A brief summary of some claims on meats and eggs you’ll find in the grocery store:
Natural – This means nothing other than your meat was raised without hormones or antibiotics.
Grain Fed – Your meat was raised on diets of corn and soy, neither of which are suited to the digestive systems of cows or chickens.
Organic – Your meat was raised on diets of organic corn and soy, grown without chemical pesticides.
Grass Fed – The optimum choice. Your meat was raised on growing grass as nature intended. Highest in Omega 3 and Beta Carotene, lowest in fat.
Cage Free – Just because your chickens aren’t crammed into tiny cages doesn’t mean they are frolicking outside in the sunshine. See photo below by John Patriquin, Portland Press.
Free Range – About the same as Cage Free.
Pasture Fed – You won’t see this very often, but if you can find it this means your animals actually got to roam around in pasture. Usually it is small family farms that still operate this way.
Why grain fed meat and eggs are not the best choice:
Cows and chickens are not meant to eat corn and soy, yet these staples are cheap to produce and fatten animals rapidly. Corn and soy are some of the most allergenic foods in modern America. Since our agricultural animals are raised on these foods, the allergens accumulate in the muscles and *poof!* we start developing allergies to our meat as well.
USDA Grade A Choice has the most fat of beef cuts. The leaner grades are mostly sold to pet food manufacturers. You know what this means? Your dog is eating healthier quality meat than you are.
Cows eat grass. Tasty (well, to a cow anyway) green grass that is rich in minerals and phytonutrients. Chickens eat grasses and seeds, as well as insects and worms. What you get is meat that is 4x leaner than grain fed animals, and eggs that are so rich in beta carotene you can easily see the difference in the color of the yolk, which is orange in grass fed chickens and yellow in grain fed chickens.
Sure, but what does it taste like: Um, I don’t know. I don’t eat beef, and only limited amounts of chicken, and I haven’t bought eggs yet since learning about pasture fed chickens. You’ll have to try it out for me and let me know. My nutrition professor recommends A Bar H Farms, an Arizona farm that raises grass fed animals and has some rather adorable pictures of their cows, sheep, and herding dogs on their website. Awwww, cute. They also have some articles on their website on why grass fed is best, including one written by my teacher which I intend to go read right now! Update: This is a great article. If this topic interests you, I highly suggest taking 10 minutes to read it.
I was going to launch into a whole section on how animal cruelty laws do not apply to agricultural animals, but decided it was too depressing. Just know that the vast majority of commercial farms are extremely inhumane and animal rights groups are working hard to change the laws regarding cruelty at these facilities.
Now that I understand the meaning behind some of these labels I feel I can make more informed choices about what I’m really eating. I hope it helps you too!