Going to the grocery store is a lot more challenging these days. It is not as simple as bread, milk, cheese, and apples. Do you want sprouted grain or “natural” white bread? Organic or factory-farmed milk? Imported goat cheese, organic clover-fed camembert, processed cheddar or non-dairy shreds? Organic or genetically modified apples? Well it helps to know what these terms mean, so you can make an informed decision. For this installment in our series on lexicographical musings, I will be exploring some terms that the food industry likes to sticker all over our groceries.
USDA approved organic foods are not treated with pesticides and grown in an environmentally-sustainable way. Usually your best choice, but price can be a factor. For meat, organic incorporates humane husbandry practices, along with organic feed and no hormone use. For produce, farmers must not use chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
The “Dirty Dozen.”
You may have heard of these dozen produce items that have the most pesticides and are the best to buy organic if possie. While this is a great list for budgeting, don’t forget that any fruits and vegetables are better than none, and that organic also guarantees environmental stewardship and living wages for farmers, so it’s not just about pesticides. But if cost is an issue, choosing organic for produce on this list and conventional for produce where you do not eat the skin will reduce your exposure to pesticides.
This doesn’t mean anything for most products. They can literally slap this label on processed cheese product and say it’s “natural.” For meat products, “natural” means that the product wasn’t altered in any fundamental way, but for anything aside from meat, the label is simply a sales pitch. If you ask me, natural is more a sign that the product is trying to deceive you in some way. Check the ingredients. If it’s natural, you will recognize them as food products and there won’t be more than a few of them. When you see ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, put the box down and back away slowly.
Usually on eggs or meat. Means the animal had access to the outside. The animal still may have been raised in filthy, crowded factory-farm conditions and their “range” could be anything from a beautiful green field to a muddy pen next to a highway. Also the amount of time that the animals are allowed to have access to the outdoors is also not regulated and can vary greatly. A company doesn’t have to prove to an independent auditor that its animals had access to outdoors. So while the idea of free-range is great, it’s hard to trust that this means anything either.
For meat, this is a third-party accreditation that guarantees that the animals have continuous outdoor access, adequate space, and humane slaughter practices. It guarantees that the animals will be able to express natural behaviours, such as chickens having space to flap their wings and dust bathe, and pigs having space to move around. Honestly, when I write that down, I am appalled that we have to have a certification to tell companies that a chicken needs room to flap its wings. Isn’t that obvious to anyone with a heart? It’s no wonder food companies put picturesque images of happy cows on lush fields on their packaging, as they do not want us to know how far down the rabbit hole they have gone into making farming an industrialized, de-humanized, soul-sucking machine.