is this what we really think, heil hitler and all?

is this what we really think, heil hitler and all?

I’m sure Ms. Esther Simpson is a lovely lady.  Tea with her would be very nice and I’ll bet she has some interesting stories to tell. But that’s not why I’ve been thinking of her for nearly five months.

The reason she has been on my mind since before Thanksgiving is because of her comment on an article titled Is That Really a Heritage Turkey  published in the Atlantic November 22, 2011.

The article is “a quick primer on turkey origins, a discussion of the different types of species and, as you shop for the highlight of your Thanksgiving meal, a bit of advice for finding a true heritage turkey.”

The author, Nicolette Hahn Niman,  raises true heritage breed turkeys herself and in the article clarifies the complicated past of what we call “heritage breed” turkey today.  Anyway, the article is a good read and if you’d like to be sure you’re getting the real deal, is an excellent reference.

But, as always when I’m bowled over by an article in The Atlantic, it’s usually because of the comments. We’ve talked about this before; those Atlantic readers have turned commenting into a form of mean ridiculing sport that I don’t think I’ll ever find acceptable.

Here’s what Ms. Simpson had to add:

And of course, I could not help myself:

Ms. Simpson’s comment wasn’t in the least mean-spirited, but it is a perfect illustration of how smart, well read people are completely blinded by their absolute belief in science and academia compounded by their lack of nuanced connection with nature and agriculture.

Turkeys did not turn themselves into Frankenturkeys incapable of walking or reproducing naturally.  Turkey were hardy, healthy, capable birds with actual parenting skills before people decided they wanted birds with massive amounts of white breast meat.  Turkey  freaks were created by breeders who started fiddling with the dials to satisfy customer demand.

But that fact is apparently either unknown or irrelevant to Ms. Simpson and those like her.  According to them, today’s big breasted white battery turkey in its state of man-made misery is apparently NOT eugenics. But helping the turkey return to its former self-sufficient state, that IS eugenics. Heil Hitler and all.

Eugenics is the idea that one can improve the human race by careful selection of those who mate and produce offspring. Eugenics was a popular theory in the early twentieth century but is no longer taken seriously, primarily because of the horrors of the eugenic efforts of the Nazi regime in Germany.

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Why is this silly exchange still on my mind? Because it is the perfect example of well-meaning, highly educated people believing that farming is something you can learn from a book and manage from a distance.  From her computer screen, Ms. Simpson is in no danger of having to find out how one-dimensional her understanding is.

Again and again we trust ridiculously short-sighted agricultural solutions.  Esther Simpson, like most Americans, believes that the hothouse varieties of livestock we have created,  requiring lots of special feed, care and midwife assistance are the more important varieties worthy of a future. After all, they are the only farm animals most people know.

Quick: what color are pigs? That’s easy, white or pink, right? Wrong. Pigs come in all colors, shapes and sizes, particularly the heritage breeds that are becoming so popular these days. All pigs, even the sweetest, pinkest Wilburs and Arnolds will become feral if allowed to fend for themselves.

Virtually all heritage breed pigs have one characteristic or another that would violate the Invasive species order which is based on how they look – not their genotype or dna

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Yet it has been decided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to enforce what they call the Invasive Species Order (ISO).  What that means is that because of a feral pig problem, in Michigan, possession of pigs with certain physical characteristics automatically makes you a felon, punishable by jail time and a hefty fine. To be perfectly clear, the DNR has the right to kill properly confined animals  on any Michigan farm or private game preserve, arrest the farmer and levy huge fines.

I am in complete disbelief  by the actions that have been taken against pig farmers already.  And especially by the millions of Esther Simpsons in the world who will never comprehend that heritage breed pigs are under unreasonable, unconstitutional attack. Or she will defend the corporate line that this is all for the public good. Or maybe she doesn’t know about heritage breed pigs at all.

Pastured pigs are being enjoyed by diners everywhere as a delicious improvement over  leaner, less tender confinement pork. And the hardier heritage breed pigs are able to live a healthier, more enjoyable life than the standard confinement hog who is selected for uniformity, leanness and fast maturation.

My question is this: Which pig genes are more valuable? The ones capable of reproducing on their own, who still remember how to be good mothers, and are more hardy and self-sufficient?   Or the hot-house hogs in need of intensive management, medicated feed, elaborate infrastructures  and are forced to endure such unpleasant pig lives? Our lack of concern for protecting biodiversity is the worst sort of arrogance. Sustainable Table will explain why heritage breeds are so very important here.

This is not a matter to be ignored. Farmers are being stripped of their livelihood with NO COMPENSATION for businesses that were perfectly legal before April 1, 2012.  It does not matter that their pigs have been properly confined and cared for – it is a species elimination, not a feral pig elimination.

Of course, the Michigan Pork Producers Association is all in favor even though these heritage breed hogs have admittedly caused no outbreaks of disease.  You can read their response to the Invasive Species Order here. At the least, very disappointing. And predictable. Read this excellent article to see how successful Big Pork was in whisking this order straight into effect. Disheartening to say the least.

This article from Mother Earth News offers an excellent and detailed explanation of the situation and the contact information for Governor Rich Snyder, who has the ability to rescind the ISO. The article tells the sad story of Dave Tuxbury who after being served a search warrant, killed his entire hog population; pregnant sows, baby piglets and all.

Even if you’re not a Michigan resident, you need to contact Governor Snyder because Pennsylvania, Kansas and New York are all poised to pass similar legislation.  This has the potential to become very ugly people. Make yourselves heard on behalf of these farmers; they really need to feel your support.

18th century Edmund Burke is a wealth of tat-worthy quotes to live by

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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”             ― Edmund Burke

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OK people. You know what you need to do. Ready? GO-GO-GO-GO-GO

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This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!

Pink Slime is not my problem. And it doesn’t have to be yours either.

Pink Slime is not my problem. And it doesn’t have to be yours either.

No worries about pink slime when you buy beef from small farms and trusted butchers.

I cannot help but be amazed by how many Google searches there have been for pink slime since Diane Sawyer’s report about this most charming of meat industry secrets. At first I was blushing with the new popularity my little blog had found until I realized it was all just a sad misunderstanding.

I had written this post about the marketing of meat by our local grocery store chain and the carefully crafted language used to head off growing interest in humanely raised grass-fed beef by the grocery store, The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Little did I know, but this week, my article contained all the right words to become an overnight Google sensation: Giant Eagle, pink slime, and beef.  I don’t know why this is just today such big news; pink slime has been public knowledge as early as 2002. But, thanks to ABC, today it’s a big deal.

I don’t want to get too scientific here; I am not a scientist.  I’ve read quite a few of the articles and I do suspect the indignant exposés are guilty of a little sensationalism of their own.  Does pink slime contain the household cleaning agent we’re all envisioning? Or is it just a hazing of ammonia gas? Or maybe a different form of ammonia with a bark much worse than its bite?

This online article, published in 2009 by Food Insight, is a very level-headed explanation about the use of ammonium hydroxide in the food industry. Before you get too lathered up, I recommend you give it a read.

After you’re done getting mad about your ground beef, better check to see if you’ve got any baked goods, cheeses, chocolates, candies like caramel or puddings in your pantry because ammonium hydroxide is commonly used to manufacture those too.

Oh, and:

 “Ammonia in other forms (e.g., ammonium sulfate, ammonium alginate) is used in condiments, relishes, soy protein concentrates/isolates, snack foods, jams and jellies, and non-alcoholic beverages.

The World Health Organization has listed hundreds of food types that may be processed using ammonium hydroxide when used in accordance with good manufacturing practices.  These include dairy products, confections, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, breakfast cereals, eggs, fish, beverages such as sports drinks and beer, and meats.”

Yawn.  I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t really matter. Doesn’t matter, not because it’s unimportant, but because this is the sort of thing I expect from industrial food.

Do you really expect big packers to NOT be stretching to feed you every scrap they possibly can? And if they can’t feed it to you, you can be sure they’re feeding it to your pet.

I suspect that the pink slime enhanced beef isn’t all that much more dangerous than any of the other highly processed crap foods we’re eating. But what does bother me, and I think everyone else, is the breach of trust.

They have taken a processed product with massive ick factor, pink slime, and added it to a supposedly unprocessed product, beef. Without labeling it as processed. All government approved.

If you want to be big industry, be proud of your big industry.  If your science adds value to your product by making it safer, then that’s great. Share it with pride. Inventing pink slime is no small feat – I wouldn’t couldn’t have done it, could you?

But, big industry isn’t satisfied with targeting their segment of the market and serving it well.  They want to squash and dominate everyone else’s market share too by claiming to be something they can never be; capable of providing the same degree of quality and attention to detail as small artisan craftsmen.

So, they manipulate labeling, crush marketing differentiation by small craft companies, and obscure practices they know don’t sound so friendly or farm-fresh. And they spend millions on media,  lobbyists and campaign contributions helping enforce secrecy, silencing competition and buying government support.

Like the old Aesop’s fable about the frog and the scorpion, I suppose to a point I have to accept that’s just the world I live in.  I don’t need to know any more about pink slime because I won’t be eating any of it. Or any more than absolutely unavoidable of any other processed foods either.

I buy meat, cheese, eggs & dairy only from farmers or butchers who can tell me all about the provenance of the animals and how they were processed.  And I highly recommend you do too.

We’ve seen it again and again,  and fortunately for corporations, we Americans have short memories.   We’re about to see a circus of  backpedaling, distancing, and holier than thou vowing to not serve beef with pink slime from a bunch of restaurants & grocery chains.

And The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association?  Well, I’m not sure how they’ll spin this one.  I do expect to see plenty of the latest heartwarming Beef Checkoff campaign designed to focus our attention on family cattle farmers and away from the Big Industry hiding behind them.

OK people. Your mission? Go find some well raised meat asap!

If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, contact us for our summer beef offering.

Not from Pittsburgh? Visit www.localharvest.com, or www.eatwild.com to find your local farmer today.

in which we ponder our American Thanksgiving Tradition

in which we ponder our American Thanksgiving Tradition

For a special holiday treat and insight into the hearts and traditions shared by our fellow Americans at Thanksgiving, visit www.thisibelieve.org and check out their special Thanksgiving features. What a great way to spend that long holiday drive....

As a kid (and an only child), I have to admit not feeling any special enthusiasm for holiday dinners. It was usually a long day of waiting, being polite,  car rides and lots of hanging around (I’m not a football or holiday parade fan).  Our tiny family didn’t have reunions of long missed cousins and relatives, so our holiday dinners were usually pretty much the same as our regular ones. Just with more food and a relish tray which was always a highlight for me.

Often the quiet day after Thanksgiving was the one I really enjoyed – a fridge full of holiday leftovers to graze from all day, no pressing business, a good book and the freedom to get lost in it.

I find myself wondering what Americans are really doing today? I know what we’re supposed to be doing and feeling, because TV tells me so. Frequently. And, probably not so accurately.

What Thanksgiving traditions are we passing on that actually have authenticity and significance? Most of us have cobbled together some hybrid of Norman Rockwell American mixed with the immigrant traditions from our own families. Throw in the latest features from popular magazines,  office water coolers, TV and internet and you have an American Thanksgiving.

Oh sure, if you have kids in elementary school there’s some dolled-up tales of Pilgrims and Indians and turkeys, but let’s face it – the holiday really has more to do with retail than with honoring our Pilgrim roots.

Sadly, I have no idea how my great-grandmother and grandfather went about shaping their Irish lives into American ones. My family hasn’t been one to dwell on the past, but instead to adopt the modern. The old ways, old dishes, and old stories of my ancestors have vanished without a trace. Today’s “old” ways are actually pretty new, compliments of Butterball, Pilsbury, Libby’s, Jell-O and Reddi-whip.

Magazines show in full color the traditional Thanksgiving we are all supposed to strive for; varnished oversized turkeys with lots of buttery, starchy side dishes and plenty of pie at the end. Now that was modern, stylish and sanitary and the inspiration for my modern career granny and her daughters as they set out to create their own version of Thanksgiving.

My mother and her two sisters are good cooks who started their adult lives with no binding holiday traditions. Each cooked somewhat similar meals, with a slightly different spin created by their different life experiences and magazine preferences. Three sisters, same childhood, different Thanksgiving tables. What could be more American?

I am not at all qualified to offer any factual sociological wisdom about the celebration of our national holiday, other than my fascination with people-watching and media.  I can’t help but see definite Thanksgiving variations that can now be considered actual traditions for many Americans.

A Menu of American Thanksgivings: pick one or mix & match

The Food Pantry Thanksgiving two ways: Volunteer or Guest: this tradition has lots of heart-warming variations and some sobering truths we prefer not to think about most of the year.

The All American Can & Jar Method: These traditions have been created by the marketing efforts of Big Food companies. Recipes featured in magazines, on the backs of cans and jars and now websites.  Canned green beans and cream of mushroom soup topped with dried onions and baked. Canned yams topped with brown sugar and mini marshmallows. Butterball turkey with the pop up hickey and prepared mashed potatoes and gravy from a jar. Prepared pastry crust filled with Libby’s prepared pumpkin pie filling and topped with Reddi-whip or Cool-whip. Pillsbury crescent rolls, jello salad, and please let me be wrong about this – Stove Top Stuffing?

The Store Bought All Inclusive Meal Method: all-inclusive, already cooked and ready to go. Does it come with plastic utensils too?? Am I really surprised to learn that this option is growing fast in popularity?

The Restaurant Method:  You don’t need me to explain this one do you? Family gets to meet in central location, split costs and no one is burdened with clean up. Beautiful in its simplicity??

Williams Sonoma Inspired: nostalgia for other people’s imagined &  staged traditions. Fun for cooks, expensive and guaranteed to be completely different next year. Requires storage space for the carcasses of never to be used again appliances and gadgets.

The Best of a Bad Deal Method: eating what you’ve got and feeling grateful to have it. Best when shared with upbeat friends and family and plenty of love. Can be bitter when seasoned with too much obligation and self-pity.

Black Friday Focus: this one may be extreme, but this girl has been camping outside of Best Buy for days now, and plans a picnic Thanksgiving dinner in her tent… I feel myself being a bit judgmental, but really, she seems pretty enthusiastic about her holiday. Maybe I’m the one who can use an attitude tweak….

A Long, Boring Day: don’t know what to do with self because everything’s closed. If this is your tradition, thanks to Target, things are looking up. Hopefully you have a strong internet connection and the biggest shopping day of the year starts earlier all the time.

A Prayerful Day of Gratitude: TV and holiday shopping don’t have much of a role in this spiritual friend and family oriented day. Menus vary.

Orphan Thanksgiving: You find yourself in a strange place with people you don’t know well who are also separated from their people and place.  Can be delightful and meaningful with a serendipitous pot luck menu…

The Anti-Consumer Thanksgiving: filled with buying nothing. It can be time-consuming to not shop, so it’s a good thing you don’t have to go anywhere. Do it yourself foods of varying quality and oddity and ranges from oddball to sublime.  Leads to either the ruination of America or her salvation depending on your source of news media.

Did I miss any? Am I delusional? I am pretty full having enjoyed a right sized meal made from things I either bought from local farms or grew and preserved myself.  Of course I still haven’t learned to make sugar yet, so I’m still leaning on the man a bit, but I’m working on it.

Wherever your Thanksgiving falls along the spectrum, the important thing is that it’s YOUR holiday to be celebrated however you most enjoy it. Deliberately and with intention. Best wishes for a true holiday that’s exactly that.

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

In which I wonder: are you kidding me?

In which I wonder: are you kidding me?

From all over the place and Snopes.com. Originally posted in the Daily Journal, Kankakee, Michigan.

 Can this be? Is somebody somewhere having a huge laugh watching this thing go viral? Or is this truly possible in our alternate American universe?

I would never believe that this was anything but a joke except for one thing. I actually know people struggling to maintain this kind of convoluted relationship between their brain, reality and food. Most of them would never go this far  but they can get pretty riled up in their heated rants against hunting.

Of course, I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t understand that somehow the package of plastic wrapped meat they found at the grocery store was at one time a living, breathing animal. They just choose to press that bit of fact out of their rational everyday thoughts.

For a long time, one of my pet peeves has been misleading marketing. As I’ve grown older and hopefully matured, I find my understanding and beliefs about marketing have deepened and evolved. Having spent much of my adult life working in sales and marketing, boy do I understand the spinning of a message. And the power of an image.

Today, I’m reading Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vileisis. While I’m not finished yet and have much more to say about the book, I couldn’t wait to mention it in relation to this classified ad (hoax or not) because it does much to explain how such ignorance could actually exist in our “smart” modern society.

Successful marketing consists of things like appealing display cases, helpful FAQS, buying guides, recipes and romanticized stories. Since the eating of animals is something we feel squeamish about, marketers know that we will grasp at the flimsiest evidence to either push the whole idea out of our heads completely or to support our belief that what we are doing is OK.

And they are more than happy to make full use of our desire to not know.

Marketers know that a pretty description including very little factual information, or an invented certification seal is usually all it takes to get us to turn a blind eye (whew!) to industry practices that no one would ever feel comfortable performing in their own home.

Marketers also know we no longer have any deep food knowledge with which to judge their products. We have no memory of what makes one cut of beef better than another. We are more than willing to be herded towards the most convenient solution offering the “best” of limited choices, mainly due to our preference to not know the back story.

Meat made at the store, where no animals were harmed…

Friends, pleaseBy far, the unkindest cut of all is willful ignorance.  It’s not cute when you giggle, “Don’t tell me, or I won’t be able to eat it” about your meat and dairy. If you can’t stand the knowledge, then you shouldn’t buy it or eat it. Delegating the dirty work isn’t innocence, and it’s not funny or charming.

I have to quote my meat hero, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of The River Cottage Meat Book fame; no thinking carnivore should be without this Bible in the kitchen.  Hugh says:

“The cruel practices I have mentioned have been increasingly publicized and clearly do not have popular support. Numerous polls and surveys indicate that the vast majority of the public objects to them and would like to see them banned. So surely they soon will be. Won’t they?

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Not just yet, it seems. Because the same moral majority of the pollster’s main street becomes the immoral majority, once they get behind the wheels of a shopping cart. They continue to buy the products they are so quick to condemn. So these appalling, abusive practices, it turns out, do have popular support – albeit that the supporters are in denial (it seems that nothing suppresses the exercise of conscience as effectively as the words ‘Buy one, get one free’). But there’s no getting away from it: if you buy something, you support the system that produces it.”

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I’m sorry,  I haven’t been much fun lately, but back to the original point. Is it a hoax, or is it genuine? I suppose it doesn’t really matter. It, and the scorn and ridicule it has attracted on the internet has reminded me of our complicated relationship with our food and the natural world.

Looks like a long, hard road ahead Ladies…..

This post is part of Fresh Foods Wednesday, a lively blog hop hosted by our friends at Gastronomical Sovereignty. If you’re looking for tips, recipes, projects and ideas about real food and farming, you need to get over there.

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In Which We Share A Great Find

In Which We Share A Great Find

As I learn more about farming, it seems all roads lead eventually back to WWII.  I have to confess some sheepish remorse for not caring more about American history when I was in school. Especially now, since the lessons (apparently not learned) of that era seem to be coming right back at us.

Trolling the internet one day, I stumbled upon this amazing online exhibit created by Corey Bernat; Beans are Bullets & Of Course I Can: A Collection of War-Era Food Posters from the Collection of the National Agricultural Library.

Advertisers are plundering these again timely and appealing images to sell us new books and products. We scan them in a quick way and are attracted to their nostalgic wholesome and honest feel, but did we take time to really examine the message?

Can you believe it? America Wastes 40% of All Food Produced Each Year

This skillful and entertaining exhibit identifies the root of our present alignment of government, deceptive advertising practices, industrial food production and farming methods.  That’s the dark part.

There is also an uplifting part where citizens join forces and engage in efforts greater than themselves for the betterment of the nation.

A secret invasion is going on every minute of every day, staged behind every computer and television screen, cell phone, street corner and magazine and we seem determined to avoid knowing about it. The war for our brainspace is 24/7 and we couldn’t seem to care less.

Pitch In And Help

If you don’t think there’s a warfare mentality to American style advertising, search Amazon to see just how many times a military word, strategy or reference is made in the titles of books on marketing and advertising.

There’s no doubt that advertisers have invaded our brain space; but, since we invited them in, we can ask them to leave. The real question is, “ Will we?”

Now, don’t let me finish on a negative note – I’m not really  a conspiracy theory sort of girl.  Rather,  I’m a “Let’s get out there and do something to make things better” one.

What better place to start than planting a garden & putting up some of your own food this summer? You might find you enjoy your quiet evenings in the garden and/or kitchen much more than the ones you spend watching TV.

Give it a try….

In which we say thanks for telling us what we’re supposed to want

In which we say thanks for telling us what we’re supposed to want

Trying Hard Not to be Chicken Little

I’m trying hard not to be Chicken Little here – but the recent announcement by Michelle Obama of the “Nutrition Charter” in partnership with, of all things, Walmart, leaves me really tired. Yet another retail driven approach to solve a policy driven problem.

This would be the third time in recent days that Big Business/Big Agriculture has completely driven government policy. The recent Food Safety Bill, USDA approval for unfettered use of GMO alfalfa and now this. Sigh.

Bill and I don’t grocery shop together often, but when we do it’s a living demonstration of how marketing works.  He is a product driven problem solver. When he has a problem to solve, he finds a product for that purpose and he buys it. He enjoys (loves?) convenience and value added products.  I (she) on the other hand, do not. I am attracted to more hand crafted and DIY items.

Of course, I’d like to believe my preferences are smart and independent, but I suspect I’m probably drinking Kool-Aid too, mine’s  just a different flavor.  Who knows for sure??

So now I’m wondering, how do we form our consumer beliefs anyway? I feel myself firmly attracted to and repelled by products that upon further examination I realize that I  really don’t know much about.  Many times it takes nothing more than a well designed package and my mind just fills in the information I want the label to contain. Honestly, we don’t even have to be paying attention – somehow the influence just sneaks right in and plants itself.

Big Food Marketers teamed with the help of the USDA have a practice of feeding you “knowledge” via their use of “helpful” information and FAQs.  You can be sure that according to their helpful information, your “wisest” choice is the product that is most efficient and cost effective for them to produce.  This continues to be such an effective strategy because we don’t really care to know more. Our food ignorance provides the perfect medium for their information to take root.

I find it really interesting that the USDA grading system we use to evaluate meat has changed so conveniently to remain in step with the changing practices of the feedlot industry and industrialization of meat processing.  The quality of beef has changed so much since the 1920’s, the USDA grading system no longer has categories appropriate to grass fed meat and the handling requirements for beef are definitely to the detriment of grass fed beef.  Apparently, today’s Prime is yesterday’s Select. And, did you know, then “Select” was called “Good”. It was changed because good just sounded ok while select sounds, well, select.

We needed to be taught to prefer this lesser beef.  I could go on…..

Food conglomerates are now busy working to beat independent third party certification to the punch by creating their own certifying organizations and labels.  Of course, surprise surprise, their well-spun animal husbandry standards match exactly their current factory farming methods. They know we won’t look under the surface – we’ll just look for some kind of label.  So, they create some crafty wording and homey logo to slap on their packaging and along we go.

Most of us sort of  know what Organic means and what can be bad about Natural?  Grass Fed, Grass finished, Pastured, Pasture finished, Free Range, what??  For example, from the Giant Eagle website:

Nature’s Basket®

At Giant Eagle®, we’re proud to provide meat that is as good as nature intended. That’s why our Nature’s Basket® meats come from a passionate generation of farmers and ranchers who raise animals without added hormones or antibiotics while fulfilling an uncompromising commitment to quality and a healthy environment.

We are grateful for the land, and with Nature’s Basket®, we can bring you the best it has to offer. We are committed to responsible management of our resources and are hopeful that supporting farms with eco-friendly methods will make a positive difference for years to come. Our Nature’s Basket® meats go through strict quality testing with consumers — just like you — to ensure that it has the great taste you’ve come to expect from Giant Eagle®. And we will remain steadfast in our effort to bring delicious, fresh and wholesome food to your table.

We trust that you will prepare our Nature’s Basket® meats with pride and joy, knowing that you are enjoying natural, flavorful food.

What does this really mean? Many words saying not a lot. Conveniently, my mind quickly fills in the holes with what I want to believe.  What kind of cows were fed what kind of food? How many cows to a square foot at the feedlot where they live for 3 – 6 months? I’m skeptical about but appreciate said lack of hormones and antibiotics, but what about the uncompromising commitment to quality and a healthy environment? Is that from some flowery mission statement or a real practice?  What kind of lives did these cattle get to live? What type of stewardship of the land was practiced? How was manure disposal handled? How were the neighbors of this feedlot impacted by the facility? Would they concur that a healthy environment is a respected goal? How were the grains these cows eat raised? GMO, non GMO’s? What type of pesticides? What about the transport, auction and slaughter facilities? Safe, humane for man and beast?  How has this meat been aged? Has it been irradiated? Sprayed to retain its redness? Pink slime added?

Thanks for telling me what I’m supposed to prefer…. more from the Giant Eagle website:

What is the difference between grass-fed beef and corn-fed beef?

Cattle spend the first year or more of their lives in the pasture, but for the final three to six months, the vast majority of U.S. beef cattle are fed a nutritionally balanced mixture of grain and nutrients (can you please tell us about the feedlot they live on for three to six months?).

On a small number of U.S. farms, ranchers raise cattle that continue to feed on grass through the final stage. There are no significant nutritional differences or differences in safety between grass-finished and grain-finished products. The principle differences are taste and texture. (Really, not what I hear…..)

Most American consumers prefer the taste of beef that comes from corn-finished cattle. The grass-finished market aims to satisfy consumers who prefer the taste of grass-finished beef.  (What does this mean? Let’s nip this whole grass-fed potential loss of market share nightmare in the bud??)

What you can do:

  1. Pay attention when you see food issues in the news – it really is relevant to you
  2. Know there are two sides to issues you see in the news
  3. Question ads and commercials
  4. Question whether the charming picture on the label has any resemblance to the real life “farm”
  5. Don’t be satisfied with the wordy generalizations on the labels, look for specific facts.  Or lack thereof –if it doesn’t say otherwise, it’s factory food.
  6. Reclaim your brain space
  7. Buy from people who can show you the cows/chickens/pigs/goats/sheep
  8. Join an organization like Slow Foods or PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture)

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not being hard on Giant Eagle – I shop there too. They’re just passing along the information they got from the helpful folks at the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association . Let’s not forget their lawsuit against Oprah.

All I ask is that we simply call things what they really are.  And stop looking to retail to solve all our problems.