PALM DESERT, Calif. — While on the road recently for The Packer's West Coast Produce Expo, I unexpectedly got some great insight from my Uber driver on her produce purchasing habits and rationale.

She asked what I did for a living, so I told her about my role of observing and reporting on the wide world of produce, particularly at retail. Her next question to me was what were the healthiest brands of fruits and vegetables to buy.

I explained to her that specific health benefits are tied to certain commodities rather than brands and that overall you can't go wrong with eating fruits and vegetables. She agreed but then noted that she buys organic because she feels like it's a safer product and she wants to make sure she'd feeding the healthiest produce to her 7-year-old daughter.

We talked a bit about organic practices and how they're tied more to sustainability than to food safety, as food safety regulations apply to growers across the board, but then she made a comment I found very interesting. 

The woman said her mother often gives her a hard time for buying organic, saying that it's more expensive and it probably isn't really any different — as in, not really organic. I explained to her that, wherever you shop, product labeled as organic is indeed organic — because it's regulated by the federal government.

Claims like "natural" and "healthy," on the other hand, don't have any oversight, I told her.

The woman, who I believe was about my age (late 20s to early 30s), mentioned that she shops at Walmart a lot because it is closest to where she lives, and she also goes to Aldi.

She was also curious to hear what I thought about GMOs, so we talked about what gene editing is — using technology to turn on or off a certain trait, like browning in apples, for example — and the fact that hardly any produce available to buy is GMO.

Our food-focused conversation lasted all the way until we pulled up at the terminal, and she told me she appreciated me sharing the information. 

I learned a lot, too.


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