To the neverending dismay of family and coworkers, I love to parse words.
Perhaps it’s a byproduct of my journalism education or experience as a newspaper reporter. Or maybe I just get some perverse enjoyment from irritating those around me.
By the end of this post, I’m guessing you’ll have a firm opinion one way or the other.
Working as a professional communicator in the food system offers me endless parsing fodder. As I wade through a sea of labels and terms designed to make me feel a certain way about how chickens, pigs and cattle are raised, I am filled with confusion, then rage, then glee at the opportunity to tear apart the terms.
While there are dozens, if not hundreds of terms that beg to be analyzed to death, these are the two terms that I’ve found to be most parse-worthy:
Sorry, but aren’t all animals raised for food raised on farms? Isn’t the piece of land upon which chickens or pigs are raised, by definition, a farm? I understand that this label was designed to conjure up a Rockwell-esque scene of rolling hills, red barns and babbling brooks, but the truth is a half-acre in Pigsknuckle, Kansas, still can be a farm.
A cousin to farm raised, here we close our eyes and imagine animals experiencing the one condition that is baked into our DNA as Americans – Freedom. The USDA defines free range as an operation that allows its animals “access to the outside.” Notwithstanding the efforts of those forwarding the free range agenda, I’m not connecting access to the outside with freedom. I’m pretty sure “free range” farmers aren’t sending their animals into town for a frozen yogurt.
So, I have a suggestion for the label-crazed hordes out there. Instead of labeling our beef, pork and chicken as a naturally-organic-farm-raised-free-range-hormone-and-antibiotic-free-product that won’t kill you, how ‘bout … ”This stuff is really, really good.”
Either way, we’re grilling some chicken tonight.
When he’s not correcting his eight-year-old’s grammar, or debating fourth-grade curriculum with his wife, a teacher, Chuck handles issues management, media relations and crisis communications for Charleston|Orwig’s clients.