What’s a paraben? Shaun asked me last week as he began to sort through the footage from the Sprout shoot. I’m about as low-tech as it gets in the beauty and skincare realm (yeah, I use coconut oil as shaving cream) but I know that parabens are not welcome in my bathroom. I thought about how to explain and realized that, actually, I have NO idea what a paraben actually is. My response: I know it’s bad for our health and the environment and that’s why we should use the natural stuff, and, err, stuff like yeah, it’s just bad.
So, in my own deficient understanding to the nasties of mainstream hair de-frizzifiers and face creams, I thought, hmm… I bet there are a lot of people who feel the same way about the “new” language about food that dangles from posters and is tagged on egg cartons throughout the grocery store. I sorta have a hunch that most people hear and see and recognize trending terms without knowing what they truly, fully mean. There is so much vernacular thrown around these days in the movement toward greater food consciousness and I think can get pretty intimidating for the layperson who is trying to figure out what is “healthy.”
So here’s the skinny… I’ve compiled a baker’s dozen of popular labels/terms to help you navigate the supermarket, and to combat any misperception you may find in dialogue with family and friends. Oh, and it’s kinda a long list. Totally geeked-out over this. I don’t expect you to read through the whole thing; maybe poke around, pick a term, and take it with you knowing this post will be here to help on an as-need basis.
Fair Trade: Products that bear a Fair Trade logo come from farmers and workers who are justly compensated. Fair Trade USA, the most popular organization to label goods like sugar, coffee, bananas, grains, etc. helps farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses that positively influence their communities. Fair Trade labeling indicates that the product has been grown, harvested, and produced within a disadvantaged international community that is taking ownership of the free market. Check out these sick videos to learn more here, and here, as well as this NY Times article that critiques the practice.
All Natural: Marketing ploy, all the way. The FDA actually has no definition for what “natural” actually means, so companies are free to label things “natural” as long as they don’t contain synthetic substances. Let’s compare a box of Cheerios to say, a sweet potato. Which one is actually natural? Well, the FDA says both. You shouldn’t buy into that logic. Food labeling expert Urvashi Rangan says, “the natural claim is one of the most vague and misleading green claims that we see out on the marketplace.” Check out this 90 sec clip featuring Marion Nestle on the “All-Natural” scam.
Cage-Free: Unfortunately, this label conjures a vision of chickens dancing about in an open green pasture eating worms and loving life when, in reality, cage-free just designates that chickens were not raised in high-density battery cages. According to Good.is, “By U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, hens that lay certified organic eggs must be given access to the outdoors. But even for this more-stringent label, there are no specifications on time and duration of outdoor access. Some “organic” producers might get their birds outside once or twice in the animals’ lives. It’s a misleading practice that goes against everything that “cage-free” and “organic” ideals were created to represent.”
GMO / Non-GMO: A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes that enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides, cold extreme temperatures, pests, disease, and drought. Right now, the FDA does not regulate or label GE incidence in food so where you see a Non-GMO label, it has been verified through a third-party audit. Check out this mega James Bond-esque video that explains more, and find out more about the push to label GE foods from the “Just Label It” campaign.
Gluten-Free: Gluten is a protein that results when the proteins gliadin and glutenin join together with starch in the seed of grass-related grains such as wheat, rye, barley, durum, graham, semolina, spelt, farro, and kamut. Products labeled “gluten-free” mean it does not contain any gluten and is made with alternative grains such as rice, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, millet, and teff, or no grains at all. Gluten tends to cause inflammation in the gut that many people are sensitive to. In extreme cases where there is total gluten intolerance, a person may have Celiac Disease. The US Dept. of Health and Human Services estimates that 1 in 22 are affected. Check in with Gluten Free Girl for an amazing list of resources and further reading.
rBST: Recombinant bovine growth hormone (also known as rBGH) is a genetically engineered drug produced by the Monsanto Corporation. It’s injected into dairy cows to induce them to increase milk production. About 1 in 5 US cows are given this hormone since it was approved by the FDA in 1993. rBST is linked to increased occurrence of mastitis a “persistent, inflammatory reaction of the udder tissue” and can cause hormonal disturbances in humans who consume the milk from treated cows. Check out this short interview with Dr. Jenny Pompilio of the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility to hear a more in depth explanation.
BPA / BPA-Free: Bisphenol-A is a plastic and resin ingredient used to line metal food and drink cans, and it’s a main building block for polycarbonate (PC) plastics. Even at low doses, Bisphenol A has been linked to cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, obesity, and insulin resistance, which can lead to Type II diabetes. Refer to the Environmental Working Group report on BPA for more information. Look for cans labeled BPA-free like Eden Organics and re-usable water bottles made of steel like Klean Kanteen.
Organic: The USDA Organic label means produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows: “[crops] are produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.” USDA certification is often arduous and expensive, meaning small farms that adhere to organic standards sometimes cannot afford to follow one or a few of the USDA’s arbitrary guidelines. Talk to your farmers at the farmers market and ask about their practices.
Pasteurized: I think most people know what this means, but I put it on the list only because when I first moved to San Diego I was grocery shopping and overheard a few college kids debating what pasteurized meant in the dairy aisle. A girl about my age proclaimed, “pasteurized means they get to walk around in a pasture and eat grass.” No, I’m not joking. She really said that. Pasteurization is actually the process of heating food to a set temperature for a set amount of time and cooling it to slow spoilage and reduce microbial growth in the food.
Wild Caught / Sustainably Farmed: You’ll find labels like this at the seafood counter. Wild Caught may seem pretty self explanatory, but turns out that the modes of “catch in the wild” can be pretty brutal. In some cases fishing methods such as dynamiting reefs, high-seas bottom-trawling, and drift nets are used in the open ocean. On the bright side, “wild-caught can also encompass more desirable lower-impact techniques, such as hand-lines, divers, or the use of pots or traps” according to the Huffington Post. Because of over-harvesting and pollution, a new technique of fish-farming is booming. Farmed fish generally gets a bad rap (and for good reason, some farms feed their salmon corn… um, yeah?) but Seafood Watch has done the hard work for you in compiling updated lists of what seafood is best for the environment and your health. Check out their super-awesome smartphone App or print a nifty guide tailored to your region and stick it in your wallet.
CSA / Local: Local is relative to the distance between food producers and consumers. “Local” labeling often identifies when certain products are grown, or produced within an 100-mile radius of purchase. Traditionally, Community Supported Agriculture programs require membership to a certain farm where individuals buy a share of the farm at the beginning of the growing season to “provide farmers with up-front capital to grown and manage the farm in exchange for weekly delivery of fresh, seasonal produce.” Today, farms also collaborate with local co-operatives where consumers can find seasonal goods within a supermarket-like setting. See more on the changing nature of the CSA via NPR.
This recipe was created for the Wisconsin Cheese Council and their quirky-cute “Grilled Cheese Academy.” Check out the video how-to of this sandwich and the creations of Sara Forte / Sprouted Kitchen and Ashley Rodriguez / Not Without Salt here. Shaun shot the footage, which as then edited by an outside party. **We were compensated for the creation of this recipe, which, is a mega-helpful contribution to the post-grad piggy bank.
Grilled Carrot + Carrot Green Pesto + Asiago Grilled Cheese
- 1 bunch farmers carrots, greens attached
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup shaved asiago (rBST free!)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 cloves garlic
- salt/pepper to taste
- 4-6 1/2″ slices of sourdough boule
- Butter, ghee, or olive oil for the pan/bread
Preheat the oven for 450.’ Remove the greens from the carrots and reserve for later use. Place on a heavy baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cook for 20 minutes until they just begin to brown and blister. For the carrot top pesto, place washed greens in the basin of a food processor with the blade attachment. Combine olive oil, garlic, and the juice of one lemon. Blitz until smooth, adding a little olive oil if it feels too “pulp-y.” Shave the cheese super thin, set aside.
Warm a shallow, heavy pan over medium heat while you prepare the sandwiches. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Lay flat and layer with cheese, then pesto, then 4-5 grilled carrots. It’s okay if the stems stick out. Finish with another layer of cheese, if desired, and the other slice of bread. Place in the pan and grill on each side for 2-4 minutes until browned as you prefer. Cut in half. Repeat. Enjoy.