Green labeling in the retail food sector has become something of a competitive sport these days. Where on the continuum does do the various marketing claims fit? Is it better to have Grass-Fed Certification, be Animal Welfare Approved , be Certified Naturally grown, have vegetarian fed hens, and isn’t Organic Certification the Gold Standard? Whose food is greener, better for the environment, better for the farmer? Qualifiers seem to be chopping up the conversation into sound bites, rather than an all-encompassing transparent dialogue about food production and processing. With hours of volunteer work put into developing regulations and educating both farmers and consumers, we have developed a good understanding of how valuable an organic system can be, and we’re pretty passionate about Certified Organic. We include the USDA Organic logo (see above) every week as a reminder!
The marketing programs behind the tag lines mentioned above, along with countless others, are, to their credit, nudging the agricultural sustainability needle in a positive direction. Be it less harsh chemical usage, improved animal welfare standards, or decreased dependency on the GMO laden industrial grain complex, these labels are helping convert acreage to a more sustainable system of food production. But what do they mean?
Organic is owned by the USDA by federal law, who administers a strict set of regulations that are overseen by the 15 member National Organic Standards Board, carried out by an Accredited Certification Agency, with third party inspections for verification. This is a thorough and tedious process that involves verification of every input and an audit of that process. Only producers, stores or products that are certified organic can legally use the word as a descriptor. Organic Certification has the weight of Federal Law behind it with hefty fines for operations that fail to abide by the regulations. The regulations are openly debated by the Board with input from farmers, consumer advocacy groups, food processors, and retailers. These debates are ongoing since their inception in 1995. Transcripts are available on the USDA website where you can follow the conversation on how best to produce food without using toxic chemicals and maintaining the highest animal welfare standards, verification procedures for grass-fed claims, and many, many more topics.
Sustainably Grown- This means the farm or processor decides what they consider sustainable and make you think what they want you to: is it almost organic? Who knows? Use of GMO is considered a sustainable practice in some circles – again, who knows what sustainably grown means?
Natural USDA allows food products to use this term for meats when nothing was added to the product after it was harvested. There is no oversight about how produce is produced or how an animal is raised with regard to antibiotics, genetically modified grains, hormones, or animal welfare issues, fertilizers, pesticides, etc.
Certified Naturally Grown is a membership organization where growers self-declare their interest to follow the USDA organic regulations, without the force of law and enforcement. On farm verification is performed by other members of the organization.
Cage Free, Free Range, Free Roaming are terms for laying hens that are loose in a ‘house’ that often contains thousands if not tens of thousands of birds that share an egg laying box with other hens but never go outside nor have space to exhibit their “chickenness” as Joel Salatin would say.
Vegetarian Fed Hens – laying hens that are not fed any animal, fish, or insect proteins. However, chickens are omnivores, not vegetarians.
Pastured Poultry- Layers, broilers, or turkeys that have access to pasture and consume plants, insects, and can scratch in the dirt for dusting or can exhibit their chickenness. Extra care must be given during extreme weather conditions.
Grass Fed - The American Grassfed Association has a great program to produce heart-healthy meats with no grain in the diet. The issue for cattle and sheep is when feeding grain, it changes the pH of the digestive system, therefore altering the fatty acids in the meat in a way that tends to be less healthy for humans to consume. The audits do not take into account fertilizers and pesticides to produce the hay and pasture or use of systemic parasite control compounds, typically used in commercial agriculture.
Locally Grown- For large grocery stores this generally means an eight-hour truck drive from the distribution center, not sure about the farm location. It could also mean grown in the US. We think locally grown means you have a relationship with a farmer, such as you might drive by and see their farm, or engage them in conversation at a market, or your local grocer gives you information and possibly a photo of the farm that grows the items you purchase.
Certified Angus Beef means the animal was all or mostly black and meets a certain meat quality standard. This gives a consistency in the marketplace, but says nothing about how the animals were raised.
The list goes on and on. Many of the label claims one sees are to appeal to certain customers as they make their food purchasing decisions. It seems that in some instances, retail perception of food is driving farm policy for many claims. A Certified Organic farmer is producing food in this way because the biology speaks for itself, and the verification is strictly enforced on behalf of that consumer. With so many attributes of Certified Organic that address synthetic chemical avoidance, non-GMO seed usage, animal welfare standards, truth-in-labeling, and so much more, Certified Organic is the gold standard labeling. There is just so, so much behind it. And we are proud to bring it to you weekly.
In Your Share
Kale and Green Garlic Pizza, serves 6-8 (quietexistence.wordpress.com)
1 recipe of pizza dough, rolled out
Chopped or sliced fresh tomatoes
1 bunch green garlic, thinly sliced
About 5 kale leaves, de-ribbed and chopped
A handful of fresh basil
Place dough on baking sheet and cook for 8-10 minutes at 450°F for 8-10 minutes. Add toppings and bake for another 8 minutes, or until crust is crispy and cheese is melted. Alternatively, this pizza can be cooked on the grill (grill one side of crust first until charred, then add toppings to charred side and grill until dough is cooked through).
Strawberry Cake, makes two 9-inch loaves (allrecipes.com)
2 C fresh strawberries
3 1/8 C all-purpose flour
2 C white sugar
1 T ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 C vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 C chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter and flour two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans. Slice strawberries and place in medium-sized bowl. Sprinkle lightly with sugar, and set aside while preparing batter. Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and baking soda in large bowl; mix well. Blend oil and eggs into strawberries. Add strawberry mixture to flour mixture, blending until dry ingredients are just moistened. Stir in pecans. Divide batter into pans. Bake in preheated oven until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes (test each loaf separately). Let cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn loaves out of pans, and allow to cool before slicing.
Roasted Asparagus and Potatoes with Parmesan
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 lb gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 T olive oil
1/3 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in upper third. Toss together asparagus, potatoes, oil and ½ tsp each of salt and pepper in a large shallow baking pan, spreading evenly. Roast, stirring once, 20 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and roast until cheese is melted and golden in spots about 3 minutes more. Serve Immediately.
Barley Salad with Radishes and Green Garlic, ingredient amounts are flexible (honestcooking.com)
Lemon juice and zest
Salt and pepper
Cook barley in water or stock and drain. Trim and quarter radishes; cut green garlic into thin slices on the diagonal. Sauté radishes and garlic in olive oil over high heat until the edges begin to brown. Toss with barley and season with lemon, salt, and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with shavings of pecorino cheese.
Wilted Kale with Coconut, Ginger, and Lime, serves 4 (myrecipes.com)
½ C coconut milk, divided, plus 1 T
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1 tsp canola oil
1 seeded minced jalapeño
2 tsp minced ginger
8 C kale, destemmed and chopped
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1/4 C water
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1/2 tsp sugar
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Click to see savings2 tsp lime juice
1/8 tsp kosher salt
Heat a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add 1 T coconut milk and the canola oil. Add jalapeño and ginger; cook 1 minute. Add kale; cook 2 minutes. Add 1/4 C coconut milk, water, and sugar; cover and cook 4 minutes. Stir in 1/4 C coconut milk, lime juice, and kosher salt.