“Free range”, “grain finished”, “organic”, “cage free”, “lovingly neutered”, “emotionally sensitive packaging”, “access to gender-neutral restrooms” and the goes-on. (Confession: I might have used my poetic license on a few of these.) Unless you’ve spent the time to heavily research the subject and bookmark the websites on your smartphone, today’s food labeling system is more destructive than informative.
Why does it matter? If you’re self-health conscious and care about how your food was treated before it hit your plate you might feel betrayed at how big-ag companies are pulling the wool over your eyes. Contrary to common sense, that picture of a smiling chicken on your carton doesn’t require the eggs therein be plucked from a happy nest. Proof: chickens can’t smile.
What’s a conscientious buyer to do? I’ll cover the subject in two posts. Part 1 is about the different labels and specifics of which to be aware. Part 2 will delve into a discussion of the significance and detriment of a labeling system and our responsibilities both as seller and buyer.
Many trustworthy authors with much better writing styles than I have extensively and responsibly covered this subject so I’ll just let the dead horse be. I’ve provided my research favorites below. Additionally, I’ve included a section boiling-down the most critical label discrepancies to heed.
Eggs – How was Momma Hen Treated?
Beef – It’s What’s For (Their) Dinner
(picture credit: Coconuts and Kettlebells – “The Grass-Fed Difference: Why You Are What They Eat”)
Breaking it Down – The Critical Ones. Be Wary.
At the moment this is the highest standard for eggs. Guaranteed natural foraging in addition to the latest USDA organic standards.
Grass Fed, Grass Finished
The best for your beef. This promises an entire life of grazing on grass pastures.
Chickens are omnivorous by nature. I’m all for those hippies 30 miles east to be able to choose a meatless life of flavor destitution, but imagine if you were forced to eat solely from one extreme of the food spectrum.
Free Range and Cage Free
‘Free Range’ is as guilty as ‘Cage Free’. The difference in the chicken’s health between the two has been shown to be negligible. Both are kept in over-crowded buildings on other-than-grass floors fed by humans or machine.
With origins derived from the best intentions for cattle this label has been warped by ranchers looking for a shortcut. For the moment ‘Grass Fed’ still means that most of the bovine’s life is spent foraging on grass. However(!) it no longer restricts the diet to be completely free from grain as coveted and assumed by those with strict and life-dependent dietary restrictions. Ridiculously, a new category has necessarily emerged: ‘Grass FINISHED’. It’s easier to get the animal up to selling weight and marbling if given calorie-heavy grain during the last few months of it’s life (i.e. – ‘GRAIN Finished’).
Hah! Don’t get me started. I’ll reserve a full future post for this big-business, wolf-in-sheep-clothing.
If all of this information is a bit too much to process, just ask the farmer from whom you buy your food. They’ll be more than happy to explain their animal care ideology and product standards. If you’re shopping at a grocery store, good luck with that.