Why I'm not labeling my beef as "natural" anymore

March 22, 2017

Why I'm not labeling my beef as "natural" anymore

I spent 11 years as a vendor at several farmers’ markets, selling cuts of beef from cattle I raised.

I used the label “natural” as a way to differentiate my products. Labeling of food is regulated by the government, and while “natural” has a clear definition when it comes to meat, the term has no legal definition for any other food products. For meat, “natural” means minimally processed and containing no artificial ingredients (such as preservatives, food coloring, dye, etc.). Since that applied to my beef, I used the adjective in all of my marketing.

Recently, I ran out of business cards and when re-ordering from my local print shop I decided to remove the word “natural”. My beef still qualifies as “natural”, but I’ll no longer use the term. You see, the word had led to some confusion. Customers at the farmers’ markets would often ask about it, which would sometimes lead to great conversations about food labels, but when there wasn’t an opportunity to have that conversation I felt that I might be contributing to non-farm consumers’ confusion. All those adjectives and labels can be overwhelming; natural, organic, local, sustainable, kosher, gluten-free, whole-grain, ancient grain, premium, prime, choice, select, free-range, pastured-raised, cage-free, GMO, non-GMO, heritage, humane, clean, and on and on. Some of them have specific, meaningful legal definitions and others are simply vague marketing terms and are unnecessarily perplexing, irrelevant and often lead to baseless fear of food.

“Natural” as a label can also imply something that I am firmly against. It somehow infers that beef other than mine or any not labeled “natural”, perhaps the same cuts of the same grade found at the local grocery store, are to be avoided or are inferior. I don’t believe that and don’t want to help perpetuate that myth. I won’t have any part of fear-based marketing and refuse to imply negativity toward another farmer’s product in order to make mine look better and drive sales.

I personally know lots of farmers and ranchers across the country, the majority of them in rural areas without access to direct marketing opportunities (like farmers’ markets that I can take advantage of living close to major population centers) thus their products end up in grocery stores. I can attest to their hard work, pride and commitment to providing safe, nutritious food because it’s just like mine. I feed my family food from the grocery store, much of it without any descriptive adjectives, confident in its quality.

An attitude of food snobbery, led in part by label confusion, is raging out of control and it bothers me. I’m making a conscious decision to opt out of unnecessary labels.

Michele Aavang

Michele and her husband, Gary are full-time farmers raising corn, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat and cattle in northern Illinois. Their son has started his own dairy cattle herd recently and they have shifted how they do things on their farm in order to support him and be good stewards of the land.

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