Decoding The Package – Shelley Moore

What am I actually buying?

And Consciously Choose Healthy Products!

A quick stop at the grocery store can be enough to induce a migraine. With packaging that screams ALL NATURAL! FREE RUN! GRASS FED! and photos to match, it’s no wonder there is confusion when we actually look a little deeper.

Products with photos depicting animals roaming freely or ripe, juicy fruits and vegetables that would make even a kids’ mouths water, can leave us with feelings of nostaliga. Memories of our grandparent’s farm or scenes from a movie with animals grazing in the day, only to return to the safety and comfort of the barn at night.

But the reality is, we have been removed from our food sources. Many kids don’t not know the difference between a pepper and a persimmon and unable to identify an eggplant and spinach.

As life gets faster and people feel the perpetual motion of go, go, go, it makes it difficult to reconnect with our food and understand what we are eating and purchasing.

But the need for this has never been more imperative. For our health, the animals, and the health of our planet, it is important to continually educate ourselves so we can make wise choices. As always, I am a firm believer that if you want to get healthier and help the planet, eat more veggies and consume less meat.

In case you have also been confused at the shelf when it comes to some popular items like meat, eggs and the “all natural” labeling, below is a brief overviewhealt.

Grass fed

Grass-fed is likely what you’ll find in most supermarkets. Almost all cows start out grazing on grass. If the ground is blanketed in snow during winter, calves are fed hay and silage.

But most cows don’t stay there. They are transferred to feedlots where they are grain-fed with the focus on growth and weight gain. This is referred to as grain finished, meaning the latter part of their lives is spent consuming grains, not grasses. Grain finishing is cheaper and adds weight faster than grass-feeding so unless the package states 100% grass fed, it is likely grain finished.

There’s been alot of controvery over feedlots and the humane treatment of animals as well as health concerns for humans consuming beef that is grain fed which is often corn and barley and can be GMO crops and heavily sprayed with glyphosate.

Grass fed AND Grass finished

These are cattle that have grazed and ate grass their entire lives. In some countries, such New Zealand, cattle are almost entirely grass fed. It’s more difficult to find grass fed and grass finished beef. If it’s not readily available in your local supermarket, inquire with the store manager about bringing it in and talk to your local butcher.


Organic beef means that no antibiotics and hormones have been used. These are used to enhance growth or feed efficiency and when we consume these animals we also consume the hormones and antibiotics they were fed.

Cattle must get a minimum amount of their diet from grazing on pasture and at least 60% of their daily feed must consist of hay, silage. This can differ by region so best to check with your local regulations. In the United States organic standards for livestock state that cattle must graze in organic pasture for a minimum four months of the year. All feed and pastures must be certified as organic.

Tragically, over 90 per cent of Canada’s egg-laying hens are confined to “battery cages.” These are small wire cubes that hold multiple birds, often crammed inside. Their beaks are often cut to control them from pecking their cage mates (could you image being stuffed in a small cube with 5–10 of your good friends?). Cages are stacked row upon row upon row in large, windowless barns. In North America it is estimated that 90%-95% of all egg production is done like this.


These hens were not confined to cages but it doesn’t indicate how much space they were given or whether they had access to the outdoors. There are no regulations on what they were fed or the medications they are given.

Vegetarian Fed

This means no animal byproducts were used to feed or water the hens. More specifically it means that their feed didn’t contain ground up chicken and who knows what else! The funny thing is, hens are omnivores in the wild and get much of their protein from worms, grubs and other insects so hens fed a “vegetarian diet” are likely eating a lot of corn.


“Free-run” means chickens can move around. This doesn’t mean they have access to the outdoors and they may be crammed by the thousands in aviaries or huge industrial barns. Each hen only has one square foot of space.


Free-range means hens were given continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. This can be confusing because technically it doesn’t mean a hen actually stepped outside. Free-range also represents a hen going through a doorway to a screened in porch with dirt or a bit of grass. It’s a slight step up to cage-free if not certified humane. If the eggs are certified humane, hens are given a minimum of 1.5 square feet of outdoor space per bird.


Hens that produce certified organic eggs require the use of organic feed without growth hormones or antibiotics. This does not say anything about their living conditions and most likely they lived in crowded conditions.


Cue the choir! Pasture-raised hens spend most of their life outdoors, with a reasonable amount of space and access to a barn for cover. Some have spacious fields where, others are more crowded. Some farms even list the square footage per bird on their carton. These hens are able to eat worms, grasshoppers and grass and feed. The feed is often a corn feed which may or may not be organic.

Credit: Brett Jordan @ Unsplash

It turns out natural may not be so natural after all. Natural is a very misleading term used by food manufacturers. Having the word “natural” on products has been shown to create positive opinions of the product and its health benefits, however, the word natural is not a regulated word. Many foods that are anything but natural, can be marketed as natural, including GMO’s.


Flavours listed as “natural” simply mean that the original source was not a synthetic chemical. The original flavour source has to be a plant or animal material.

Most flavours add additional flavours to the original source. However, manufacturers do NOT have to disclose any information about the additional flavours added and whether they are natural or synthetic. These additional flavours can have more than 100 different chemicals, including preservatives, solvents and other substances.

Natural and artificial flavours are found in many popular products that are consumed year round including: cheese, ice cream, cereal, dressing, chips and even medications.

Credit: Etienne Girardet @ Unsplash


Artificial food dye consumption has increased by 500% in the last 50 years, with children being the biggest consumers.

Most artificial colours are made from petroleum and are used mainly to make the food more visually appealing. Artificial Colours have been linked with cancer, hyperactivity, asthma, allergies and depression. Some countries have banned the use of these artificial colours but we still see them in processed foods in North America.

Sources: (1),(2),(3),(4),(5),(6),(7),(8),(9),(10),(11),(12)

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