‘Free Range’ Means Absolutely Nothing
The biggest trap we often fall into as consumers is frustratingly the one that’s hardest to see. But when you think about it, a good trap isn’t any good if you can see it coming.
When many of us go out to eat, we often try and find something on the menu that’s healthy yet filling. We want to like the look of the food, but it also has to feel healthy enough that it’s not going to stretch our waist-line.
The trap we often fall into is believing that something is healthy because it’s surrounded by a health halo, a visual trick so good that it’s nothing short of a magic trick.
There are many ways that companies utilise the health halo, and it’s challenging to go the entire day without seeing them in action.
The health halo is a marketing trick used to trick us into consuming more of a product than we may do otherwise, and it’s responsible for a lot of the health issues we’re facing as a society today.
Packaging a Halo
The most commonly seen health halo is the one that appears on almost every packaged food available in the supermarket.
The halo exists as printed health claims that either mean nothing, or bend the truth.
One of the most common claims being used on meat at the moment is “no added hormones”.
Companies add this claim because they know that the public consciousness is focused on animal hormones at the moment. They want to give us the impression that while “the other guy” is pumping their meat full of hormones, they aren’t.
But here’s the thing, no one is injecting meat with “growth hormones,” all that exists is the implication.
Farmers have wanted fatter and lazier animals such as chickens and pigs for more than a hundred years. So to achieve that, they’ve been selectively breeding them so that the fattest and laziest traits get passed down the generations.
Between selective breeding and some genetic alteration, the animals have become enormous on their own. There are companies that specialise in selling eggs that are descended from certain genetic lines to ensure they’re going to be bone-breakingly enormous.
What we should be concerned about are other terrible things actually being giving to animals, such as antibiotics.
Farmed animals need antibiotics to stave off the hundreds of infections that would otherwise occur because of their horrible living conditions.
The animals ingest the antibiotics, and we ingest the animal. Antibiotic resistance is then passed down to us, leaving us with the consequences. Then one day when we get an infection, it may no longer be treatable.
So while the animals are stuffed with medicine, there’s no real need to inject them with any growth hormones.
The Labels Mean Nothing
The claim “no growth hormones” in reality means as little as “cage-free”. (All chickens in the US are cage-free, they’re kept tightly packed in enormous barns instead).
Free-Range is also meaningless.
The USDA requires that free range chickens have “outdoor access.” For some farms, this condition is satisfied by drilling a hole in the wall through which the birds can stick their heads if they feel like it. (Chickens are the only animals who have USDA guidelines regarding free-range eligibility).
While free-range chickens can technically access sunlight, they wouldn’t want to. A side effect of their selected breeding has meant that their bodies are so unnaturally big, a lot of their skin is bare and exposed.
They don’t grow enough feathers to cover their whole bodies, so the sun hurts them.
Packaging Is a Lie
The health halo that exists on packaging is there to trick us into eating more of something we’d otherwise eat a smaller amount of.
We see meaningless claims like “30% less sodium” and feel that we can eat 30% more than we otherwise would.
Instead, we should be looking at the ingredient list and seeing what’s actually inside. We should know what foods work well with our body, and ensure that we’re eating everything in moderation.
Probably the biggest deception I’ve seen are the labels they add to butter alternatives such as margarine.
Companies will write “lower your cholesterol by 50%” suggesting that eating their product will somehow literally bring your cholesterol down. I’ve seen members of my family spread it thickly on bread, treating it more like a medicine than a snack.
It’s only once you read the small print that you see that their claim simply means that if you’re someone who eats an equivalent amount of full-fat butter, you may notice that once you’re eating their alternative, you might absorb up to 50% less cholesterol than you otherwise would.
What they don’t say is that if you just skipped butter, you’d be a lot healthier than if you smeared their tasteless crap on your bread every day.
The only part of the packaging we should ever be reading is the nutritional information and the ingredient list.
The front of the package is nothing more than expensive design work and ludicrous fiction and should be taken as seriously as a Marvel film.
The next time you’re in a supermarket, look at the packaging and really think about what it actually means.
Think about arguably the most common claim of all: “all-natural”.
What could that possibly mean? Who’s policing that claim? What does that mean for your health? What’s the alternative?
The answers are: it means nothing, no-one, nothing, all chemical?
It’s a common and consequence-free fiction that looks good and feels good for the customer.
But good feelings don’t provide nutrition, so we shouldn’t reward companies for their fiction anymore.
From now on we should keep fiction on the screen and out of our stomachs. Because unfortunately for us, the health implications aren’t as fictional as food packaging.