You are what you eat, at least know what that is

By Maddie Zins
Elm Staff Writer

Recently, a friend told me that eating “all-natural” is the antithesis (his word choice, not mine) of his view of the world and that he tries to stay away from foods that are labeled as such. I was taken aback, being the organic foodie that I am and asked him why he feels that way—the answer I got was not as surprising as one might think.

Much of America’s products at grocery stores and markets today are stickered with a litany of labels ranging from “organic,” “natural,” “free range,” “grass fed,” and “no GMOs.” Many of us buy food with these labels because we feel better about eating something that is more in tune with nature or more directly from the earth than other manufacturers’ products. If you are like my friend I mentioned before, however, this is far from true.

Those opposed to purchasing food products labeled “green” are skeptical of the actual quality difference, or they do not believe that the words uphold the standards they imply. It is their belief that in order for something to be the public’s view “all-natural,” the food must have come directly from the earth without any processing or contamination by man. If we uphold this extreme definition of the term, I am in complete agreement with the doubters. How could any company in today’s world of food industry work in such a manner and still earn enough of a profit to compete with those who utilize technology to manipulate their products?
The problem I have with this thinking does not like in the choice to stay away from food options labeled as “natural,” because I understand the logic in not trusting the companies to uphold what the label implies. Where I find fault in this thinking is with the definition of the labels; I have serious reservations about what the public takes these labels to mean.

I will start off by identifying the differences between a few of the most commonly used ones, as they are significant in effect, but not completely apparent to consumers.

1. “Organic”= Certified food products that uphold certain standards for purity in cultivation/creation such as being free of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and preservatives and getting distributed, manufactured, and handled in the most environmentally-friendly and naturalistic means possible.

2. “Natural”= Food products that contain no artificial ingredients and are minimally processed by companies that produce them. There are no regulations companies who use this label must maintain and uphold.

3. “Free Range”= Animal products from livestock that has been provided access to the outdoors during the time they are raised by a company. This label is not regulated by any bureaucratic organization like most of the others on this list are.

4. “Grass Fed”= Certified animal products of livestock that ate grass or cereal grain crops while in their vegetative state, provided for them by those tending them. These producers also allow animals to have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.

5. “GMO-free” or “non-GMOs”= Food products that are not genetically modified in their makeup. Although this label does not require growers to uphold any types of regulations, many third party organizations will verify the food’s legitimacy in making this claim.

These are only a few of the many labels companies will stick onto just about any food item you can find in the grocery store or market today. My response to the epidemic of misguiding information from labels given by food companies is not an easy one, but I’ve found it to be enormously helpful in making my own choices on what to eat: get informed.

That may mean Googling definitions to words like “certified” that get stamped on the Styrofoam packages of beef you buy, asking (or reading the signs) around the dining hall about the origins of what is available, or researching super foods that are best for you and your needs. As I’ve said from the beginning, many of the problems with studies of environmental impacts on our lives come from a lack of information. Sometimes we can blame science for this fault, as a fair amount of the effects of inquiries in the field are inconclusive or unknown, but at the end of the day the responsibility falls on us. We must be the ones to take our health seriously, we must inform ourselves of the implications of decisions we make regarding what we eat because if we don’t, who will?

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