do all those words mean on your food packages?
Okay, show of hands now. When you go grocery shopping, how many of you
look for “organic” or “natural” food? Do
you think “cage free” and “free range” eggs are the same thing? Do you think brown eggs are better than white
eggs? Do you reach for the “non-GMO”
packages? Do you shun gluten?
Another show of hands. How many of you can actually explain the
definitions of and differences between all these words? Do you even know what gluten is? [hint—it’s
not artificial gloppy goo…] While
researching the correct wording for some of these items, I stumbled upon some
eye-rolling comments on certain websites.
I won’t go into much detail right now other than to say that I’m amazed
at the diversity of intelligence on this planet.
Here is some clarification on the meaning behind a
few of the words you find on your food:
does the USDA certified organic label mean?
The United States has federal guidelines each
producer (crop or animal) must follow in order to earn that stamp on their
Produce must be grown on soil that had
no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides applied on it for three years prior to
harvest (there’s a whole list of “prohibited substances”, including human waste).
Animals must be grown in a way to
consider their natural behaviors—like grazing and wandering—fed organically
grown feed and forage, and not be given antibiotics or hormones (so if they are
sick, they can’t get a “Z-pack” like you or I do).
Processed foods can’t have artificial
preservatives, colors, or flavors, and must have organic ingredients.
If a packed product is “made with
organic ingredients”, it means that the whole product isn’t organic, but some
of the ingredients are. It won’t have
the fancy USDA seal on it.
No organic foods contain genetically
modified organisms (or GMO’s).
Genetically modified seeds are not used to grow the food, unless there
is no other alternative.
Some processing methods are prohibited
in organic foods, like irradiation.
There are USDA inspectors devoted to making sure
producers of these items are indeed following the guidelines. Each producer must carefully document
everything—copious recordkeeping is involved, and in fields, setbacks are
required so no carryover from neighboring fields drift over.
does “natural” mean?
According to the USDA website, “Natural” is allowed
on packages when a product doesn’t contain an artificial ingredient or added
color and is only minimally processed.
Minimal processing means that the product isn’t fundamentally altered. The label claiming “natural” must also
explain what is natural about it (such as no artificial ingredients, no added
color, etc.). Personally, this seems a
little vague to me, but I interpret it to mean that if you look at the product
and its ingredients, you’d be able to recognize them in their original form—not
ground up or as a strange goo that came out of some factory somewhere. Unlike hot dogs—hot dogs are definitely NOT
hormones in pork or poultry?
No matter what you do to pork or poultry—no matter
what kind of product it is turned into—pork and poultry will not have added
hormones. Federal regulations prohibit
this. So your bacon and chicken nuggets
and turkey dinners and pork chops and ribs and loin and chicken strips and
buffalo wings and ground turkey will be free of hormones. Let me repeat that—HORMONES ARE NOT ALLOWED
IN RAISING HOGS OR POULTRY.
is the difference between “cage free” and “free range” eggs?
simply means that the birds don’t live in a cage. All birds must have unlimited access to food
and water, but cage-free birds are also “allowed to roam”, according to USDA’s
website. They aren’t required access to
the outdoors. To be humane (not for
USDA, but for another organization called Humane Farm Animal Care, or HFAC),
they need 1.5 ft2 of space each.
Range takes it a step further, quite literally for the
hen’s sake. During her laying cycle, she
must be able to go outside. This doesn’t
mean each bird is required to actually GO outside, but she has the option,
usually through doors that lead to a screened in porch. HFAC asks each bird to have 2 ft2
of space each.
is another word you might see being thrown around. It isn’t regulated by USDA, but this calls
for 108 ft2 of space for roaming with access to a barn for
In the end, the quality of the egg and its
nutritional value doesn’t change when any of these words are used—it’s just a
way of indicating how the hens were housed.
a brown egg better for you than a white egg?
Honestly, I think of skin color when I think of this
question. Just like we’re all the same
inside no matter the color of our skin, egg quality is not affected by the
color of its shell. There is no
nutritional difference between “browns” and “whites”, either.
If you’ll notice, there is a variety of “browns” and
“whites” out there. It’s like going to a
paint store and realizing there isn’t only one color of white paint. [Will I choose “chalk white” or “white dove”
or “ecru”?] The difference is the breed
of chicken laying the egg. And it just so happens that the breeds that lay
brown eggs also tend to lay larger size eggs.
The price difference? The larger size brown egg is more expensive to
produce (think amount of feed per weight of egg), and that is represented in
the price you pay at the store.
is a GMO?
GMO means “genetically modified organism”. USDA terms genetic modification as “The production of heritable improvements
in plants or animals for specific uses, via either genetic engineering or other
more traditional methods. Some countries other than the United States use this
term to refer specifically to genetic engineering.” USDA has a whole other definition for genetic engineering: “Manipulation of an
organism's genes by introducing, eliminating or rearranging specific genes
using the methods of modern molecular biology, particularly those techniques
referred to as recombinant DNA techniques.”
from genetically engineered plants must meet the same safety standards as foods
derived from traditionally bred plants. They
go through the same tests, and are just as safe as those “non-GMO”s out
there. It’s just a ploy to get you to
pay a little more for a fancy stamp.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves, and there
isn’t enough space to totally go into this.
Corn, soybeans, potatoes, squash, and apples are all crops that have
been genetically altered.
In the 1990’s genetic engineering wasn’t as
technical as it is now, and some methods were used that caused concern—putting
pieces of bacteria DNA in a corn plant to make it resistant to a pest, making
crops resistant to certain herbicides so you can use the chemical to kill
weeds. Soon after, people started
getting scared of GMOs, perhaps thinking we were going to turn into zombies or
create the superbug that kills us all.
Now, we have more modern ways of “genome editing” that are basically
ways of speeding up natural breeding. So
genetic engineering really isn’t as scary as it seems.
my diet be gluten-free? What is gluten?
First, if you don’t even know what gluten is, why
are you trying to take it out of your diet?
Gluten is a group of proteins found in cereal grains (think bread—wheat,
rye, and barley). They are the proteins
that make bread dough “stretchy” and able to rise during baking, and are found
in the endosperm of the grain. The grain
is actually a seed, and the endosperm is the starchy part that feeds the
plantlet until it can grow roots and shoots to make its own food.
You should only be worried about gluten if you have
a disease related to being allergic or intolerant to gluten. This means you have gone to a doctor and s/he has diagnosed you with celiac disease or
gluten sensitivity. Other conditions
that may (but not always) require gluten free or reduced diets include
irritable bowel syndrome and wheat allergy.
Gluten isn’t unhealthy—they are proteins! They just happen to be a group that some
people can’t handle well, like lactose in milk.
(image from North
American Miller’s Association)
This is my random comments section. In perusing the medley of websites, I found
some highly uninformed people (and some with no common sense). I’d like to just make a couple of
One person mentioned canola oil. This is a vegetable oil many people use in
baking and you find it in some processed foods.
They thought it was the same thing as motor oil—and how can we be
drinking something we put in cars? People,
canola is a plant. It is a relative to
broccoli, cauliflower, and mustard (yeah, mustard is a plant, too—shocker to
some people out there, I know). All oil,
regardless of its source, is regulated by the same federal standards! We aren’t drinking the same thing as our
In a discussion about biosolids on
organic farms, a person mentioned that food should be grown without synthetic
fertilizer, but we shouldn’t use biosolids either because all poop is
gross. First, biosolids are treated domestic
sludge—people poop only, not animals.
They aren’t raw sewage; they’ve been treated and monitored and have
nutrients as well. Also, plants use
nutrients in the soil to grow and create your food. Each time you take a crop away from the field
to use as food, you are taking some of the nutrients away from the soil,
too. So if you take something away, you
must add something back. If you can’t
artificially create nutrients (fertilizer), you have to use something
“natural”. Thus, you’ve got to use poop. And poop is just recycled food.
The comment was made that we need to
grow a variety of vegetables and fruits instead of corn and soybeans because
“you can fit a lot of vegetables on 40 acres”.
Corn and soybeans aren’t grown the same as tomatoes and strawberries and
so forth. You can’t run a combine
through 40 acres of jalapeno peppers or eggplants. Harvest would be very time consuming and
labor intensive. Have you ever had a
vegetable garden in your back yard? The
weeds in mine are atrocious because I just can’t get to them all—I think weed
management in a 40 acre vegetable garden wouldn’t mirror a corn or soybean
field. It would be a giant
headache. There is an overall population
trend away from rural areas. Since
everyone and their mother are moving to the city, who is going to grow these 40
acre monster vegetable gardens? And the weather
in the locations where most of the corn and soybeans are grown really wouldn’t
allow year-round production. What are
you going to do when there’s a foot of snow on your 40 acres and its 20 degrees
agree that a person should shop smart and be careful about the type of food
they eat and the ingredients that are in the products they buy. Yes,
read your food labels! But I
encourage everyone to become educated about what your food and its label is
saying to you. At least use your common
sense, please. And no drinking motor
Julie S. Paschold