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New Feature: Glossary Page

July 25, 2012

In the process of trying to eat food that is healthier, I have been exposed to a whole new vocabulary and some of this can be pretty confusing. I am building a glossary on the blog website, which means you need to go HERE to see the whole list. At any time, if you wonder what something means, check that page and if it is not listed, send me a message requesting a definition.

These definitions will be in what I call “people talk”. In other words, if there is a need to use another word that I didn’t know a few months ago or still don’t know, that word will also be defined and probably substituted in order to make the first term as accessible as possible.

In the interest of simplicity here I will NOT be providing in-depth explanations of WHY something is of issue. You can research that or suggest a topic for the blog.

I am also attempting to stay “position neutral” with these definitions. There are strong feelings about many of them regardless of USDA standards  and the USDA has issued statements indicating safety on many of those issues. I will be a “reporter” here, not a “editorial writer”. The point is to make more people aware of these issues, not to drill home a position on each.


ANTIBIOTIC FREE: Animals on factory farms are given antibiotics to compensate for their crowded and typically unsanitary living conditions and to help them gain weight. This customary use of antibiotics encourages the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains by giving bacteria resistant to the antibiotics a better chance of survival. Because the antibiotics we feed animals are similar to those for humans, the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains is a serious public health consideration. There is no USDA system to monitor use of antibiotics or claims that no antibiotics have been used. Many of the small farmers who raise meat animals in this area do not use antibiotics except where indicated for injury or illness and then wait several months after the end of its use before the animal is considered for processing.

ASH FREE: Animals that are raised without Antibiotics, Steroids, or Hormones.

CAGE FREE:   Cage-free hens are able to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests, vital natural behaviors denied to hens confined in cages. Most cage-free hens live in very large flocks that can consist of many thousands of hens who never go outside.

CHICKEN TRACTOR: A small, movable chicken coop. Chicken tractors are commonly used for pastured chickens who graze on fresh grass daily. The tractor is moved every day or week as needed for the chickens to have fresh grass underneath them.

CORN FED: If you buy beef at your local supermarket, chances are it comes from cows that were fed corn. Though cows are ruminants by nature, designed to digest grass, the cattle industry has been using corn for decades to fatten up cattle. A grain-based diet, however, causes many health problems for cattle  and unhealthy cows mean unhealthy meat. Not only does meat from corn-fed cows carry the risk of pathogens such as E. coli, it has been found to be  nutritionally inferior to meat from grass-fed cows.

FREE RANGE: A free-range chicken is allowed to roam free without any caging.  The USDA requirement is that the bird is allowed to be outside for part of the day.

GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOs)  refer to plants and animals with an altered genetic make-up. GMOs are generally altered or manipulated by a non-natural means in order to incorporate genes from another organism. Usually genetic engineering (GE) is done to achieve a trait not normally held by an organism, such as longer shelf life, disease resistance or different colors or flavors. The dangers vs. benefits of GMOs are widely debated, but genetic modification is currently allowed in conventional farming. In fact, many organizations and studies estimate that possibly 70% or more of all processed foods sold to consumers now contain genetically modified ingredients.

GRAIN FED: All cows graze on pasture for the first six months to a year of their lives, but most finish at a feedlot on a concentrated mix of corn, soy, grains, and other supplements, plus hormones and antibiotics. This growth-spurt formula is the backbone of a hugely productive U.S. beef industry. A feedlot cow can grow to slaughter weight up to a year faster than a cow fed only forage, grass, and hay.

GRASS FED:  The definition of Grass fed beef generally means beef from cattle that have eaten only grass or forage throughout their lives, although some animals are fed grain for the last 90 to 160 days before slaughter.

GRASS FINISHED: A more specific definition is Grass Finished Beef. Finishing is just another word for the time that cattle are normally fattened for the last few months before processing. Typically, feed lots finish cattle for 90 to 160 days on grain, usually corn, whereas grass finished cattle are fattened on grass only until the day that they are processed.

HEIRLOOM: An heirloom plant, heirloom variety, heritage fruit or heirloom vegetable is a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. The trend of growing heirloom plants in  gardens has been growing in popularity in North America and Europe over the last decade.

HERITAGE: The advantage of heirloom, or open pollinated, plants is that the home gardener can continue growing these plants by carefully saving the seeds. This is where the terms heritage and vintage are often used regarding plants. Generations of growers within a family or community have passed down seeds of their favorite heirloom plants. Some nurseries have incorporated the word ‘vintage’ into their name when they mean heirloom. A heritage plant can be an open pollinated plant that has been successfully grown for many years.

HERITAGE COOKING: Recipes and dishes that are passed down from generation to generation and usually are found to be similar in a geographic area with a similar cultural history. Most of these dishes are slow cooked and develop aromas that people find appealing.

HORMONE  FREE:  U.S. farmers have been giving sex hormones to cattle to fatten them up since the 1970s. The hormones increase the amount of meat the cattle produce without requiring extra feed. Cows are given six hormones, including estradiol-17 (a powerful estrogen), progesterone, and testosterone, as well as additional synthetic hormones that mimic testosterone and estrogen. These hormones are very stable and are not broken down at high temperatures, meaning that they are still in their complete form when we eat the meat. Animals that are raised hormone free are allowed to gain weight and grow naturally, possibly increasing the amount of time that the farmer keeps the animal before processing, one reason why the cost may be higher to the consumer.

HUMANE STANDARDS: The Certified Humane Raised and Handled® program is a certification and labeling program that is the only animal welfare label requiring the humane treatment of farm animals from birth through slaughter. The goal of the program is to improve the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farm animal practices. When you see the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® label on a product you can be assured that the food products have come from facilities that meet precise, objective standards for farm animal treatment.


NATURAL:  Legally, food labeled “natural” does not contain any artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives, and, in the case of meat and poultry, is minimally processed.  Meat from animals treated with artificial hormones can (and is) labeled “natural,” as is meat injected with saline solution (claimed to add flavor, which it does, but it also adds considerable weight to a product sold by the pound).

ORGANIC: Food grown without synthetic pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, fertilizers or other synthetic or toxic substances.    No artificial flavors or colors have been added. Organic food does not include foods that have been irradiated or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Organic food is produced by farmers who focus on using reusable resources and to conserve the soil and water so to ensure environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers, bio-engineering, or ionizing radiation.

PASTURED: While “pastured” can be used to describe any animal raised for meat or eggs, it is most often used to describe poultry and eggs from chickens who walk around in open fields and woods, foraging for food (primarily seeds and insects, with the occasional small rodent or reptile if they can get them), and going back into a hen house at night to roost, nest, and lay eggs.  Pastured animals often receive supplemental feed in the winter or during dry months.

USDA: The United States Department of Agriculture was established by President Abraham Lincoln to expand homesteading and establish land grant colleges. Today the USDA monitors programs that provide grants and loans to farmers, food programs to qualified needy people, research, economic development, export and importing food oversight and much more.


This list will be continually supplemented on the glossary page on the blogsite.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2012 9:53 am

    Thanks for this Glossary. We will put it to good use…

    • July 25, 2012 8:15 pm

      These terms and more can really scare a lot of people. By defining them simply I hoped to provide some food for thought without getting people so scared they don’t even bother to try to make healthy choices where they can.

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