Monday, July 15, 2013

Foodie Buzzwords

     As the locally-produced, "green" food movement gains momentum, more and more producers and companies are including labels on their products that tell you their food is "hormone-free" or "naturally-raised." But what do these phrases mean? Suprisingly, the regulations surrounding many buzzwords that would cause you to buy one product over another are surprisingly unregulated . We were asked to research the definitions of some of the words that pertain to our food, labels that companies use to describe and market their products; so read on to find out what these things actually mean!

Conventionally Raised: This term applies to both meat and crops. It means that the product was raised on a large or small farm, using conventional methods, which would include using chemicals to control weeds or pesticides (crops) and  antibiotics to prevent illness, and sometimes hormones to stimulate growth or production (animals).  In many situations, sustainable methods are used, though they may not be quantifiable.

What labels make us think!
Naturally Raised: This term usually applies to meat products. It is a loosely-regulated term,  meaning that the feed the animal received wasn't loaded with antibiotics, and they weren't given hormone injections. If possible, ask the seller what it means for the product he is selling.

Organic: This term applies to both meat and crops. This term means that all of the products used on the food was biologic in origin, and that the crop was grown without synthetic additives such as herbicide, fertilizer, or antibiotics. Be wary of an "organic" label. Unless it says "certified organic" or "USDA organic" you can't be sure that it is organic. This term is used by farmers use organic methods, but haven't gone through the extensive certification process.

The only label that matters
Certified Organic: This term applies to both meat and crops. It means that the farm that produced the food product has undergone a  rigorous process to obtain the certified organic designation. No synthetic additives are used anywhere on the property, and animal products with the designation are raised with access to the outdoors, although the quality of outdoor time is not regulated. Animals must also be given bedding material, unless they are grazed on certified organic pasture.

USDA Organic: This term applies to both meat and crops. It has the same designation as certified organic, but the use of the USDA Organic sticker on products is not required for producers who have obtained certified organic status.  Look for this term on the sticker of "organic" displays in grocery stores.

Hormone-Free: This term usually applies to beef and dairy products. It means that the animals used in the production of the product were not given hormones to increase muscle mass or milk production. Pork and chicken producers are not allowed to use hormones at all.

Whole Foods: This term means foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, such as an apple, or that are as minimally-processed and refined as possible, such as regular oatmeal, whole wheat flour or a pork chop. Minimally-processed foods are indeed better for you than a package of cookies or Cheetos, and we should try to eat as many of this type of food product as possible.

Labels like this are ok at a farmer's market
Free-range: This term applies to meat and poultry products. It is largely unregulated. The USDA allows producers to use the label if they give their animals about 5 minutes of open-air access a day.  Many egg producers are moving toward free-range and cage-free, because the public is demanding it.

Cage-free: This term applies to poultry products. It means that the chickens are not kept in small cages, but does not mean that they are outside, or that they are fed organic, antibiotic-free food.  It does mean that they have room to spread their wings and run around.  In many cases, chickens are kept in large, indoor, open chicken barns which have good ventilation.  They might have a roost to perch on, go into a small nest to lay their eggs, walk to their water and food, and move about much of the day.

Look for this certification on meat products
Grass-fed: This term applies to beef products. Unless the label includes "certified" this term could be misleading. A certified grass-fed product means that the animal was raised in a pasture or open range and ate exclusively grass and other plants.*  An important question to ask is was it grass finished instead of corn-finished?  Grass finished means that it will be much lower in cholesterol, and better for you.

Superfood: This term usually describes a food that is high in nutrients or chemicals that provide a lot of health benefits. It is totally a marketing buzzword.

*Most beef cattle are grazed on pasture grass or fed hay until they have grown to about 800 pounds (approximately 1 year of age).  Then, most cattle are moved to a feedlot, where they are "finished," to about 1,200 pounds, by being fed high concentrations of a corn-alfalfa mix.  This is highly nutritious and tastes delicious, so the cattle gobble it up.  The corn-alfalfa blend has a high fat content, which enables the animal to gain weight at a more rapid rate than just on pasture grass.  Also, the corn adds to the marbling and flavor, which we all love, but also adds to the high fat and high cholesterol count in the beef.  Grass fed and finished beef has a much lower cholesterol count.  

Check out the following sources for more information about the above terms, and to learn more about a bunch of other labels you might see:

No comments:

Post a Comment