Sticky Barcodes

A rant about food labeling.

Many of us are probably confused about the labels that are placed on foods nowadays; even I am, to a certain extent. We have colorful stickers of varying shapes and sizes, and third-party organizational qualifications that are found on everything. Food and food products can be labeled organic, USDA organic, kosher, natural, free-range, vegetarian fed, pastured, grass-fed, grass-finished- the list is never ending. So what’s an avid foodie to do when it comes to dissecting all these labels?

My own personal preferences are ranked below: 1. Grass-fed/finished, Pastured 2. USDA Organic 3. Everything else, varying with research upon independent institutional requirements, feedlot conditions, and third party rules and regulations.

More often than not, when foods are labeled “natural, free-range, or vegetarian fed,” it tends to lean towards being a super-flexible term. What exactly is natural, or free-range? What goes into a vegetable feed? It varies, and if people were completely honest and compliant, then it would mean what it means- natural is the only word we would technically need. Sadly, we are a profiteering species (sorry, it’s true.), and natural may mean nothing at all, and free-range may only dictate some additional access to light and air. I need not to nit-pick every definition, because plenty of third-party sources have already defined their own versions of what these labels mean. But do question where your food comes from.

My general rule of thumb is to not overthink and to play the skeptic. Unless it is a veritable organization, or if you’ve met the producers firsthand, every claim on the food product or food (hopefully there aren’t any claims on real food…where would you write it? Sharpie on broccoli?) can be considered bunk, seeing as there are some clever loopholes that producers like to partake in order to get the “now with omega-3′s!” label on their particular product, which in my opinion, has been one of the latest fads. Before the omega-3 craze, we had the “low-fat” craze, accompanied by the “heart-healthy craze.” Following that was the “now with whole grains craze,” and finally the “fortified with vitamin D” craze. These fleeting claims strike me as an advertising ploy rather than any kind of long-term plan for health,longevity, and “foodie”-ism.

The safest bet would be to shop and eat locally, meet your farmers face to face, and ask simply where the food is grown. By shopping locally you largely eliminate the possibilities of eating out of season, and more often than not, you’re supporting a sustainable agriculture. On top of that, besides freshly bottled live oil and some serious local preserves, nothing at a local farmer’s market comes from containers with nutrition facts. Least I hope not.

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Why? Stop it. Leave the turkey alone.

In my honest opinion, fortified processed foods simply don’t make much sense to me. How does one get from crunchy celery, bright orange carrots, and creamy sweet potato to “Veggie Stix with omega-3′s?” It sure sounds like a beat-around the bush method of sucking natural nutrients out of perfectly natural foods, and then artificially replacing them with sub-standard forms that may not even be optimal for absorption by our bodies. It all just feels a bit backwards, doesn’t it? Can’t we just start at square one, eat natural, real food, and call it a day?

Go hug a farmer.