Sunday, September 12, 2010

Let's Define Some Stuff: 'Conventional' vs. Local, Organic, Grass-Finished, All-natural, and posts for the future

In order to understand the current climate surrounding food, some jargon has to be explained.

The majority of food you'll see in your local supermarket is considered 'conventional'. It's mass-produced and insanely cheap, often using pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics where applicable. In order to be sold in your supermarket, it has to meet certain restrictions set down by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA from here on out). However, for a growing population of Americans, these restrictions are no longer good enough.

Animals are subjected to inhumane and crowded conditions, are over-medicated, and are fed grains that keeps them in a constant state of indigestion. We'll discuss the negative effects of corn in later posts, but for now it should be made clear that corn-fed cattle are fat cattle. Fat cattle make for fatty cuts of beef, and fatty cuts of beef make for fat consumers.

In order to use the word 'organic' in any context, certain requirements of the USDA must be met. 'Organic' can mean that only 70% of ingredients in the container, bag, or box are organic. Look for labels that say '100% organic' or 'USDA Certified Organic'. However, it should be noted that an $11,000 fine is a drop in the bucket for mega-corporations that control the majority of products available in supermarkets, whether they falsely label products as 'organic' or 'healthy'. Take heart, though: the term 'organic' means that no cloned animals are part of your meal! But that doesn't necessarily mean you won't be eating the offspring of cloned animals, and the FDA has ruled that you don't have to be informed of cloned products in your food.

'All-natural' doesn't necessarily mean anything, and isn't required to by the FDA. 'Free Range', in reference to chickens, also doesn't necessarily mean that much. All that is required by the FDA is that the chickens have access to an outdoor area. The FDA doesn't specify a minimum amount of time the animals have to spend outside. That means that while there is a door the chickens can use to leave the coop, the door doesn't ever have to be open.

I promise we'll talk about grass-finished beef and conventional beef later, but for now you should know that beef labeled 'grass-finished' is one of your best choices. 'Grass-fed' simply means that cattle were fed grass (their natural diet) at the start of their lives. As they grew older, they were moved to feed lots, which fed them grain. 'Grass-finished', however, means that they were fed their natural diet their whole lives. Remember how corn=fatty beef, and fatty beef=fat consumers? Well, cattle fed their natural diet of grass the entirety of their lives are slimmer and healthier than their grain-fed siblings. So what do slim cattle mean for consumers?

I think I've gotten you started on plenty of talking points.

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