Food labels are keeping their secrets very safely or maybe it's because we don't really look out to find them.
The question seems simple enough. And yet! Upon doing groceries last time I realized that my basket was filled with bio products or with products labeled animal welfare approved, because yes this exists in The Netherlands.
The thing is that 1 year ago, my grocery basket was totally different. I was in full trust. Weird right? We all heard about GMO, toxic chemicals, pollution, diseases like mad cow or H5N1 and artificial additives. We all know that and still, we continue buying the same stuff over and over like if we don’t really care about our health. The latest scandal that made me start looking was the horse meat scandal. Not that I am shocked about eating horse meat (in France, it’s pretty banal) but I am shocked that I have been fooled. So I started to doubt everything and to investigate, because I don’t want to be abused by great marketing and beautiful packaging. I want to know what I am putting in my body, but also how it has been produced and what impact did I ultimately have as consumer on the planet. And this is the first reason why I read food labels.
But of course, this is all a part of a well-oiled machine in which multiple elements interact with a certain level of responsibility, which means that it’s perfectly logical that there are scandals surrounding it. Business leaders, the CEOs, should, in theory, learn and find out what is happening within their companies, but are they really to blame when we see that we are the ones who anyhow purchase anything and everything without giving it a single thought to what might be hiding behind appearances.
Although we accuse food businesses, in the end it’s we who accept to be fooled by them. Indeed, even though our tomatoes are affordable, we should trace back their origin and the number of people involved since they are planted up to the point where they end up on our plates. How many of us ask ourselves the question on a regular basis? “Mmmm where does this zucchini come from? Which products have been used for its cultivation? Does it contain traces of hazardous pesticides? Have people been exploited in order to produce it? Does its harvesting contribute to destroying the environment and to killing? “
Well we should, although I admit that it takes longer to look at the labels and try to decipher these bits and pieces of information! Suddenly this makes my supermarket adventure even more interesting. First of all I start with the meat. I have gotten in such a state that eating meat almost brings tears to my eyes (all type of meat, including fish as fish is an animal, I mention this for all the ‘vegetarians’ out there who eat fish). I don’t know if you have come across videos on intensive farming or slaughterhouses, but frankly they make me throw up. Tell yourselves that at the moment when you are reading this article approximately 1 minute has passed, a minute which corresponds to 114.000 animals killed in slaughterhouses globally. That’s 1.900 animals killed per second so that we, humans, can eat more than we are actually hungry for.
Anyways I tell myself in front of supermarkets that I don’t want to be a part of a system in which animals aren’t anything but machines designed for feeding, regarded as humanly as potatoes are
Except that I defy anyone to stand in front of a cow and to tell me that it’s the same thing as a potato.
If we compare the manner in which we consume meat nowadays, without having any contact with the animal or even knowing whether it’s indeed an animal that is being sold to us (i.e. history of mince dishes), we will notice that we have effectively dehumanized the process of meat fabrication. As an example, normally inside a slaughterhouse the personnel don’t have the right to enter the slaughter room for security reasons. Once the animal is “killed”, the slaughterhouse employees drain it of blood and cut it. Some slaughterhouses have recently closed their doors due to its grotesque techniques used on animals. Living horses at the time of cutting, sheep hanging by a leg and bleeding in agony for long minutes…But ok we don’t really pay attention to all of this since we only see the small little packages with cute drawings of smiling cows or small chickens and hens so happy that they would sing (commercial for the Foster Farm’s Chickens) while 80% of these animals haven’t seen the light of day or have been treated as well as a vegetable would be cared for.
So, I am in the supermarket and I see all these beautiful pieces of meat and I can’t prevent myself from having a vision of this poor confused/dazed calf being a martyr with its leg suspended from a chain and fighting for its life that was so short and poorly lived. And out of a sudden I lose my appetite. And yet I love meat. But even I can’t bring myself to consume it this way. So I read the labels and I try to find indications to reassure me of the wellbeing of the animal during its life and death. But there is nothing, nothing at all. At least not in France, as in The Netherlands, a label has been created called “beter leven” which means “better life”. The number of stars corresponds to the life quality of the animal, if it has seen the light of day and if it was able to go out and live even for a little while.
Therefore I only buy these products that are on average 1 and a half more expensive. But the taste of the meat is better and we feel that the animal wasn’t stressed throughout its whole lifetime before arriving on our plates. And then suddenly I buy less meat, which is a good thing as it forces me to find alternatives and diversify our diet.
All in all I spend around 200/250 euros per month.
I cook three meals per day and I eat exactly what is recommended for the proteins/carbohydrates and fats intake. And I only buy “better leven” products and bio products. Before this, I think that my monthly average food expense was around 300 euros since I was cooking less and I was buying more processed food. In the end I save money and I feel better since I know that being a vegetarian doesn’t change the way in which meat is produced but I know that by only consuming meat coming from places where animal welfare is a priority a signal is being sent to agro-industrial businesses.
So, if the demand changes, offer will do so as well.
The only concern is that not all countries are as advanced as The Netherlands in this domain. The last time that I did my grocery shopping in France for example, I was desperate. I couldn’t buy anything! No label in France guarantees animal welfare; there isn’t anything, anything that can allow the consumer to know where the meat comes from and if the animal has been treated properly during its lifetime. And this is really annoying, not only due to ethical reasons related to the good treatment of animals but also due to health reasons. 90% of the time when we purchase meat, we don’t know what the animal has eaten, if it was administered antibiotics like it’s usually the case or simply if it wasn’t suffering from a disease that we haven’t heard of yet.
In intensive livestock farming diseases develop and spread very easily. We all remember the mad cow or even more the H5N1. And yet these diseases would’ve never existed if our farming methods were different. Animals live literally in their own excrement, in such confined spaces that they can barely move. Chicken can’t even walk due to the fact that they are force-fed corn. Cows develop viruses that spread faster than in a crowded subway during rush-hour. Imagine your entire life in a wagon filled at noon in midsummer but instead of it lasting for the whole ride, imagine that it lasts until you die. Nice right?
These are the breeding conditions of the meat that you eat and that you serve to your children.
What is the way out? There is no miraculous solution available but we can prioritize and support organic agriculture or local farming and buy from the butcher or truck farmers, ask questions – this will be enough to awaken conscience. “Hello Mister Butcher, where does your meat come from? And do you know the farmer? Does he practice intensive livestock farming or are the cows living free outsi
de?” etc. – these questions you can and should ask. And perhaps that by asking them, a label could see the light of day like in The Netherlands or if a label exists in your country, then maybe you will see more of it. But if we want things to change, we must ask and inform ourselves, we must be curious with regards to what we purchase and see beyond the beautiful marketing job done by the industry as, at the end of the day, regardless of whether we care or not about the wellbeing of the animal, we do care enough about our health to at least want to know the truth.
And all of this without even mentioning the environmental problems that intensive farming (livestock and crop) is responsible for; it is responsible on its own for nearly a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, for the pollution of soil and of groundwater (so the water that we drink) due to nitrates (found in pig urine for example and that cause child diseases) and due to pesticides, for the Amazon deforestation for the soya used primarily to feed the cattle and pigs in Indonesia, for palm oil cultivation in particular.
[encart coul= “rouge”]When I wrote this article, the study from the WHO about red meat and its dangers was not released yet, but it seems that I had a premonitory idea. Another article about this topic will follow later. [/encart]
Personally, I am fed up with being taken for a fool. The tray of meat of less than 1 euro is a nice promotion, but they forget to show us the images of the animal or of its death. I do not understand why we are being brainwashed with regards to the dangers that cigarettes pose to us by putting so many pictures of black lungs or of an embryo on the packaging, when we are being lied to with regards to what we eat and we are being encouraged to consume products that on the long term are just as dangerous as tobacco! Ah but they are in pretty green and pink packaging with chickens that sing, therefore there’s no danger, you see. These chickens are healthy, they eat properly and they do not develop diseases that didn’t exist before like the H5N1, and above all, they are being given plenty of antibiotics so that they are in good health, although they are overall incapable of walking since they are so overfed and obese. In short, healthy meat, or at least this is what we are made to believe it is.