I've been concerned lately about information comparing the food results of different farming methods. What is actually said may be accurate, but the stories can be seriously misleading because of what's omitted or the way terms are used.
For example, I went to a food blogging conference recently in Seattle. One of the vendors was United Egg Producers. They were touting a recent agreement with animal rights activists to upgrade their caged-hen methods to "enhanced" caging methods within the next 15 years.
They kept emphasizing that the nutrition in an egg from a caged hen was exactly the same as from an uncaged hen. However when I asked them for more details, it turned out the growing conditions they were talking about were practically the same.
In their lingo, "uncaged" means hens raised in a building with no cages (sounds good, right?), but photos on their website show hens crammed in wing-to-wing on racks of metal shelves and perches, with barely enough space to hop to the floor, where more hens are also crowded wing-to-wing.
While the "uncaged" chickens can at least move around a little, who would reasonably expect the nutrition from commercially caged chicken eggs to be significantly different from their equally stressed and crowded "uncaged" cousins? The claim of the egg producers that the nutrition was equal only seemed impressive because the definition of "uncaged" was misleading.
The next level of freedom for chickens is "free range." Under current regulations, barn-raised chickens can be called "free range" if they are given access to an open door leading to a concrete deck outside. The chickens may never actually go outside, and there is no area for them to forage for their natural food.
The typical diet of these "free range" hens is often the same as for caged hens: Corn, soy, cottonseed meals and synthetic additives. Both the corn and soy are generally genetically modified (GMO) products. Will the egg nutrition be significantly different? Seems unlikely to me.
To be truly different, hens need to be "free range pastured," meaning the hens are outside, free to roam around in a pasture where they are able to forage for the insects, seeds, worms and green plants that are their natural foods. Sometimes farmers supplement their foraging with commercial feed, but ideally the chickens will have a choice. Also, organic feed is not supposed to contain GMOs.
Now here's the critical point: When the terms are clearly defined and not misleading, how does the egg nutrition compare? In 2007, Mother Earth News magazine hired a professional laboratory in Portland, Ore., to do a nutritional analysis comparing caged-raised chicken eggs to free-range pastured chicken eggs. Here's what they found; the free-range pastured chicken eggs had:
- 1/3 less cholesterol;
- 1/4 less saturated fat;
- 2/3 more vitamin A;
- Twice as much omega-3 fats;
- Three times more vitamin E;
- Seven times more beta carotene.
Other studies support those results.
I could list similar problems with reports about grassfed pastured beef vs. CAFO (confined animal feeding operations) beef. When it comes to nutrition, few dispute that grassfed beef contains higher levels of omega-3s. Instead, CAFO proponents focus on the tough texture and higher cost of grassfed meat.
Here are the facts. Grassfed beef stroll while they are grazing. As a result, they tend to be leaner than their feedlot-confined cousins who have little room to move and eat primarily GMO corn feed from a fixed trough.
When the meat is prepared in exactly the same way using traditional methods, the grassfed beef will typically come out tougher because there is less fat. That texture can bias taste-test results. If the meat is cooked appropriately, though, grassfed beef can be equally tender.
In short, be careful when you interpret articles comparing the food results of different farming methods. It's a "buyer beware" food world out there. Labeling helps, but it's not enough to guarantee the quality of what's inside the package.
Here's a simple solution - know your farmers. Go to the farmers market nearest you and ask the vendors questions about their farming methods. Visit nearby farm stores, where you can buy products on the farm itself. Find out which farms will participate in the annual farm tour this fall and take the opportunity to visit Whatcom County farms.
Then take the next and most important step - share what you learn with others. Tell your friends, family and co-workers. Help them learn how to tell if their food is healthy. Introduce them to your farmers.
SMOKY TACO SALAD
2 tablespoons butter (homemade with cream from Twin Brook Creamery, Lynden)
1 pound ground grassfed beef (Second Wind Farm, Everson)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 large (or 1 medium) shallot, chopped (Terra Verde Farm, Everson)
1 clove garlic, minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1 smoked cayenne pepper, minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
1 teaspoon fresh oregano (home garden, Lummi Island)
3/4 cup tomato sauce (home canned with tomatoes from Boxx Berry Farm, Ferndale)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
1 teaspoons honey (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
Garnish: grated cheese and dollop of yogurt (Grace Harbor Farms, Custer)
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When the bubbling stops, add the ground beef and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sauté until well browned, about 8-10 minutes.
Add the shallots and garlic, and continue to sauté for another minute or two. Add the smoked pepper and oregano, and sauté another couple of minutes until the smoky fragrance is released.
Add the tomato sauce, apple cider vinegar and honey. Mix well and heat through.
Remove from heat and adjust the salt to taste.
Serve over shredded lettuce or salad mix (Terra Verde Farm, Everson), or over cooked triticale (Nooksack 9, Everson).
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996; appel-farms.com
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959; artisanwineclub.com
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060; bellinghamfarmers.org
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699; boxxberryfarm.com
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859; cloudmountainfarm.com
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158; communityfood.coop
Everybody's Store, 5465 Potter Road, Deming; 360-592-2297; everybodys.com
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747; ferndalepublicmarket.org
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151; graceharborfarms.com
Green Barn, 8858 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-354-1008
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
Lynden Farmers Market, 514 Liberty St., Lynden, fiveloavesfarm.blogspot.com
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398; facebook.com/pages/Pleasant-Valley-Dairy/161872142667
Red Barn Lavender Farm, 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190; islandergrocery.com
The Markets LLC, 3125 Old Fairhaven Parkway and 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797; themarketsllc.com
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020; terra-organica.com