Know What You’re Eating: The Differences Among Organic, Free Range and Everything in Between

Some may remember their mother or grandmother preparing chicken from scratch — meaning butchering a live chicken on the property. Today, “from scratch” is more along the lines of going to the supermarket, picking up a fresh cut, and shaking it in cornmeal and spices for baking. It could also mean opening a box, microwaving the food, and doctoring the meal up with dried herbs. What’s on a label varies in interpretation as much as what’s made from scratch in modern terms.

Do you read the labels as you pick out your meat? Do you know what they mean? You choose beef hot dogs over the mixed meat kind — definitely don’t want the mystery meat goo. More people want labels to be straightforward so they can make informed choices.

What’s the difference between organic and free-range or grass-fed versus pasture-raised? Ah, the days where you long for mystery meat goo where you at least know the difference between cow, chicken, and pig — or those animals that go moo, cluck, and oink.

Deciphering Meat Labels Is Less Mind-Boggling Than Heiroglyphs — Maybe

Do you know or care about where what you eat comes from? It’s all on the label, and that label indicates what conditions an animal might be raised in to produce your cut of meat.

Going to the supermarket creates a disconnect and keeps you distanced from what goes on behind the scenes. For human and animal health reasons, more people want improved conditions and care for the livestock they consume.

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One study surveyed 2,038 people about their choices, motivations, and feelings regarding humanely raised food. Respondents knew organic meant a government standard for foods grown naturally, generally antibiotic- and pesticide-free and with environmentally friendly practices. Organic food must also be 95 percent organically produced, with the other 5 percent deriving from a USDA-approved national list.

Respondents also knew free range meant livestock is kept in natural conditions with freedom to move about, but it can also mean those hens lay their eggs in clucker prison and get recreation when the farmer-guards say so. In the end, 69 percent knew what organic was while 72 percent understood what grass-fed meant.

However, the people have spoken — they care about humanely raised food. It’s just deciphering the labeling that presents a challenge. This stuff is more mind-boggling than cuneiform.

What about grass-fed and pasture-raised? Does that mean the livestock eat grass, but some don’t live in a pasture? Where do they live — on a terraformed moon? Does that mean the label would read terraformed grass-fed? You’d have to check the fine print for where.

Grass-fed technically means grass makes up the main part of a livestock animal’s diet. Pasture-raised animals graze at some point in the day, and they also get grain from the farmer. Among the total respondents, only about 30 percent got that right. Hey, those animals are technically in a barn on a pasture, right? Everyone wins.

Ready for some more? The list ain’t over until it’s over. Don’t get tired yet. Do it for the animals.

Here you go, a twist on “Would you rather …?” How about farm-to-table versus locally sourced food? The terms are similar, so you can have that validation — but they don’t mean the same thing. Not all locally produced food comes from a farm. The keyword is sourced, and locally sourced food means what’s grown and processed must be sold in the same geographical area. Farm-to-table is the most direct of all — what’s produced on the farm ends up on your table, or on that of a restaurant that likes the farm-fresh guarantee.

Natural is another good one. According to the USDA, that means the food doesn’t contain preservatives or artificial ingredients, but the product may contain growth hormones, antibiotics, and other similar types of chemicals. If you see all-natural on a label, it’s not any different than natural.

The Call for Improved Labeling and Minding Your Reading

Mind your reading, folks. Instead of getting distracted by social media — oops — turn your attention to Google to conduct your latest “What the heck does this mean?” search.

Organic, free range, and other labels haven’t been revised in terms of labeling, but food labels have received other FDA-approved changes because of increasing demand for transparency. Now, added sugars are required on the nutrition list. These are explained by the FDA as added during food processing or packaged as such — potentially containing syrups, honey, or concentrated sugars from vegetables or fruit. Ingredients are typically listed by their common names, and the heaviest ingredient goes first — so that’s a little more helpful.

The FDA also made the calories section bigger, which is easier on the eyes but not necessarily on the waist, huh? It’s nice to know the FDA responds to public concerns — when they get big enough — and to changing scientific research.

Mind your reading and keep up the call. Meanwhile, keep practicing the art of memorization and Googling.

Mother Earth Living
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