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Oh the Humanity

February 13, 2014

There is a rant that’s been building up inside me for a while. It has to do with the federal government needing to revisit the standard of identity for many food items.

Cream is now milk with thickeners. Bread is pretty much flour-based goo. Cereal is mostly sugar-coated corn, except for when it’s corn-enriched sugar. The yogurt aisle resembles a candy store. Frozen dairy dessert parades around like ice cream. Chocolates are no longer chocolates but rather candy made with chocolate.

It’s Orwellian. But we haven’t even gotten to the best part.

What do you think happens these days if a supermarket labels its chicken as raised “in a humane environment” and “cage free” when it lives a life protected from cruelty and free of cages? Well, in Los Angeles that supermarket gets served with a lawsuit.

I suppose I understand better than most where the lawsuit is coming from. Kroger charged a premium for its “Simple Truth” store brand of premium priced chicken. But in reality, it was conventionally raised by Purdue Farms, enduring all of the hardships that birds go through as they are transformed from chicks to meat faster than our forebears dreamed possible.

Frankly, I too would feel duped if I were charged a premium for a Purdue bird with some fancy, feel good copy points in a cleverly designed package.

But there are some long standing maxims that cannot be ignored.

“Let the buyer beware” comes easily to mind. As much as I understand the implication of the claims on the product, the supermarket never lied. All fifty states have laws against farm animal cruelty. If a farm is abusing its livestock there will be consequences. The great tragedy of course is that factory farming processes aren’t considered to be cruel by lawmakers.

For what it’s worth, I think they are. And I know I’m not alone. This is why there are now all kinds of labels like “Certified Humane” which are supposed to give consumers confidence that some meats are being raised in better conditions.

But looking solely at semantics,
IF Purdue’s chickens are raised in an environment that prohibits cruelty (by law), and
IF an accepted antonym of cruel is humane, and
IF there is no legal definition for the humane treatment of farm animals,
THEN it would seem that Purdue chicken can be called humane.

Who is not aware that brands engage in a practice called puffery? They try to make their products sound as good as they can. Statements like “The Best Burger in America” don’t need the burden of proof. They are perfectly okay.

It’s important when shopping to look closely at labels and claims to see if the manufacturers have given themselves any wiggle room. If they have, you can bet they will take advantage of that fact. “Made with whole grain” might sound or look like “Made with 100% whole grain” but it’s meaningfully different.

So Kroger said their chicken was “cage free”. It is. But so is virtually all conventionally raised chicken. The chickens that are kept in cages are egg chickens. Those poor poor souls. So is that deceptive or descriptive?

I guess we’ll have to wait for the judge to ultimately decide where the law comes down on this.

The problem here isn’t Kroger. It’s not even Purdue. The problem here is part of the larger trend of troubling food definitions. It’s a problem that conventional meat production isn’t considered to be cruel. Keeping sentient beings confined and indoors their entire lives, fed a diet of nasty things mixed with GMO grains, and dispatched without regard doesn’t sound terribly humane to me.

I think we need to drop the charade that as a country we’re doing right by the animals that feed and sustain us. The elimination of outright abuse and unthinkable cruelty isn’t a high enough standard. The standard should be humane. And then we wouldn’t have to argue about semantics because all farmers would be responsible for their animals’ happiness, stress levels and overall well being.

In the meantime, I’m afraid the plaintiff in this case is fighting a losing battle.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Elle Kay permalink
    February 16, 2014 7:52 am

    Great post. As someone who relies on only/mostly whole food for nourishment (I can’t believe I have to say that-but otherwise it’s just food product, right?!) I’m finding it more and more expensive to shop in the Albany area to I buy free range/grassfed/pastured meat, poultry, and eggs, plus local and mostly organic vegetables. In an effort to reign in my grocery spending I’ve started shopping beyond the Co-op and farmers markets and I’m curious what your thoughts are on the Asian Supermarkets’ sources for meat and vegetables. I noticed the chicken has more yellow fat-which I initially thought may be due to a more natural diet, but after asking the Google universe thoughts on this I came back with-a heavy corn-based diet can do this also. If I could raise my own food I would, but for now I have to put my trust in others and it’s becoming more and more challenging.

    What has me even more diligent lately: a paleo blog I follow where the woman who writes it manages to only spend $85 a week to feed a family of four. She’s in California. Yet, her food is so much cheaper I’m shocked. She’s getting grassfed chuck roast for $3.99 a pound. Grassfed ground beef at the coop and local farms averages around $7 or more per pound. Looking at farms outside upstate New York–they are charging less. I don’t know the politics or economic struggles of New York farmers vs. others, but I’m starting to wonder if that’s why eating real food is becoming more and more expensive in Albany, but is still lower elsewhere.

    Gosh, I’m ranting and I’m on my iPhone–apologies for any typos.

    So thoughts on real food-trustworthy enough for those of us who care about how animals are raised and food is produced (Asian Supermarket etc)? I was a vegetarian for a long time, but going back to that way of eating doesn’t work for me unfortunately. So trying to do what I can…


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