Aw geez. I KNOW. There is so much thrust in front of us on this matter, it's easy to just toss up hands and say - whatever! But it does matter.
Pastured, Free Range, Organic, Farm To Table, Natural, Fresh, Local...what does it all mean?!
Just a little education on the matter and you are good to go. Obviously, the only way to truly 100% know how your food was cultivated is to grow / raise it all yourself. For most of us, that is not possible. Next best is knowing your local farmers and buying produce and animal products from them. Then we move on to trusted stores, brands, product labels and categories.
Okay, let's break it down...
• Federal guidelines mandating allowable levels of chemicals
• Most small farmers practice organic farming, even if not certified
• Certification is laborious and expensive
• RE: animals labeled organic, it only refers to their feed, not how they are raised
• SO: Those organic eggs with a picture of a pasture on them? Nope.
• Next Level Organic
• Hardly any human irrigation, fertilization, feed, amending or grooming of any kind
• This is land which has been set up so that nature may just do its thing
• Native, regional plants able to fend for themselves in a natural setting
• Humans will come along at harvest time and that's pretty much it!
This is a very very loose term that was co-opted early on by giant producers. A chicken can be called "free range" as long as it doesn't spend its life in a cage and "has access" to outdoor space (usually a teeny, covered open space connected to the warehouse). EX: The below chickens could be labeled free range organic:
What The Who??
Now we're talking! These animals live on pasture. Grass. They breathe fresh air and bask in the sunlight. They eat bugs and native grasses. They exercise and stay healthy without chemicals and medicines because they are not in a horrible, stressful, cramped, unnatural environment. THAT sounds like a bit more appetizing of an egg source, no?!
SEASONAL, LOCAL, FRESH
Well, it's local & seasonal somewhere, right? I've seen these adjectives alongside food that doesn't grow / isn't produced anywhere near the store or restaurant's location...like not in that state or region. Hah! So, on this one, you have to educate yourself about your local products and ask questions.
Listen, it's fantastic that we have the transporation ability to get food from one far away point to another pretty quickly. And we should all enjoy that sometimes. But, it shouldn't be labeled deceptively. Plus, especially with produce, food that has to travel will be picked much too early and often treated to ripen before sold.
We all need to be responsible for the global impact of our food choices. Eating local food gives back to your local economy. When you can afford it, paying a bit more for small farmer product increases demand for the good stuff and supports folks doing it the right way. Hit up the blog to see some farm visits I've done where that's happening. It's hard work but the reward is great. xo
• This poor, abused word means nothing. There are absolutely no guidelines. Pretty much every packaged anything is labeled "natural" these days. Don't put any stock in it, unless it makes sense in reference to real food you are buying. 😜
FARM TO TABLE (or fable)
Oh this one makes me so sad. Because I WANT it to be an identifier for good spots.
HOWEVER! This one has also become a trendy tag and most people don't have any idea what it really means so plenty of restuarants claim farm-to-table just because they serve fresh ingredients...from a farm...somewhere. Sigh. REAL local Farm to Table looks like this:
• Menu will change daily (because ingredients are available only when they are)
• They will run out of offerings (see above)
• The plates will have lots of ingredients in common
• Veg will be seasonal to the region of the restaurant
• It will be the best effing food you put in your mouth
Again, it's awesome we have rapid worldwide transportation and really great to be able to overnight ingredients from faraway destinations. But, in general, the best produce - the very very best will be just-picked, barely transported and prepared when it is still perky, colorful and full of its flavor and nutrients. ☀️🌿🍴