The organic label has been important for us at Big Bowl but not necessarily the most significant. It’s always posed more challenges than our other values, which can be good if they help make us better.
A recent New York Times article, Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized? confirmed my sense about this space. The takeaway basically questions the authenticity of the organic label when those who determine the criteria are connected to Big Business and stand to benefit the most. This is why local trumps all.
The five main pillars for building good food at Big Bowl focus on local, sustainable, natural, earth-friendly and organic. The tenet of local, however, holds the most power and has the most impact. Buying local supports local people and local businesses, puts money back in the local community, reduces the impact on the environment without the need of long distance transportation, and tastes the best when it’s locally grown.
The NYT piece reminded me of a blog I wrote a few months ago on the “all natural” labeling and how it has become more about marketing than ensuring that the consumer is getting a truly “clean” product. More people want to buy organic and trust that it is indeed better. Unfortunately, as more genetically modified additives are approved for use, true “organic” loses its way.
The solution? Consumers paying a premium for cleaner food and products need to do more homework because the label for “organic” will become more broad.
Local may not be organic or even natural but there’s a real person behind the product. It’s a farmer, an individual or a business you can interact with, ask question and even visit. That may be old school in this day and age – but that’s a good thing.
The “natural” label causes quite a bit of chatter, especially as a growing number of products are making such a claim. Consumers, advocacy groups and the media question its validity. What does it mean? What are the qualifications?
In this country, the rules and definitions are murky at best. Read the USDA’s definition of ‘natural and you will see that the word has nothing to do with how an animal is fed or raised but simply how it’s processed after slaughter. Is that at all logical? It means that if cattle has been fed a steady diet of hormones, steroids and antibiotics, it can be deemed natural as long as the processing of meat is “minimal” and avoids added colors and preservatives. In my mind – and likely in the mind of other consumers – the natural claim has little to no value.
Some people can’t afford the pricier product that natural/organic often dictates or even care about a cleaner product. I get it and understand the position. But it’s wrong for companies to mislead consumers with a “natural” label, essentially allowing them to think the product is better, and charging more for it.
You’ll notice that meat labeled “naturally raised” costs even more. The standard is voluntary, and does not address how the animal is raised. So if you’re willing to pay that kind of price, you’d want to know whether chickens lived their entire existence crammed in a cage or allowed to move around freely. You don’t know, and the USDA doesn’t require humane conditions under naturally raised labeling.
For us, none of those claims are good enough. For years at Big Bowl, only “never ever” chicken, beef and pork have been served. The farmers we work with make it clear and simple: always vegetarian fed animals, never ever given steroids, hormones or antibiotics. The animals are raised in humane conditions – the way animals are meant to be raised. These farmers through their “never ever” programs supply Freebird chicken, Creekstone and Meyers beef. They’re eager to tell you what natural and naturally raised means.
Six years ago, we chose the “never ever” path not because it’s the trend (it wasn’t then, anyways) but because it’s a better product and we believe in the right thing to do.
You can and will taste the difference.