Sustainable Shopping Tips for Chefs
Contributed by Georgia Organics
Shopping for organically grown foods can be as confusing for chefs and restaurant owners as it is for anybody else. The different legal terms and jargon that companies use to market their foods can make it seem like their products are sustainable and humane, but it takes a detective to really figure out whether the food is what the farms say it is.
Georgia Organics put together this handy list to help you be as educated a shopper as possible. Note: some of these terms are regulated, and some are just plain bull.
â€œNaturalâ€ for non-meat products (FDA): In 1989, the FDA issued a definition for â€œnatural,â€ stating that it meant â€œnothing artificial or synthetic has been included in or added to a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.â€
â€œNaturalâ€ for meat products (USDA FSIS): Canâ€™t contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient. In addition, the product could only be minimally processed (FSIS, 2006). Under this ruling, the definition of minimally processed includes: a) Traditional processes used to make food edible or to preserve it or make it safe for human consumption, or b) Physical processes that do not fundamentally alter the raw product and/or that only separate a whole, intact food into component parts, e.g., grinding meat, separating eggs into albumen and yolk, and pressing fruits to produce juices.
â€œNaturally Raisedâ€ (USDA AMS): â€œNaturally raisedâ€ on livestock and meat derived from livestock would mean that â€œ(1) no growth promotants (hormones) were administered to the animals; (2) no antibiotics (other than ionophores used to prevent parasitism) were administered to the animal; and (3) no animal by-products were fed to the animalsâ€ (Agricultural Marketing Service, 2009).
Free-Range Eggs: There are no legal standards in â€œfree-rangeâ€ egg production. Typically, free-range hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access. Since they are not caged, they can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging. There are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is no third-party auditing.
Free-Range Chicken: The USDA allows for any chicken raised with access to the outdoors to be labeled â€œfree-range.â€ Nowhere does it state that the chickens have to actually go outdoors; â€œaccessâ€ is the only legal binding verbiage of that rule. They may still be raised in the same overpopulated poultry house-type production and be labeled â€œfree-range.â€ Certified organic chickens may also be raised like this.
Cage-Free: As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as â€œcage-freeâ€ are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors. They can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings. Beak cutting is permitted. There is no third-party auditing.
Knowing these terms will help you navigate through product purchasing and help you decide whatâ€™s worth paying extra for, and whatâ€™s worth avoiding.
5 Tips for your first trip to the Farmers Market
More and more chefs these days are going straight to the source to get their produce, meats, breads, and herbs. Farmers markets are one of the easiest ways to assess the quality of several farms in one morning. Hereâ€™re some tips for first-timers.
1) Get there early. Check the farmers market website to see what time the market opens. Good farmers have very devoted fans and may sell out of food.
2) Ask questions. Get to know your farmer, and donâ€™t hesitate to ask about his or her farming methods, tips for cooking or chemicals they may or may not use.
3) Look for certified organic or certified sustainable farmers. Certification means the farmers use natural methods to avoid chemicals that could harm your health and the environment. Learn more about what organic means here, and why organic foods are better for you here.
4) Bring your own reusable bags. Most farmers markets donâ€™t have grocery bags. Donâ€™t forget the chilled bags for your meats.
5) Check out whatâ€™s in season. Consult with a harvest calendar to see whatâ€™s in season, and then plan your menu accordingly. (Check out www.georgiaorganics.org/calendars/harvestcalendar.pdf for our version.) But donâ€™t be afraid to try new things. Farmers are helping to keep heirloom varieties around, most of which arenâ€™t sold at a typical grocery store anymore, so they may look weird at first glance. Donâ€™t be scared of purple carrots!