An Introduction to Food Buzz Words

In today's culinary world, a lot of buzzwords get thrown around at super markets and on menus. Classifications like farm-fresh, organic, farm-to-table, and free-range sound appealing, but what do they really mean? Here's an introduction to some of these terms to help you navigate food jargon.

Organic-There are a few parts to the "organic" definition: - "100% Organic" means exactly what it sounds like, foods with this label were made with 100% organic ingredients. - An "Organic" label means that 95% to 99% of the ingredients (by weight) are organic and the remaining ingredients are not available organically, but have been approved by the National Organic Program. - "Made With Organic Ingredients" indicates that 70% to 94% of the ingredients are organic-although these produces will not have the USDA Organic seal, they can list up to three organic ingredients on their packaging. - "Other" means that less than 70% of the ingredients are organic.

Free Range or Free Roaming-For chickens, this only means that the animals have been allowed access to the outside and open air, but does not specify that the animal did spend time outside. There is no official, standard definition for this classification for any other animals or products like eggs or cows.

Fair Trade-Products with this label must have been grown by small-scale producers democratically organized in either cooperatives or unions. This certification is very rigorous and difficult to attain, so the consumer can be sure that this label is very meaningful.

Grass Fed-For cows and sheep, this means that the animals were raised on a lifetime diet of 100% grass and forage, like legumes and cereal grain crops, except for the milk consumed prior to weaning. To achieve this USDA certification, these animals must have been given access to the pasture for the majority of the growing season and cannot have been fed grains or grain products.

Natural-Any meat or poultry with the label "natural" cannot contain any artificial flavoring, color ingredients, chemical preservatives, or artificial or synthetic ingredients, and are only "minimally processed," in other words: the processing cannot have fundamentally altered the product. For other foods, the natural term has no official definition. For all foods, regulation of "natural" is limited, meaning that the USDA can hold producers accountable for lying, but does not have an official pre-verification process.

Sustainable-A looser term, sustainable agriculture is a way of raising food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities. There is currently no official certification for this label.

Farm-To-Table-This label has no official certification, but is generally used by restaurants or some markets as a way to indicate the freshness of the food by claiming that the product was brought directly from a nearby farm and served fresh. This kind of term, along with other like "farm fresh" or "local," are mainly used as buzz words and are hopefully accurate, but other than trusting the word of the chef or seller, there is no way to confirm this sort of claim.

For more information on labels, check out the USDA Fact Sheet or the Consumer Reports Greener Choices website.

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