Monday, August 2, 2010

Organic? Natural? Local? What does it all mean?

Just as i was thinking about going out to the garden to check on the vegetables tonight, I came across this Sustainable Food website on

All the new buzz words for 'organic/natural/local' foods are slightly confusing. So, this article called 8 Misleading Food Label Terms caught my attention. It defines the different terms used on food today to hopefully help make more sense of labels when grocery shopping!

Here are the four I hear most commonly from that article:

1. Organic. This is the most strictly regulated of the common sustainable food labels. To be called organic, a farm must go through a certification procedure and meet a very specific set of requirements, including cutting out all artificial fertilizers, chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones. Certainly if you're going to rely on a label to make a quick food decision, this is the one. But organic doesn't always mean what you think it means. There are a few dubious allowances in the organic regulations, and the majority of organic produce is grown miles away in vast monocultures that, while loads better for the soil and local environment, doesn't exactly follow the spirit of sustainability.

2. Natural. This means absolutely nothing from a labeling standpoint. I joke that this is the label companies use when they have nothing real to advertise, and as such, I generally count it as a point against whatever food it's on.

3. Local. Again, this can mean almost anything. At the very least it generally means it was grown in-state, but in a place as big as California, that doesn't mean much. It also makes no guarantee regarding how the food is grown — unless it says otherwise, it is probably conventional, pesticides and all. Besides, isn't purchasing local food from a supermarket kind of defeating the purpose?

4. Grass Fed. There is a push to regulate this label the same way organic is (and the push back by those who fear a government label wouldn't be strict enough), but as of now there is no certification process. It's true that a producer could slide in an animal that was finished on grain (although I have never found an instance where this actually happened), so a more assuring label is "Grass Finished" or "100% Grass Fed."

Hopefully grocery shopping will get easier with some of these definitions :|

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