For those of you out grocery shopping and filling your pantry with healthy items like this, I've got a good article for you today. It's by Eugene Trufkin, author of the Anti-Factory Farm Shopping Guide. This impressive, short, handy guide is meant for anyone who is interested in transitioning from factory-farmed food to organic and hopefully, one day, biodynamic food—but at the same time feels confused by all the labels, and even whether organic food is any better than factory-farmed food.
With entertaining illustrations, videos, and very light reading, the Anti-Factory Farm Shopping Guide covers…
- Differences between caged, cage-free, free-range, and pasture-raised meats and eggs
- How to easily identify genetically-modified foods
- Why factory-farmed meats cause inflammation
- The myth of safe pesticides
- Differences between factory-farmed, organic, and biodynamic fruits and vegetables
- Why seeing “vegetarian-fed” on a label is actually a bad thing, even if it’s organic
- Importance of staying away from farmed fish
- How to source quality water and supplements
- And much more.
You can pick up the book here, but continue reading today's article, a guest post by Eugene, for an eye-opening glimpse into the Anti-Factory Farm Shopping Guide that will change the way you think about food forever and better prepare you to make wise decisions during your next trip to the grocery store.
Is There Any More Healthy Food Left In America?
This is certainly a good question and an important one to answer. For the most part, people don’t care about their health and prioritize pretty much everything over it—typically buying the cheapest food out there without even thinking twice about it.
However, even for those seeking to optimize their health, it’s still actually extremely difficult and confusing to source high quality, health-promoting food.
And by high quality, I don’t just mean chemical-free and organic. I mean a food product that actually has a respectable nutritional profile… That actually has a bunch of vitamins and minerals and other health-promoting compounds… Food that can actually help you prevent disease, help you recover from workouts, and help you look your best.
Here is where it gets really confusing, and almost everyone who is trying to optimize their health runs into this very serious issue—even expert fitness professionals. I was one of them.
Let's say you’re looking to improve your health and decide to hire a nutritionist. Among a variety of things, the nutritionist tells you to buy organic fruits and vegetables, free-range organic eggs, and eat grass-fed meats. Now, that all sounds good and everything, but follow along and you’ll quickly see where the disconnect is. There is a 99% chance this applies to you as well, especially if you’re shopping at the supermarket, even Whole Foods.
So… You listen to the nutritionist, and like the bulk majority of people, you will go to the supermarket searching for organic fruits and vegetables.
But did you know on average fruits and vegetables found at Walmart are MORE nutritionally dense than the fruits and vegetables found at Whole Foods? Before I explain why, it's important to understand how overall food quality is determined by the quality of the soil it's grown in
The Relationship Between Your Food And The Soil It Grows In
Soil that has a rich food web (an abundance of worms, insects, fungi, and bacteria) produces nutritionally superior fruits and vegetables. All of those bugs are essential for providing nutrients to the plants.
Today, pretty much all organic crops sold at the supermarket, even at high-end places like Whole Foods, come from single-crop farming systems. This means that just a single crop is grown on acre after acre after acre. It’s basically factory farming with organic pesticides. What's the problem with that?
The problem with that is if you have a single crop system, the soil doesn’t have the biodiversity needed to sustain a rich, healthy soil food web. Basically, biodiversity equals healthy soil. Nutrients are soaked up by the roots of the plants, and before you know it you're left with soil that is completely void of nutrient content. Crops that don’t have the nutrients to be healthy can’t provide those nutrients for you to be healthy, for you to look your best, and for you to properly recover from workouts. And crops that aren’t healthy, end up being sick. When crops are sick, pests come around. Pests are nature’s way of getting rid of weak crops. If your crops aren’t weak, pests don’t come around. It’s that simple. Pests are simply nature’s way of getting rid of sick, weak crops. No sick, weak crops, no pests and thus no need for chemical pesticides.
So basically when pests come around, farmers have to resort to using pesticides, which destroy that important soil food web even more, causing a nasty downward cycle. Even if these farms are organic, the organic biocides used in industrial organic operations (which supply the bulk majority of supermarket produce) still damage that soil food web that provides the plants with nutrients. And this cycle gets worse and worse with every planting season—more pesticides used equals weaker plants equals more pests equals the need to use more pesticides. You see my point.
This is extremely troubling for vegetarians especially.
See, vegetarians rely heavily on beans and various grains for pretty much all of their calories. Beans, lentils, soy, wheat, other grains, etc. are all grown in single crop systems. Literally 99% of those crops I just mentioned are grown in single crop systems. Thus, all that food is grown in a way that doesn’t help maximize the nutritional density of the crop in question. This adds a really big roadblock to those looking to transition out of animal products. Not saying you can’t have a nutritious, vegetarian diet, but under the current industrial, single-crop system, it’s extremely difficult. You’re definitely fighting an uphill battle on that one. Crops found in the wild might be a different story but that’s a different topic and most will always shop at the supermarket.
Aging Apples & Conventional Carrots
Another big obstacle to finding nutritious fruits and vegetables at the supermarket is the age factor of the crop. It’s important to remember that after the crop is picked from the root, the nutritional profile of that crop begins to decay day after day.
The crop you’re buying at the supermarket could be a few days or a few weeks old. (Some produce, like apples for example, can even be MONTHS old by the time it makes its way to your grocery store's shelves.)
Combine all this with the fact that most crops don't have that much nutrition to begin with because they’re grown in a single crop system (and because most of the time they’re picked prematurely as well so they can ripen in the store) and you can begin to see the troubling signs. All of those practices just equate to a low nutritional profile. They're just empty calories basically, and yes, even if it’s certified organic.
Another important note is that the USDA’s nutrition database is comprised mainly of comparisons of crops that are from supermarkets (which again, come from single-crop systems), are most likely picked prematurely so they can ripen in the store and look good on the shelves (thus, losing the bulk of the nutrients), and are grown in dirt—not actually healthy soil with a rich soil food web. So the numbers you see online are typically a poor representation of the nutritional density you’ll find from produce that’s picked fresh from, let's say, a well-managed biodynamic farm and eaten that same day. The difference could be staggering. One carrot that’s grown in a well-managed biodynamic farm eaten hours after being picked could have has much nutrition as that whole entire bag of carrots grown in a single crop, conventional farm that you'd find at the supermarket. It’s not just a few percentage points better. It's often a massive difference.
Oh yes. I didn’t forget. Why is Whole Foods produce typically nutritionally inferior to Walmart?
Well, according to my interview with Dan Kittredge, executive director of Bionutrient Food Association, and various suppliers for Whole Foods and Walmart, the supply chain at Whole Foods is slower, and the produce you see sold at Whole Foods typically comes from the same exact farms sold at Walmart. In my area, both stores are supplied by Cals Organics. However, since the supply chain at Whole Foods is slower, the produce you see there might be 5-10 days old when it hits the shelves. Whereas, at Walmart (since the supply chain is faster) it might be just 2-3 days old.
The takeaway here is you can’t become healthy eating sick, decayed, weak plants. End of story. And yes, even if it’s certified organic.
Why Hydroponics Isn't The Answer
Another issue in America's crop production system is that it is the only country in the world that allows the sale of hydroponic crops to be certified and sold as organic.
Why is this an issue?
To begin with, hydroponics doesn't even use soil. Instead, the crops are grown in containers and fed nutrients through an IV drip system. That’s like me telling you to drink protein shakes for 100% of your calories and you’ll be healthy. You might be able to continue to show up to work for a while, but you definitely will not be healthy and probably not looking that great after a few weeks. The same thing goes for the crops being grown in a hydroponics system. In fact, chances are, the tomatoes, blueberries, and bell peppers sold at your grocery store are probably hydroponically grown, even the organic ones.
The important takeaway here is that the earth has gone through 4.5 billion years of extremely complicated evolution to form the type of soil we have today that allows the growth of certain crops. There is still so much we don’t know about the soil, so bypassing that step is extremely risky in my opinion. A good friend of mine, Jator Pierre, would always say, “When it comes to your health, best to presume guilty until proven innocent.” I think it applies to this situation perfectly.
What About Farmer's Markets?
It’s safe to say, in my opinion, that most supermarket produce sucks—even if it’s certified organic. Not all, but most. And when it comes to small farms and produce from farmer's markets? I say it's still hit or miss. Some small farmers are great, but some are not so great.
And honestly, unless you understand soil science, it’ll be tough for you to go to a farm and even know if you’re dealing with a good, knowledgeable farmer.
With that said, there are solutions for figuring out the nutritional quality of your produce (2 easy solutions and 1 somewhat easy solution).
Solution 1: Purchase a refractometer. This is a fairly inexpensive device that can be purchased on Amazon. With a refractometer, you simply squeeze the juice of a certain crop, and the reading will give you a good, general indication if you’re dealing with a crop that has high nutrition density. Pretty simple. But you do have to destroy a portion of the crop, which is a slight negative. Also, another negative is you have to buy the produce before you test it. You might find out it sucks after you buy it, but at that point there is not much you can do. You already bought the produce. At least you'll know next time to maybe avoid this farm or distributor.
Solution 2: Another, slightly more expensive solution, is to purchase a spectrometer supplied by bionutrient.org (they are currently sold out, but you can get on the waitlist by clicking this link.) I don’t get a single penny from this plug and am not associated with the company in any way. I just think the device is really cool and being developed by some really intelligent people in the farming sector. With the spectrometer, you can scan the crop and be provided with the nutritional profile of that crop, at that specific time, on-demand, right at the store. Now that’s cool!! I think this device is the most reasonable option for most seeking to optimize their health. You can use it at the supermarket or even the farmers market before you make the purchase.
Solution 3: For those really wanting to do it the old school way, you can purchase a microscope, go to the farm you’re interested in, ask to pick some soil, and test that soil at home. Dr. Elaine Ingham offers a course you can take where you can learn how to do this. However, keep in mind that soil quality changes throughout the year and what rates as quality soil is different depending on the type of crop being grown. So this step is an option, but it’s not practical for most. Try the two steps above first. Just throwing this one in there for the few that may be interested.
What About Eggs?
So you've listened to your nutritionist (or got some advice online) and went out and bought free-range, organic chicken eggs.
That’s great. But let’s go ahead and break down why that’s actually an inferior source of nutrition under the current agricultural food production model and how confusing it’s really gotten.
First and foremost, the phrase “free-range” means close to nothing. When you see “free-range,” especially at the supermarket, it basically means factory farmed. Here, you’re dealing with an operation that houses 50,000 or more hens where they get to roam “free” on a little concrete patio for “x” amount of hours daily. That’s what industry free-range is, even if it’s certified organic.
Check out this undercover investigation done by Direct Action Everywhere and you’ll see what I mean. This isn't an anomaly, it's literally industry norm. As sad as it is, I’m not exaggerating. I promise you. In fact, when I visited these operations personally, you would typically see about 99% of the hens stuck inside and maybe just a handful walking around on that small concrete patio outside—not really the “free-range” you saw in your mind's eyes, I know. I fell for that scam phrase for the longest time as well.
But, that’s not even the most important takeaway.
The most important takeaway is regardless of the living conditions of the hens, which some might or might not care about, here is what’s super important to understand and what will impact your health at the end of the day—and it doesn’t have anything to do with antibiotics, hormones, or whatever.
My point is that when you raise hens indoors and don’t move them onto fresh pasture daily, the farmer is forced to bring the food to the hens. Hens eat a tremendous amount of food daily, and in fact, the feed to raise the animals comprises about 75% of the total cost of production. And what do you think is in this food the farmers fed to the “free-range” chicken?
Grains!! Mainly a lot of corn and soy. It’s these grains that are destroying the nutritional profile of the egg. In this example, it’s organic corn and soy and other grains, but it’s all grains nonetheless. The problem with this is that chickens aren’t vegetarians. They’re omnivores. They love to eat bugs and other insects, and that’s always going to be their preferred food of choice.
In fact, when you see “vegetarian-fed” on labels, that’s actually not a good thing, even if it’s certified organic. Vegetarian-fed basically means GRAIN-fed!
It’s another marketing gimmick the industry uses to deceive customers looking to make the right choice. If you see “vegetarian-fed,” that instantly screams confined, factory farm operation. If chickens are allowed to roam free outside, as claimed with the “free-range” label which is typically seen side-by-side with the phrase “vegetarian-fed,” how is it also possible to claim “vegetarian-fed” at the same time? If they were outside they would be exposed to worms, other insects and eating them; thus, can’t be labeled “vegetarian-fed.” Anyways, just look out for that “vegetarian-fed” label. If you see it—run! If you’re more visual, check out this YouTube video. I know it’s probably getting confusing.
But what’s the big deal with grains? Why are they so bad?
When you feed chickens grains, it shoots the omega-6 content of their meat way up, which then causes inflammation in those who consume it. Check out the inflammation theory of disease, and you’ll see 90-plus percent of all diseases arise from chronic inflammation. Remember that you’re buying this chicken thinking it’s health-promoting. Really all it’s promoting is inflammation in your body. Omega 6 is a pro-inflammatory macronutrient. Grain-fed meats equal high amounts of omega 6, which translates to high amounts of inflammation in your body.
This alone should make you think twice, but to add insult to injury, Joel Salatin—a biodynamic farmer and probably one of the most credible, accomplished, truly pasture-raised egg farmers in America—had his eggs tested by an accredited laboratory in Portland Oregon and compared them to factory-farmed eggs that are heavily grain-fed. The 14 pasture-raised operations tested had eggs that had 200% more Omega-3 fatty acids, 300% more vitamin D, and 700% more beta carotene than the factory-farmed eggs.
Truly pasture-raised hens roam outside 365 days a year AND are rotated onto fresh, well-managed land daily. This gives them access to worms and other insects as well as nutrients in the ground. These are all key nutrients the chicken needs to produce the nutrient-rich eggs which you need to be healthy. On top of that, they’re living a healthy, peaceful life. Not to get too spiritual on you, but there is an old native American saying that’s claims if you eat the flesh of miserable animals, you yourself will inherit the misery of those animals. Guess how happy those factory farm animals are living in their own fecal matter all of their lives?
The basic takeaway is, the closer an animal is fed a species-specific diet, the better the nutritional profile of that food group will be. In this case, chickens are omnivores. If you feed them an omnivore diet, the nutritional profile of the egg will be great. Chickens aren’t vegetarians. They shouldn’t be fed a “vegetarian diet.” When fed a vegetarian diet (grains) the nutritional profile of the egg ends up being poor. The difference is staggering too, such as shown in the example above. 700% more beta carotene in pasture-raised eggs vs factory-farmed eggs. Come on! No competition there.
So Where Does One Buy Truly Pasture-Raised Eggs?
This one can be a little tricky. Small farms don’t always equate to very good farmers, even if it’s a pasture-raised operation.
Here are some key takeaways to ask your local small farmer to know they’re a legit pasture-raised egg operation.
- Do you rotate your hens onto fresh pasture daily?
- How does the pasture look? Is it a desert landscape? That’s probably not a good sign. Or is it a lush, green pasture? That’s probably a great sign. Also, if you see worms in the soil, that’s the absolute best sign that the soil is rich in life and can support the nutritional requirements of a flock of hens. The richer the nutrition of what the hens are eating, the better the nutrition of the eggs they produce. Worms also indicate that excessive biocides haven’t been used or used at all. But just to be safe, ask if any synthetic chemicals or fertilizers have been used on the pasture where the hens roam. The answer should be “no.” Or “no” for at least the past 2-3 years.
- Does each hen have at least 100 sq-ft per hen? I like to see 200+, but 100 sq-ft is a good place. This matters a lot because if you have a bunch of hens on pasture, there won't be enough insects/worms for each hen to eat; thus, the farmer will have to bring in more grains to supplement the food. And most likely, to keep the costs low, the farmer will use corn and soy feed (remember that the bulk majority of farmer’s expenses is the feed to the animal, in any operation). This feed might or might not be organic. You should definitely inquire and ask. If their supplemental feed is corn and soy-free, that’s a huge plus. Not a huge deal if it’s not though.
- If they do supplement with feed, is it organic? Some of them will say it’s non-GMO, but non-GMO doesn't mean it’s organic. Organic means it’s non-GMO and NOT grown with synthetic biocides. Non-GMO simply means the seed itself isn’t genetically modified, BUT that seed can and most likely is grown with synthetic chemicals. Then there is a corruption issue that’s well-recognized regarding grains. The U.S. gets around 50% of its grains from overseas. They get their grains from very corrupt countries like Ukraine and Turkey. Because of that, there is a tremendous amount of corruption that goes on at the broker level of the operation. Basically, chemically farmed grains are shipped out of Turkey, the paperwork is changed at the broker level, and imported as organic in the United States. Check out this story written by the Washington Post.
If you’re dead set on sticking to the supermarket, check out cornucopia.org. Click on the “scorecards” tab and then find the “eggs” tab. There you’ll find a rating system for pretty much every egg brand you’ll see at the supermarket. Their highest-ranking brand, Eden-Haezer’s Happy Hens, is actually an operation I personally worked at. I can tell you 100% they’re legit and they’re the rare few that offer corn and soy-free eggs that are truly pasture-raised and certified organic. You can find their eggs at happen-hens.com. They also sell at a decent amount of Whole Foods, at least in the Southern California area. If that’s not in your area, check out eatwild.com. Click on the “shop local grass-fed meat, dairy, and eggs,” select your state, and go from there.
Keep in mind that free-range, organic eggs are the BEST option you'll find 99% of supermarkets out there. That’s the best, and in my opinion, those are some shitty eggs. So you can imagine how bad “cage-free” and no label egg cartons are. They’re even worse, and this is what’s accessible to 99% of Americans. If you think these nutritional differences don’t matter, just step outside anywhere in America, and you’ll see the results of this poorly run, single crop, industrial agricultural system. I mean 9/10 people you run into are full of mental and physical pain. Full of disease and obesity. It’s rare to find a fully functional, healthy human being anymore—outside of Ben Greenfield that is (ha, had to throw that in there!).
Grass-Fed Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means
Now, let’s move on. Remember, the nutritionist also told you to buy grass-fed meats. Let’s breakdown where the disconnect happens here. You’ll be surprised.
First and foremost, did you know that all cattle are grass-fed? Yes, it’s impossible to feed grain to cattle their entire life. So when you see the grass-fed label, it literally means close to nothing.
Let's say it takes like 18 months to raise cattle from start to finish. Ninety-eight percent of cattle are raised the bulk majority of their life on pasture, being fed grass. However, 3-4 months before harvest, pretty much all are sent to a feedlot where they’re grain-finished. Finishing the cattle on grain shoots their omega 6 way up. Just like with the chicken example above, more omega 6 in relation to omega 3 equals way more inflammation in your body. Way more inflammation in your body equals way more disease in your body, joint pain, and all sorts of other negative stuff. And remember, your goal is to purchase this product in hopes of promoting your health. In reality, it’s doing the complete opposite. Are you starting to see the disconnect?
What about grass-fed, grass-finished beef?
Farmers can easily raise their cattle on grass for 8-10 months, then transition them to grains for 3-4 months, and finish them on grass for 1 week and still throw the grass-fed, grass-finished label on there.
In a way, they are telling the truth. Technically, it is grass-fed and grass-finished. Even if it says 100% grass-fed, ranchers can easily finish their cattle with grass pellets or hay in a feedlot and still claim 100% grass-fed. This happens A LOT. It happens a lot because the grass-fed label isn’t regulated by anyone. There is no onsite inspection whatsoever. It’s a free for all with the grass-fed label.
To add complexity to the issue, it’s important to understand that 90% of grass-fed meats sold in the USA are actually imported and in no way produced in the USA. Even when labels claim “product of the USA,” that doesn’t mean it was actually grown in the USA. I can import a carcass from say, Brazil, and package it in California and still label it a product of the USA. This practice is totally 100% legal and happens ALL THE TIME.
What’s the problem with imports?
Labeling something a product of the USA, when in fact it was never made in the USA, is extremely deceptive for one. It also puts local farmers who produce in the USA (and thus have higher labor costs as well as higher regulatory costs) at a huge disadvantage. Depending on where this beef is imported from, it’s important to understand most countries don’t even have the resources to combat serious crime in their countries, moreover go after farmers that have poor husbandry practices and don’t live up to their label's claims. If you’ve traveled overseas, especially to third world countries, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Check out this short clip from my interview on Paul Chek’s Living 4D Podcast, and watch the full interview here.
So where can you get high-quality meat these days that satisfied the criteria of grass-fed, grass-finished, grown in a regenerative, sustainable, ethical manner?
Opt for local grass-fed operations. A good example of a legit grass-fed operation would be 5 Bar Beef. They use zero grains, zero beta-agonists, zero GMOs, zero steroids, their cattle roam on pasture 24/7, and the farm is 100% solar powdered. If you're not in California, then I recommend checking out the American Grassfed Association. Scroll to the bottom of the site and click on the map. After, select your state and you’ll find what you’re looking for.
A few of Ben's favorite sources include:
- Thrive Market: 100% grass-fed, pasture-raised beef shipped right to your door. All of their beef comes from Osorno, Chile where grass is abundant and the climate is ideal for letting cows graze outdoors year-round. No chemicals, artificial fertilizers, or antibiotics are used. Low-density grazing methods are used to maintain the integrity of the precious land and soil.
- US Wellness Meats (use code GREENFIELD for a 15% store-wide discount): Tender and tasty, without all the excess fat of animals fed with grain in confinement. Full of nutrients that can only come from a fully grass-fed diet—omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin E, and CLA—and free of all the pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics that are found in grain-fed beef.
- White Oak Pastures: Grass-fed beef, goat, and lamb and pastured chicken, duck, goose and more. Animals are raised in a regenerative manner using humane animal management practices.
- Eat Wild: The #1 clearinghouse for information about pasture-based farming and features a state-by-state plus Canada directory of local farmers who sell their pastured farm and ranch products directly to consumers.
To conclude, the issues raised in this article are important, and every human being should be concerned with them. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a successful computer programmer, fitness guru, or the president of a country—mental and physical health always have to come first. How are you going to carry out your life goals and interests, whatever they may be, while dealing with something like mental depression or severe joint pain or lower back pain? It’s simple. You’re not. You have to be mentally and physically healthy and one of the best ways, some may argue THE best way, to optimize that mental and physical health is through sourcing high-quality food. And to do that, unfortunately, these days it is a bit tough.
Ben here again. If you want to learn more about how to find the most nutrient-dense produce, eggs, and truly grass-fed, grass-finished meats, I highly suggest you get a copy of Eugene's Anti-Factory Farm Shopping Guide.
I can't recommend it enough as a handy little guide to getting the biggest nutrient-packed bang for your buck while grocery shopping.
You can pick up the Kindle version at a steal on Amazon and keep it with you at all times to use as a reference.
Leave your thoughts, comments, or questions below, and Eugene or I will get back to you!