06/01/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Does Your Food Need a Passport?

Perusing a supermarket aisle is like taking a trip to the United Nations. I'm not just referring to the exotic cheeses, oils or wines that are readily available to unsuspecting consumers. How about more standard fare such as plump canned tomatoes grown in Italy, frozen edamame from China, luscious avocados from Mexico or Canadian corn? All of these products are displayed standing at attention, looking their best to lure in hungry, unsuspecting shoppers. I don't want to discourage anyone from making healthy food choices, but we need to examine more than what we're eating. We need to also think about where it's coming from. With the duress we're all living under because of swine flu, coupled with our high carb(on) footprint because of our food choices, it's time for us to re-examine where our produce comes from.

Most of our produce probably needs a passport to enter the United States. According to Food and Water Watch, 1/2 of all food-borne illnesses in the US are caused by imported foods. Additionally, the number of FDA inspectors who are supposed to safeguard our food supply has dwindled. Last year, they inspected a measly 11,000 inspections on the 33 billion pounds of produce that crossed our border. With all of the swine-flu hysteria, these disturbing numbers don't bode well for ensuring a safer food system.These foods need the same strict visa process that is used for the millions of tourists who come to our shores annually.

Besides potential threats to your health, imported foods have a serious impact on our environment. The average meal travels a whopping 1500 miles from farm to your plate. Synthetic fertilizers contribute 647 million pounds of nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas emission) annually. According to the Cool Foods Campaign, food processing and packaging is one of the top 5 biggest energy users in the country, gobbling up 14 billion gallons of gasoline annually.

Don't fret though because there are lots of simple things you can do to ensure you're eating plenty of safe, healthy, local fresh produce rather than unsafe, unsustainable international foods.

-Learn about imported foods with Food and Water Watch's nifty new interactive Global Grocer.

-Reduce your carbon food/footprint by buying local, sustainable produce within 200 miles of your house. The user-friendly Eat Well Guide helps you find local farmers markets, farms and CSAs.

-Learn more about the contribution of your food choices to global warming with the Cool Foods Campaign.

Sarah"s Social Action Snapshot originally appeared on