I went to the grocery store this morning and, with more than a passing interest in meat, I wandered down the long row of packaged flesh surveying the latest supermarket offerings. The grocery store advertises more “organic” options than it once did, and these are certainly an improvement, though I still have a hard time buying any of them. What is more interesting, however, are the plethora of “natural products.” For instance, this chain grocery store carried several varieties of “natural” bacon claiming various virtues to draw in customers who want food that is good for their family and the world. Most advertised “vegetarian feed,” “no nitrates,” “no antibiotics”—good things, for certain, but only a surprise against a very low bar of expectation.
The most frustrating example was a package of bacon housed in brown cardboard with green lettering. It was an attractive package and it looked like bacon that would come from a quiet farm with green pastures and a red barn instead of a metal warehouse with concrete floors and thousands of pigs in small crates. On the label it said in big letters “Pork Raised without Added Hormones.” Which is certainly wonderful until you look underneath and see the caveat: “Federal Regulation Prohibits the Use of Hormones in Pork.” In other words, this major meat producer was advertising a truth that every other package of bacon could claim.
Deceptive advertising should be no surprise, but for those of us who want to eat food that is healthy and whole it can be exhausting to walk grocery store aisles reading asterisks and labels, discerning the confusing codes that obscure the food’s basic truth. Many simply give in and buy foods that seem good without bothering with the details. Others leave, as I do, conflicted and frustrated wishing for a better way.
When I place my order with the Grass Roots Farmers Cooperative I do so without anxiety. I know that not only will the food be good, but that the animals were treated well. There is no factory farm hidden behind an earthy looking label. I know this because I can visit any farm in the co-op and there won’t be any PR person saying that I can’t. I know that the food I order through the co-op is good in all of the senses of that word because I know several of the farmers involved and I trust them. I know it because when I look at the standards for the coop and see that they are strict and transparent, free of the kind of obscure language meant to cover over a truth no one would want to really see.
Shopping for good food shouldn’t be an exercise in anxiety, requiring reading glasses and an instinct for double-speak. There is a better way—a way that can be found in CSAs and cooperatives, farmers markets and selective, locally-owned grocers. Thankfully, when it comes to meat and most of my vegetables I can buy food and simply savor its goodness.