce purchased in the US, from other countries, all should be washed extra well; and as always, aim to purchase locally grown produce from smaller farms to avoid consuming imported crops whenever possible.
- Note: Although there is a fair amount of import into Australia, they do a great job of labeling products grown within the country, so they’re not too hard to find.
Winner when it comes to fewer imported crops? It’s a tie! There are imported crops in both places.
Organic Meat & Animal Products:
- Similar to organic produce, the US has been pushing forward with the effort to produce more organic meat, eggs and dairy — something that Australia has not been quite as successful with. Like the US, Australia does have free-range meat and meat products available, but in most grocery stores one is unable to find any organic meat or eggs.
- Note: It’s important to know that although in the US animals may be raised free-range, which means their diets, must primarily be grass and another plants, “free-range” does not ensure no use of antibiotics or pesticides. Likewise, there are standards in Australia for free-range that on the whole mandate a certain amount of animals per a certain amount of space and also recommend “well-balanced” diets and other similar clauses. Although it’s likely better than conventional, it’s still not perfect.
Winner when it comes to finding organic meat and animal products? US. The US is ahead when it comes to organic meat (at least in most supermarkets), although when it comes to free-range animals, I suspect that they’re about the same in both places.
- The US struggles severely from false labeling and claims on foods and food products; for example when it comes to regulating “natural” labeling. Unfortunately the battle we have with truthful labeling in the US is not much different in Australia.
- When it comes to labeling a food as “natural,” there exists the same issue with loose regulations around food labeling in Australia as there is in the US. In many cases in both locations, a food labeled natural may have no natural ingredients and in turn may be no more healthful than its counterpart that has not been labeled as natural.
Winner when it comes to truthful labeling? It’s a tie! There are similar issues in both places.
- It can be nerve-wracking for a gluten-free person to travel (I know because I’m one too). I worry that I may not find gluten-free products. However, Australia knows how to do it and they do it well. In every single grocery store, I was able to find a variety of different (and delicious!) gluten-free products. From cereals, to oats, granola bars and crackers — you name it they had it. Although the US is getting better at their availability of gluten-free products in a wider variety of locations, Australia still has us beat.
Winner when it comes to more available and well-labeled gluten-free products? Australia