Understanding Farming & Food Labels

If you're a frequent reader of the blog - you know that I do some work with the Ohio Pork Council. In previous years, I've also worked with Certified Angus Beef and even Monsanto. My blog has given me the opportunity to meet with people of all walks of life and find out more about the food we all eat every day and I really appreciate that.

Every time I meet with a farmer - I learn new things.

In 2014, I went to a farm day outing sponsored by Monsanto - I heard horrible horrible things about Monsanto ahead of time. Friends were shocked I would even go! I read up on a few of the stories but - after my visit - I found out that Monsanto isn't the devil! Do they have things they need to work on? Sure - don't we all. But I talked to Leah Beyer and her husband - they were the farmers that hosted our visit. They purchase Monsanto seed for the crops that they grow and they've had a great relationship with them over the years.

This was an instance where I met with real people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture. I heard from them that they trust the crops that they grow and they EAT the crops that they grow. (That was the day I went home with 2 dozen ear of corn from their back yard!)

That same summer, I went on a farm tour with Certified Angus Beef up in Wooster, OH. We met with cattle farmers. One of the first things I learned is that ALL cows are grass fed. Why is that important? You hear a lot of people talking about "grass fed beef" so to find out that ALL cows are grass fed was interesting. The difference is that some cows are given grain during their last couple of months. So the question is WHY. The farmers told us that grains add flavor to the meat. OK...let's keep going with this...(it goes back to the Monsanto visit.)

Some people don't want to eat animals that have been fed grains - because some grains have been genetically modified. Okay - I get that. But I also know that there is a lot of science and testing behind the grains that are going into animal feed. I met with the Beyer family and we discussed it and they are comfortable with the product they grow and whats in them. In the end, I want to eat steak that has more flavor and if that comes from being grain fed at the end of their growth - then I'm okay with that.

These are decisions that each person needs to make for themselves - but it feels good to know a little more about the process to be better informed when making the decision. I don't claim to know everything - trust me - I haven't even scratched the surface - but I'm learning and I want to share some of this with you.

This brings me to this past weekend, which was the catalyst for this post. I was at the Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic and had stuffed my belly full of deliciousness. I stopped at the last booth and we were going to try one more bite before we left. Turns out - it was pork. (Not the photo above)

Honestly, I don't remember the restaurant that had this booth. I do remember that they were a fairly new place. (I truly can't remember which place it was.) The chef handing out the sample told us their bite was pork and I mentioned that I work with Ohio Pork. He said their pork is farm raised and I asked where the farm was in Ohio - he didn't know. He didn't even know if the farm was in Ohio.

Then he told us that the pork was "antibiotic and hormone free". I've been on farm visits and farm tours and farm dinners many times now and I know that federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in pork. So I mentioned to the chef - "Actually - you aren't allowed to add hormones to pork." He just repeated his line that he was (presumably) told to say, "Yes - well ours is antibiotic and hormone free." My friend with me had just been on a farm tour last week as well and said "Well, there are naturally occurring hormones in pork. But do you know the only food that doesn't have hormones?!" (He learned a fact on his farm tour - the answer is salt!)

We ate our bite of pork and went on our merry way home. What I found interesting about the situation was that here was someone representing this establishment that was priding themselves on having "antiobiotic and hormone free" pork. But yet when push came to shove - the Chef really didn't know the meaning of that statement.

Now I'm not faulting him - or even the establishment. It happens - I know I say far dumber things on a daily basis.

I see this as an opportunity!

Let's get to know our food better. Chefs - get out there and meet with farmers! If you're an organic chef that only eats/works with grass fed beef or "hormone-free" pork - go and talk to a farmer that raises grain-fed beef or that raises hogs for a living. Find out more of the story! You might gain new perspectives on the industry that you can share with others.

If there are any chefs out there - or other bloggers - or just folks in general that want to take a farm tour or ask real questions of real farmers - let me know! Post your questions in the comments. Reach out to me. I'm happy to help facilitate the process. I would love to take some chefs out to Uncle Squeals farm and have them spend a day getting to know the pigs that they'll meet in their kitchen some day. (Aw poor piglets...but bacon is so good!)

I hope this is a little thought-provoking and has you rethinking the next label you read. Find out a little more about what it actually means. We don't all need to be food scientists - but every little bit helps!

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