Food for Thought

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GMO

GMO What You Think It Means: Genetically Modified Organisms have had their DNA altered by biotech companies, such as Monsanto and DuPont. Most GMO’s are plants, which have been modified to be virus, insect, and/or drought resistant. Pesticides are used on these products, as are insecticides and herbicides. The biotech companies behind GMO’s are quite possibly headed by Darth Vader. What It Actually Means: All of the above is correct, though the Darth Vader point is obviously a joke (though biotech have not done themselves a lot of favors in shrugging off this reputation). GMO crops are used in animal feed…

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CLOSER

Now What? Now that you have all of this info, what to do? I hope at the very least, you feel slightly more informed and empowered to navigate your local supermarket. On the other hand, realizing what these food labels really mean can be disheartening (I know it was for me). Without getting into the weeds of all these food label debates, I’d like to offer three pieces of advice: 1) If you’re on SNAP, budgeting for whole foods can be a serious challenge. I love the Good And Cheap (free download!) cookbook, which is designed around recipes anyone could…

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RAINFOREST ALLIANCE

RAINFOREST ALLIANCE   What You Think It Means: Products that receive Rainforest Alliance certification have been grown with an eye toward conserving and protecting the environment, including safe guarding waterways, and conserving wildlife. Presumably that would also mean growing organic crops, using organic methods. What It Really Means: Not so much on the organic part, but certified Rainforest Alliance products must protect the environment and conserve wildlife. Additionally, growers must be paid above average market prices for their crops, men and women are paid equal wages, unions can form, and there are child labor laws in place. Take Away: The…

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FAIR-TRADE

FAIR-TRADE What You Think It Means: A Fair Trade label means that workers have been paid a fair wage for their labor and have been treated responsibly. It is also a guarantee of no child or forced labor. What It Really Means: The Fair Trade seal does mean that workers were paid above market prices for their cropsand that there was no child or forced labor. The “treated responsibly” part is not necessarily true, however. It is also important to point out Fair Trade does not equal organic, chemical pesticides could have been used to grow this product.  There is…

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FREE-RANGE

FREE-RANGE What you think it means: Animals were allowed to roam freely in an open range (pasture). What It Actually Means: The term free range guarantees access to outdoor space, but not necessarily a pasture. Sadly, there is not legal standard for “free-range”. It just means the animal had access to outdoor space. Take Away: Again, I just rely on my gut when I am asking my butcher questions here. Generally, I ask for meat that is organic, pasture raised, and humane. Unless I go to the farms myself there is no real way of knowing.  …

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CAGE-FREE CHICKEN

CAGE-FREE CHICKEN What you think it means: These chickens were living in a barn or outside and had free range to engage in their instinctual foraging behavior. What it actually means: It just means that chickens are not living in cages. “Cage-free” chickens can still live in aviaries (massive industrial barns with thousands of birds), with each chicken having, about 1-1 ½ square feet of space. Granted, they are still better off than caged counter parts, but still not great. Take Away: At the end of the day, unless you are raising and slaughtering meat yourself, there is really no…

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GRASS-FED

GRASS-FED What you think it means: It’s fair to assume that if an animal is being grass fed, they have access to a pasture full of lovely green grass. What it actually means:  The term “grass fed” on the label, does not necessarily mean that the animal was kept outside, nor does it guarantee that the animal ate grass its whole life. There is not even that much clarity around how much of the said animal’s diet was grass. Take away: Unless explicitly stated, grass-fed does not equate to free-range or even that the animal had access to the outdoors,…

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ORGANIC MEAT

ORGANIC MEAT What you think it means:  These animals were happy creatures with blissful lives, roaming in open fields with freedom of movement and access to fresh air and sunshine. They ate organic grass and were not given antibiotics or hormones. What it actually means: Marion Nestle explains, “The organic label requires meat to be produced without antibiotics, hormones, or GMOs, and to be fed organic feed.  If the label says USDA Certified Organic, that’s what it means.” So use of open pastures and freedom of movement does not enter into the equation here, unless explicitly stated. Additionally, it does…

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CERTIFIED HUMANE

CERTIFIED HUMANE What you think it means: I don’t know about you, but if I hear that an animal has been raised and killed in a certifiably humane way, I think that means it has been fed food food that is not animal by-product, and had access to ample outdoor space, as well as freedom to engage in natural behaviors (foraging, eating grass, etc). What It Actually Means: Hold on to your hats for this doozy — Humane is actually a completely subjective term. Finding reliable info on this was tough, and what I was able to dig up was for…

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USDA CERTIFIED ORGANIC

USDA CERTIFIED ORGANIC         What you think it means: 100% organic, no GMO seeds, no pesticides or herbicides, seeds and food were not irradiated, and no synthetic fertilizers were used. What it really means:  All of the above assumptions would be correct. The farmers who get the Certified Organic Seal have to do AN INSANE amount of paper work, including tracing and recording all of their farming practices. Because the process to get the seal is so onerous, some organic farmers choose not to get it. It’s important to note, however, that organic does not equal local….

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NATURAL

NATURAL What you think it means: “Natural” is a nice word with lovely green, lush, pure connotations. I hear natural and I think it was made by nature so it must be healthy, right? Wrong. What it actually means: The term “all natural” or just the word “natural” don’t mean much of anything.  Natural products can include: Those that are genetically modified. Those grown using pesticides Those with added sugar or corn syrup (both technically “natural”!) The only limitation is that “natural products” cannot contain artificial flavor, color, or other synthetic additives. As far as “natural meat” is concerned, it…

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OPENER

Do We Have Any Idea What We Are Buying? Raise your hand if you also feel like you want to punch someone when you leave a grocery store. It’s not just because the aisles are overcrowded, the other shoppers are grumpy, or that other people’s carts ram my heels. It’s because my mission is simple (buy good, healthy food), yet the execution feels overly complicated. For every food choice, there seems to be at least ten different choices – all with pictures, labels, terms that sound nice, but I don’t fully understand. After quite some time feeling helpless, I decided…

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