By Kjeld Petersen
Much of our conversation about local food is laden with jargon—sometimes confusing as we look to find a common language to describe it. Some of the words we use have specific, universally agreed-upon definitions—yet somehow get changed or used incorrectly or inappropriately. Some of the words have very subjective usages or interpretations that rely heavily on the context in which the words are used.
The following is a high-level look at the definitions and meanings of some of the common words we run across in our edible conversations (words in italics have been defined).
ARTISAN: Foods which are prepared with respect to traditional ingredients, methods and in small batches. Unlike typical commercial food products, artisan foods are normally produced using seasonally available ingredients and utilizing small-batch or by-hand techniques. As such, quantities of true artisan foods are normally very limited. Cheeses, pastas, breads, preserves, flours and beverages are common artisan food product categories.
COMMUNITY SUPPORTED ARGRICULTURE (CSA): A community-to-farm, risk-based system of commerce where individual members pledge support to a farm (in the form of a fee, labor or a combination of both) in exchange for a scheduled delivery of products. In its truest sense, members pledge both financial support and individual labor in return for the share. The member assumes the risk that if a farm is unable to bring a harvest in for any reason, they will not receive a delivery. Items in each share are determined by the farm and may include items provided cooperatively with other producers.
ECOTARIAN: The practice of eating sustainably in a manner that is primarily plant based, organic, local, fair and nutritionally balanced. The term is relatively new and, in essence, summarizes a number of existing principles.
FAIR FOOD: Food that is accessible to all, regardless of income, and produced by people who are treated with dignity and justly compensated for their labor. Fair Trade is a registered trademark and is commonly associated with imported food products (such as coffee) where producers are directly engaged in selling the goods and receive just (or higher) compensation for their labor in comparison to goods they might sell through a broker or other middleman.
FARMERS MARKET: A market organized in a public space enabling farmers to sell directly to consumers and end users (such as restaurants). Farmers markets have existed for centuries as commercial and cultural centers of communities around the world. Farmers markets may or may not include the sales of crafts, cooperatively produced items or resellers.
FARMSTEAD: A term to indicate a value-added food product (such as a preserve or cheese) that is made at the same location from where the raw ingredients are grown or produced (such as a berry farm or dairy). The term is widely misused on menus to indicate an artisan provenance for an ingredient.
FOODSHED: An area where food is grown, generally defined by its climate, soil, watershed, local varieties, species and agricultural systems. A foodshed can be made up of parts of different states or countries that share common conditions in these areas.
FOODWAYS: The academic study of the foods that are eaten, grown, prepared and preserved through tradition in a defined area, including the study of the people involved in the process. Foods in the defined area are considered from historic, traditional and current viewpoints as they relate to the social, economic, political and nutritional landscape of that area. Organizations devoted to foodways, such as the Foodways Texas (foodwaystexas.com), seek to study, document and enjoy a region’s contributions to the national culinary landscape through a variety of public and private programs.
FREE RANGE: The term only applies to poultry in the United States, and USDA regulations only specify that the animal has been “allowed” access to an area outside of its containment location. The USDA does not specify the area or quality of the outside range, nor does it specify the amount of time poultry must have in the outside range. The USDA has no specific definition for free-range eggs, beef, pork or animal products (such as milk). The term (as is “cage-free”) is commonly misused by egg producers to indicate wholesomeness or the humane treatment of chickens.
GRASSFED: Livestock relying solely on pasture or rangeland to supply protein and energy requirements. It is generally considered to be the most environmentally friendly manner of livestock production. Grassfed livestock grow to market weight slower and develop less intermuscular fat (or marbling) than cornfed animals, although, in reality, most livestock are not 100 percent grassfed.
HEIRLOOM: A term usually used for vegetables that have unique genetic characteristics or traits that allow them to be well-adapted to local environmental conditions or for a particular use or flavor. They are typically old varieties that are achieved through seeds (instead of hybrids, cuttings or other propagation methods) and produce crops through open pollination (as opposed to forced pollination). Varieties of heirloom vegetables are preserved through “seed saving.” Common types of heirloom vegetables are found in tomato, bean, squash, melon, lettuce, radish and carrot varieties.
HERITAGE: A term usually used for animal breeds that have unique genetic characteristics or traits that allow them to be well-adapted to local environmental conditions or for a particular use or flavor. The Tamworth hog reflects centuries of selection for an outdoor life where hogs are expected to find their own food. The result is an animal that produces finely grained lean meat, especially bacon, which differs from the commercially sought Berkshire, Duroc and Hampshire breeds which produce long loins, short hams and generally have a higher amount of fat.
HYDROPONIC: The system of growing vegetables in a greenhouse using a nutrient-rich liquid medium with or without gravel or other supporting soil. Hydroponics allow a producer to grow vertically (using growing beds stacked on top of each other), rather than horizontally (using more land), and to grow a crop year-round. Differences between hydroponically grown and field-grown produce are qualitative in nature (greenhouse versus “sun ripened”). Hydroponic produce has been shown to be safer, due to the fact that the plants do not come in contact with soil. Hydroponic produce can be just as local as food grown in the soil.
LOCALLY GROWN/LOCAL FOOD: The United States government has legally defined local as “(1) the locality or region in which the final product is marketed, so that the total distance that the product is transported is less than 400 miles from the origin of the product; or (2) the State in which it is produced.” Not exactly our definition of local, but it makes sense in a certain way—400 miles is essentially within a day’s drive. Some see local as being a much smaller area, typically a city or its surrounding area or within a specified growing area or foodshed.
LOCAVORE: A person who prefers to eat locally grown or produced foods. “Locavore” was selected by the Oxford American Dictionary as the Word of the Year in 2007, paying respect to the rapid and enthusiastic embrace the word has received in the general lexicon. The word itself was coined to reflect individuals who initially were challenged to eat only foods grown or produced within a 100-mile radius of their residences.
NATURAL: Legally, food labeled “natural” does not contain any artificial ingredients, colors or chemical preservatives—and in the case of meat and poultry (proteins), is minimally processed. Food containing “natural flavors” can legally use the label “natural” even though the “flavor” may be derived from highly processed proteins.
ORGANIC: A federal certification for foods produced according to organic standards. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are not permitted in production. Organic standards must be maintained throughout processing as well in order use the certification. Naturally occurring food items, such as salt, cannot be labeled “organic.” Food items that cannot be traced to organic sources or standards, such as honey, cannot be labeled organic. (It’s really difficult to get the bees to only feed from organic flowers.)
PASTURE RAISED: A term describing animals, including poultry, cattle and hogs, that are raised on grass pasture for their entire lives, with the exception of the initial birthing/brooding period. Conceptualized and popularized by sustainable farmer Joel Salatin, “pasture raised” is indicative of animals that are raised without containment, other than appropriate fencing. The animals are free to roam, eat and develop accordingly. Animals raised in this manner may be classified as “natural,” but not “organic.”
SUSTAINABLE: The legal definition of sustainable agriculture is an integrated system of plant and animal production that will, among other things, provide for human food needs, enhance environmental quality, make efficient use of natural resources and enhance the life of farmers and society as a whole.
JUST LABEL IT
In October, the Just Label It (JLI) campaign filed a petition with the FDA to require labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods, to give consumers the right to know what is in their food. Since then, more than 470 consumer, healthcare, environmental and farming organizations, manufacturers and retailers have joined the campaign—generating more than 550,000 consumer comments to the FDA.
GE foods, also known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are foods altered at the molecular level in ways that could not happen naturally. In 1992, the FDA ruled that GE foods do not need independent safety tests or labeling requirements before being introduced because it determined that they were “substantially equivalent” to conventionally produced foods. Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety and lead author of the JLI petition said, “We are asking the FDA to change a decades-old and out-of-touch policy.”
Polls show that 93 percent of Americans want the government to label GE foods. Labeling is required in other countries, including the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Brazil and China.
While nearly 90 percent of corn and 94 percent of soy in the U.S. are from GE seeds, the safety of GE crops for human consumption has not been adequately assured. Yet, unlike the strict safety evaluations for approval of new drugs, there are no mandatory human clinical trials of GE crops, no requirement for long-term testing on animals and limited testing for allergenicity (even with studies raising concerns that they may pose an allergen risk).
Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield and a founder of JLI, said: “While the pros and cons of GE foods is debated, an entire generation is growing up consuming them. Until we have no doubt that GE crops are safe to eat, consumers should have a choice about whether we want to eat them.” Hirshberg recently published Label It Now, the first consumer guide to GE foods and now available online.
JLI also recently launched a new video by Food, Inc. filmmaker Robert Kenner called Labels Matter via a collaboration between JLI and Kenner’s new project, FixFood, a social-media platform aiming to empower Americans to take immediate action to create a more sustainable and democratic food system.
The drumbeat for mandatory GE labeling is getting louder, as informed consumers are demanding the right to know what’s in their food. In October, the GMO Right2Know March, a two-week, 300-mile trek from Manhattan to the White House, took place. In California, a 2012 GMO labeling referendum is being sought. And federal legislation has been introduced requiring labeling of all GE foods.
It’s urgent that we make our voices heard now as the FDA is deciding whether to approve GE salmon and the USDA advances a proposal to deregulate corn that’s engineered to be resistant to the herbicide 2,4-D, a major component in Agent Orange. You can join in asking the FDA to allow consumers the right to know what’s in our food. It’s your right.
?Visit Just Label It on their website, justlabelit.org, or on Facebook and Twitter.
Just Label It
Food and Environment
GMO labeling referendum
GMO Right2Know March
Petition to label GMOs