"Stop Reading Labels."
That Food Truth tenet gets a lot of pushback. We get it. Consumers rely heavily on labels to determine whether a food product is worth eating. But that's the point: real food doesn't come in a package. Apples, onions and eggplant just are... but what about eggs? Omega-3, vegetarian fed, organic, cage-free and on and on. Meat is labeled "all-natural", "grass-fed" and (beef) is distinguished by breed: "Angus", for example. Some label know-how is necessary in real life and there is a huge disconnect between what the label means and what it sounds like it means so here's a quick guide:
The FDA has not defined what this term officially means so essentially it means nothing. It merely accessorizes the package with the suggestion that the food is pure in some way. It may be easier to explain what it does not mean. "All-natural" does not mean non-GMO and it does not mean without dyes, artificial flavors or chemicals. Even though that's what it sounds like.
This one should be pretty self-explanatory right? Animals that eat grass as nature intended. Officially: "Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season." As long as the growers and inspectors are honest, this is a label to look for.
This is the latest nutritional buzzword to be hijacked by industry. It sounds like the bucolic image we all have of animals grazing freely on green acres but it really means that they had "access to the outside" at some point in their lives. So do office workers and coal miners. Do not trust it to mean that you are buying the best animal products.
USDA organic standards are the best we've got right now, imposing restrictions on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and genetic engineering. Animal products labeled organic must be free of growth hormones and antibiotics. Yay!
Organic plant foods must not be treated with chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Also good. However, bear in mind that "organic" fertilizers and pesticides can be dangerous as well. For example, copper sulphate is a very effective "organic" pesticide and fungicide but it is poisonous if you get enough of it and the residue stays in the soil for a long time. The best organic farms use sensible crop rotation and other management techniques to reduce risks from all pesticides.
The fact is that farmers cannot afford to lose crops and we cannot afford to eat food that is dangerous. Food grown on a massive scale is less vital than that produced in small quantities in an unaltered environment. The cute little conveniently washed organic microgreens we love to buy were actually grown in hothouses under artificial lights, which is why we get them year round at the big box stores.
Meanwhile, a fistful of homegrown greens is exponentially more nutritious. Thus the argument to grow what you can, eat locally grown food and eat in season. Otherwise, choose organic food and grass-fed, pastured proteins and generally avoid food products, those things that come in boxes, bags and cans and require labels.