Sep 2, 2010

what's that REALLY mean?

gooooooooooood morning everybody!

how is everyone? i feel like i've been a little out of the loop here recently! i've been doing my own thing here the last few days - school, researching, and sorting through emotions - and haven't really had a chance to dive into google reader. bear with me... your posts are important to me, too! 

and i really can't thank you all enough for your support during my little blog break. seriously - you guys blow me away with your kindness. i am so grateful for each one of you!

something i find noteworthy? checked google stats today for the second time... and gotta love the people that land on my blog after searching "muffin love letter." well, i hope they found what they were looking for.

ok, but seriously though, i finally finished researching that post i've been going on about for days.

it's my desire for every person to have information available to them about what they're eating. the decision they make with it afterwards is theirs, but i believe we all at least deserve access to that knowledge. if we can have the calorie count of our soup posted at restaurants, why can't we know what's in it?

as a disclaimer: if you're struggling with emotional eating or disordered thoughts, please realize that this post shouldn't be your biggest concern. like i've said before, emotional health always triumphs food quality... please take care of your heart and mind first! there's plenty of time to deal with the grocery store later, and please know you can ALWAYS email me. always.
i used to have very distinct impressions about what product labels meant. to me, "cage-free" chicken sounds like the good life: grass to roam on, no tiny cage, pecking their food off the ground. old school, ya know?

it wasn't until i started reading about farming procedure that i realized most food companies use labels to confuse us. they want us to have those quaint little visions about where our food comes from so we feel confident purchasing their products over and over. when something says natural, aren't you more likely to buy it? of course! but do you really know what natural means?

terms you'll encounter at your market, and what they mean*:

wild-caught - fish caught by net. can be raised for up to 50% of their lives in hatchery farms, fed grains/farm feed, and released to be re-caught later.

fresh - frozen fish that has been thawed upon arrival. for the most part, the same fish that's in your freezer section, thawed for you.

free-range - access to outdoors. no requirements on the size of cages, size of range, or how frequent (if ever) animals can access the outdoors (usually gravel).

cage-free eggs - exactly that - no wire cage. no regulations on other conditions (space per chicken, food, access to outdoor access).
grass-fed - raised without grain feed until deemed mature (3-6 months old), then transported to feedlots for fattening until slaughter. not organic, and still receive hormones/antibiotics unless otherwise certified.  

natural - can be applied to nearly any food, as long as at least one ingredient is derived from products of plants or animals (can you think of one that's not?). not monitored/regulated by the FDA/USDA.
natural flavors - similar to "natural," any additive approved for the use in food that was once derived from something in nature. no standards for processing.

genetically modified organism (GMO) - product that has new genetics produced in a lab. viruses used to transfer DNA to new product. unless your product is marked organic or NON-GMO, assume it's a GMO (92% of soy, 80% corn, 70% all packaged products, almost all wheat bread).

organic - approved by USDA, avoids most chemicals (38 synthetics considered exceptions), GMOs, and sewage sludge (say wha?), grown on pesticide-free land for at least 3 years, contain at least 95% organic ingredients.

made with organic ingredients - ingredients must be at least 70% organic, other 30% may be GMOs.

certified naturally grown - holds the same standards as organic, but approved for smaller farmers who cannot afford the label.
certified humane - treated with no hormones or antibiotics, free to roam with no cage, processed as gently as possible (regulated by the ASPCA's welfare program)

raw - non-pasteurized/homogenized, or treated with heat not exceeding 105-118 degrees (depending on source).

* this is a compilation of research i've been working on for a few weeks to ensure accuracy. if you would like the link to my sources, shoot me an email and i will track them down for you. all my information came from government/nationally-funded sources, such as the FDA, USDA, ASPCA, MyPyramid, and PBC, cross referenced with general knowledge, such as Wikipedia and news sources)

i hope by defining labels of what we're buying, we see a more accurate picture of what we're eating and make informed decisions.

this certainly isn't the whole story. there surely are a few farmers who are genuine, but unfortunately, they're in the minority in the US. do you know your farmer? wonderful! ask lots of questions, get to know their procedures, where they get their livestock, and make a relationship with them - they are potentially the closest thing to natural. now if only they could get their products into the supermarket...

do you buy a product for the labels?
what do you buy straight from the farmer?


  1. I really appreciate all the work you put into coming up with this post. It was very informative!
    I am currently involved with a CSA, but beyond that, I don't have a whole lot of contact with local farmers.

  2. I feel like reading a product is like reading a newspaper article. You have to learn to sift through the bull and find the truth. It doesn't mean the content is necessarily bad, you just have to be an informed consumer.
    Thanks for writing this!

  3. i buy some veggies organic, others not or frozen in bags and i buy my eggs/meat from our local farmer

  4. This is super informative stuff! I'd love to buy direct from farmers but we don't have many farms here, especially pastoral farms. But I try to buy local veggies as much as possible.

    Thanks Rebekah for the beautiful words of encouragement and wisdom you left on my blog. Thank you for your prayers and for welcoming me to contact you if I need further support. You are amazing and you are an inspiration - and I mean it!

    Love you much!
    Nat xoxo

  5. luckily im always reading articles about what food labels really mean haha so i knew most of this already! I hate false advertising!! ugh

    Dana xox

  6. Oh misleading thou can be!
    Some of the big, evil companies, like Cargill and Sinar Mas, have a hand in supplying a multitude of littler companies that have PC labels - they're effectively able to hide their sourcing by just providing bits and ingredients for smaller corporations. Yet trying to put together a directory of who is linked to what is exhausting (I tried. For work. It's been three years and the supply chain is still developing). I just keep coming back to localization as a just to get some of the costs down!

  7. There needs to be a standard set and defined for some of these terms. I've come across them in my nutrition classes and on some of the sites you've mentioned and I think it's ridiculous how a company can make a claim and slam on the label when it's far from the truth.

    I can happily say that the eggs I get come directly from the "farmer," a.k.a. one of my Mom's co-workers, who assures us that the chickens are treated with the greatest care imaginable, and they're fed properly and given plenty of room to roam in dirt pastures. That's knowing your farmer, that's what we should be doing more of.

  8. I haven't been commenting much lately - but I hope everything is starting to get better for you. Glad you enjoyed your break - you deserved it, girl <3

    This subject is SO, so interesting, sad, frightening, and maddening to me. Companies completely use phrases like these to make people think the opposite of what is true, and it makes me so angry that it WORKS. I mean - why shouldn't someone see "natural" and think, "okay, it's pretty good! it's natural!" Companies can be (scratch that - most companies ARE) so manipulative in their wording. I never know what to think anymore. It's sort of a similar concept how "sugar free," "fat free," "organic," "diet," etc etc etc. all are perceived as "healthy" by people who just don't know any better. When really (save for the organic one) these foods are 99% fake food and chemicals.
    I can only hope that some guidelines start to be put into effect when it comes to labeling and marketing.

  9. I love my local farmers, I have gotten to many of them and they are friends now. I trust buying food from them because many of them are soooo passionate about what they do and love it!!

  10. This is some pretty scary and frustrating stuff! I knew how deceiving some of it was but there's a lot of info here that I didn't know about! It makes me so angry to see how the government keeps trying to trick us. As soon as I get the opportunity to I'm going to try to get as much of my stuff from farmer's markets as possible so that I can really find out where my food is coming from and how it's grown.

  11. Thanks so much for compiling this list. All the labels can be really confusing. And some of the definitions for these terms are so vague- like natural... Of course, you want to think it's better but to be honest it's probably not any better than it's "non natural" counterpart sitting the shelf right next to it.

    I'm currently part of a CSA and buy eggs from a family at Isaac's school. I've been to the farm were the CSA grows my veggies and it makes me happy that I know where at least some of my food comes from. Obviously, I can't say that about everything I eat. :/


questions or comments about my thoughts?
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