How is your food raised? How might knowing empower you?

sliced carrots and green bell pepper on brown wooden chopping board

Do you seek to feed you and your family well?

How do we know what we are getting is truly healthy, even if that is what we are seeking?

Have you considered the fact that how an animal is raised or how a crop is grown determines how nutritious it is?

Sunlight is essential for all life.  We get energy from the sun.  Animals raised inside, not getting sunlight nor eating the foods they were designed to eat are not going to be healthy.   Hence, the food that they provide us, is not going to rival the nutrient content found in their counterparts raised outdoors.

“Organic is a vision for working and living in harmony with nature. The result is healthy soil, which grows healthy plants, which make for healthy people. By abstaining from synthetic inputs and encouraging natural systems, organic farmers help create a better future for people, animals, and the environment.”[1]

But what qualifies something as organic and what do all these other terms mean?   

Yes, the many terms used today to market and describe how foods are raised can be confusing and misleading.

So, let’s try to sort some of them out and look at some specific benefits of one versus the other.

Organic.  “USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.”[2]

Produce can be called organic if it is certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest.  Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.[3]

When it comes to organic meat, animals must be raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.[4]

Organic standards prohibit using genetically modified organisms (GMOs).[5]

Sadly, organic livestock and poultry can still be factory raised.  See Not-So-Fun Fact #1

Grass-fed versus Pasture-raised.  “Grass-fed” refers to what an animal eats – grass; “pasture-raised” or “pastured” refers to where it eats – on grass.

Grass-fed refers to ruminants like beef, lamb, bison, and goat because these animals eat grass.  The label “grass-fed only” means that the animal was on pasture for most of its life, but was fed corn in a feeding lot during the last few months before slaughter.  During these last few months on a corn diet, the animal loses most of the human-health benefits gained from their grass diet.  Only if the label says “100% grass fed” or “grass finished,” are you guaranteed that animal was only fed grass over the course of its life.  The meat from “100% grass-fed” or “grass finished” animals has the optimum omega-6 to omega 3 fatty acid ratio, and contains greater amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Pastured-raised beef most likely means the animal had access to pasture but was fed grain (i.e. corn and soy) and was probably grain-finished. [6]

Pasture-raised often refers to pork and poultry because hogs, chickens, and turkeys cannot survive on just grass.  Few hogs are 100% pasture-raised.  Most receive supplemental feed, all the more reason to know your farmer and their practices when shopping.  Lard (or pig fat) is one of the few food sources of Vitamin D.  But it is only found in the lard of pigs raised outdoors.  Most Americans are deficient in Vitamin D.  So, why not choose foods that have it when making purchases?

Pastured poultry are managed on pasture, either in fixed barns or in housing that is moved frequently, such as “mobile coops.”  The mobile housing allows the birds access to fresh pasture as needed.  This guarantees a constant supply of seeds, worms, bugs, and vegetation.  Poultry also receives feed.  The best feed is both locally grown and certified organic.  Organic feed is important because non-organic feed is most likely genetically modified and has been treated with glyphosate.

Eggs from hens raised outdoors on pasture have from three to six times more vitamin D than eggs from hens raised in confinement. Pastured hens are exposed to direct sunlight, which their bodies convert to vitamin D and then pass on to the eggs. [7]

“100% grass fed” ruminants and other pastured animals contain more vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and beta carotene (the precursor to vitamin A), are powerful antioxidants that, among other functions, help our bodies cope with toxins. CLA prevents many types of tumors and breast cancer in post-menopausal women. Dairy products from 100 percent grass-fed cows are the richest natural source of CLA, with as much as seven times more cancer-fighting CLA than ordinary milk and with far less cancer-promoting linoleic acid.”[8],[9]

Furthermore, “100% grass fed” ruminants and other pastured animals do not contain traces of added hormones, antibiotics or other drugs.[10]

Free-range simply means chickens are not confined to cages.  But this speaks nothing of their health.  Large flocks of free-range chickens are raised in barns. They are not confined to cages, yet at the same time have little access to the outdoors.  And few birds actually venture outside of the large buildings.

Cage-free is the same as free-range, but the birds to not have access to the outdoors.

Wild-caught.  When buying fish or seafood, the most important word to look for is “wild-caught.”  This assures you that the sea creature grew up in its natural habitat, eating the foods it is designed to consume.

Farm-raised seafood, on the other hand, is produced in small enclosures and fed unnatural diets.  These practices increase disease, requiring producers to use antibiotics to fight disease.  This contributes to anti-biotic resistant bacteria and to disruption of our gut microbiome.

Natural.  This is a very misleading, catch-all term.  “Natural flavors” allowed in conventional foods are processed using synthetic, petroleum-based solvents, such as propane and neurotoxic hexane.  They may also contain synthetic carrier systems or artificial preservatives, such as polysorbate 80, BHT, BHA, triacetin, and propylene glycol.  These dangerous solvents are not permitted in organic processing.[11]  However, the term natural organic flavors does not mean it is safe or healthy.  For example, MSG and soy lecithin can be camouflaged under the term “natural.”

*   *   *   *   *    *

You may not be at the point where shopping at local farm markets, small stores that carry local produce and meats, or subscribing to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a priority or is feasible.  And that is fine.  Use the above information to guide you wherever you currently shop.

When you do get to the point of shopping for locally sourced food, use this DIY Certification Guide.   

This guide will enable you to ask the sellers the right questions to ensure that you are obtaining the quality foods that will best nourish you and your family Use page 9 as a pocket guide.

“I have spent most of my professional life advocating for family farmers and working to ensure the integrity of organics.  I spent my early career working for agribusiness giants International Harvester, J.I. Case, and the FMC Corporation, but made a paradigm shift to organic agriculture in the early 1980s after suffering a debilitating illness.  My adherence to an exclusively organic diet was instrumental in restoring and maintaining his good health.”  Mark Kastel, founder of OrganicEye

You can pay now purchasing well-raised food or you can pay in the future in increased medical costs.

Eating properly raised food is both satisfying and delicious!

So, enjoy and be well!

Peace and grace,

Karen

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Not-so-fun fact 1:  The organic farming movement started as a values-based industry. It was built on a loving, collaborative relationship between family-scale farmers and shoppers willing to pay for food produced based on superior environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry and economic-justice for the people who produce our food.

Unfortunately, organics is being taken over by large corporations (see Who Owns Organics) that are intent on increasing their profits, not about upholding these principals.  Sadly, regulatory agencies which govern organics have been captured by the industry they are supposed to be supervising.

Animals raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) can be certified organic.  Animal feed and other ingredient can come from other countries where organic standards are different.  Questionable ingredients are approved for use in organic foods.

The result?  Many small and medium size farms, who do hold true to the principals on which the organic movement was started, are forced out of business.

I write this not to discourage you from buying organic or properly raised meats but to make you aware of this fact and help you know how to best feed yourself and your loved ones, while helping our environment as a whole. 

Many blogs could be written about what is truly happening with organics.  Fortunately, we have watchdog agencies such as OrganicEye and The Cornucopia Institute fighting on behalf of legitimate farmers and us as consumers.  But they are fighting a hard battle.

[1] https://rodaleinstitute.org/why-organic/

[2] https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] https://www.cornucopia.org/2017/06/diy-organic-certification-find-healthiest-delicious-food-summer/

[7] http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm

[8] Ibid

[9] https://www.mofga.org/resources/pasture/pasture/

[10] http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm

[11] The Cultivator, News from the Cornucopia Institute, Spring 2019

 

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2 thoughts on “How is your food raised? How might knowing empower you?”

  1. Natalya B Galitskaya

    Very informative and helpful information to encourage us to make more conscious, healthier choices.
    Thank you for all the useful information you provide to our community. 😊🙏🙏🙏

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