Guilt Free Shopping


For those moments when you just don’t want to know all the ingredients, isn’t it great to eat food that doesn’t have a label?  Maybe it is at a bakery or a potluck.  You see it and it looks great.  Sometimes you just get tired of doing the right thing and reading labels and eating and living ethically and you want to just go wild and enjoy that pink fluffy cupcake in front of you and you don’t want to know if the sugar and flour are white and not organic.  O.K., maybe you are stronger than that and you always avoid those unlabeled items or do an investigation to find out the ingredients.


What about those times when you really DO want to know and the item has a label?  Do those labels we are reading tell us the true cost of an item?  I have a fantasy that one day price tags will list the true price of an item.  There should be a huge easy to read tag (one for each group of items, rather than wasting paper to have a tag on each individual item) that says the cost of the item to the environment, other species, and our health in its production, transport and disposal.


Rather than broad sweeping labels that alleviate our guilt but have little in the way of meaning, these tags would be honest.  Some items may never get a tag.  For example: What is the true cost of the Sunday paper that is largely ad slickies and sections you aren’t interested in?  If there were a tag for your Sunday paper it would include:  the number of trees used, the chemicals used creating the paper and the inks, the production and transportation energy use, etc.  One edition of the Sunday New York Times consumes about 75,000 trees.


When the USDA took over the organic standards they got watered down.  It is still good to support organic foods, but they sure don’t stand for what they used to.  And do not assume that organic means humane.  Organic standards pertain to the content of animal feed and the use of medicines, not how the animals are treated.  And labels like: free-range, cage-free, humane and recycled have no legal definition.  The only way to get around this is to use common sense and be an investigator. 


When you buy paper products that are labeled “recycled” these days, it could be only 5% recycled content and maybe none of it is post consumer.  The only way to find this out is to read the very fine print that may or may not be on the package.  The green tree logo and the giant word RECYCLED are impossible to miss.  Reading the fine print on packaging is easy compared to other types of investigations into products.


If you choose to buy products labeled as free-range or humane and want to know the reality of life for the animals, your investigation will have to involve a visit to the facilities involved in every step of the process. A simple phone call or checking a website will not work.   The animal-using industry has a very long record of misleading the public with everything from “happy cow” ads to labels that say “Animal Welfare Approved” or “American Humane Certified”.  Although these sound positive, one visit to any of the facilities using these labels will show that they have no meaning.  The creation of all animal products involves exploitation for profit including confinement, social deprivation, mutilation, reproductive manipulation and pre-mature death.  I have visited operations calling themselves “humane”, “organic” and “free-range” and have found conditions that caring people would not want to support.   

Cage-free eggs use hens who come from hatcheries, where males are killed immediately after hatching. In large scale operations, chickens used to produce cage-free eggs, have their beaks cut to minimize the damage they cause each other when crowded together.
All facilities with the exception of the rarest small-scale farm, kill the hens when their production declines (usually within 1-2 years).  7-15 years is the natural lifespan of a chicken. Broiler chickens are killed at 6 weeks of age. You don’t see that on the “happy chickens” or “cage-free” labels.

Our best hope for knowing what we are supporting is to buy from growers we know and can visit or to buy products that common sense tells us reflect our most caring values.  

Some resources for information:

Book: Stuff, The Secret Lives of Everyday Things