A Critical Reading of Food Labels

“Organic!”  “Fresh!”  “Naturally raised beef!”

What do these labels mean to you, the consumer?  What do these labels mean to the FDA?  What do they mean to the food producer?  Do they mean the same thing to different people, or are the powers of interpretation at work?

The other day I went to Chipotle to get a burrito.  As I looked at the menu I started to wonder, “What do they mean by ‘naturally raised beef’?”  Curious, I scribbled down a reminder and ordered a vegetarian burrito.  (Yum, just thinking about it now makes me hungry.)

When I came home I started my investigation, visiting the Chipotle website.  I jumped around, exploring what really is a fancy site, until I found the “ingredients” section.  From there, I clicked on their steak, revealing more information than any reasonable menu could ever carry.  While I applaud Chipotle for using beef that has not been given growth hormones and antibiotics, I continued to be curious about these “naturally raised” cows and their “vegetarian” diet.

Doing a quick Google search, I found the website of the company that provides Chipotle with their beef.  Again, I feel I must recognize the efforts of Meyer Natural Angus and the extent to which they go to raise healthy cattle, but their producer’s promise ultimately exposes a contradiction:  The cows are fed a true vegetarian diet, eating things which they would naturally eat should they ever find themselves roaming outside of some cattle farm, but then they are “finished on a corn-based diet for true corn-fed flavor.”  As Hamlet once said, “aye, there’s the rub.”

Cows do not naturally eat corn.

So, by definition, is the steak served by Chipotle really raised “naturally”?  Or is the labeling an honest reflection of how the cow is raised?  Or is it mislabeling and an effort to sell more burritos, all while making the consumer feel like they are doing their part to be a little bit more sustainable?


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Eric Gietzen said,

    First off, I would like to say that this is intense! But, I can’t help but wonder if the companies don’t know that cows don’t naturally eat corn. If that’s all we’ve ever known, then who would know the difference between natural and “natural”? It definitely is a marketing ploy though, because it is more expensive to buy that “naturally” raised meat, and if it wasn’t a concern to people about what they ate, then chipotle along with other businesses wouldn’t be spending the extra cash to make the consumer to feel more sustainable. Because consumers are more worried about their health, and what is “sustainable” second. But then that leads to the question…What is sustainability? 😉

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