- Chard & Beet Greens Mix — This week’s greens are vibrant with their striking red, pink, orange and white colors. Relatives of spinach, beet greens and chard can be cooked similarly. We like to sauté them in a pan and drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over them as a side dish.
- Cabbage & Brussels Sprout Rapini — also known as “raab”, is one of the first signs of spring on the farm. In late winter to early spring, overwintering brassicae plants start to flower and set seed for a new generation of plants to come. Much to our delight these tasty buds and long, tender shoots pop up every year when the weather starts to warm.
- Red Onions
- Yellow Cipollini Onions
- Cornmeal & Whole Corn
- Delicata Winter Squash
- German Butterball Potatoes
Your best bet in finding accurate information about the growing practices that farmers and ranchers use when raising their animals is to talk to those folks directly. It’s the same as with vegetable growers: just ask them.
In the grocery store, however, when trying to learn about a company or farm’s growing practices, you are at a major disadvantage: you can’t talk to the producer directly. The store owner and staff can sometimes help you with your questions, but, in our experience, the information that they give is often incomplete or incorrect. These folks are likely not trained to be experts on farming practices, if they know anything at all. Even if they are in the meat department, they are likely not going to know the intimate details of what an animal was fed or how a pasture is managed.
Since you can’t talk to the producer directly, the mediator of information between you and the producer is the label. I’m sure you are all familiar with the confusing and sometimes outright weird claims that are made on food labels, and when it comes to the meat department the claims become even more recondite.
The Labeling Fiasco
How do you translate all of that confusing jargon on labels in the grocery store? To help demystify this topic, I will go through some of the most common marketing claims made on meat labels and talk about how those pertain to actual growing practices (generally not much).
Frankly, the term “natural” doesn’t mean much on a meat label. It means that no artificial ingredients or coloring has been added, and that it should be “minimally processed.” This label refers to post slaughter processing only, and says nothing about how the animals were raised, what they were fed, or the use of hormones, antibiotics, etc. Instead of “all natural” it could more accurately be read as “not pink slime.”
This term is a relatively new one regulated by the USDA. It is defined as meat and meat products from animals raised without the use of growth promotants, antibiotics, and that have never been fed animal by-products. It says nothing of animal welfare, GMO’s, or what was actually fed.
This means that no animal by-products are contained in the feed only. This doesn’t mean that the chickens in the warehouse didn’t kill and devour their sickly neighbors. This also does not mean grass fed or pasture raised, quite the opposite.
Generally used to refer to laying hens, not meat birds. The animals are in an enclosed building with no access to the outdoors, but they are not in cages.
For meat birds only. The animals are not in cages and have some access to the outdoors for an unspecified amount of time daily (could be minutes). This generally translates to a giant building full of thousands of chickens, turkey, or other birds with two or three tiny doors that lead to a small, fenced-off enclosure of bare dirt. In most cases the birds do not use the outdoor space at all. The USDA does not regulate the use of this label for pigs, cattle, or egg-producing chickens.
Most of the information from this article was found on the website of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. We will continue with part II of The Labeling Fiasco next week. Until then, enjoy this week’s cage-free vegetables.