At one time we were. And in some way, we’ve circled back, except that we’ve spiraled around and landed on a different prairie.
Our new free range is an amplified ability and willingness to stretch and distort definitions to suit a wide variety of purposes. The hijacking of words and dilution of their authenticity has become commonplace.
Not long ago, a US president demonstrated our new grazing land when he said, under oath, “it depends on what the definition of the word is, is.” The economic meltdown of 2008 occurred, in part, because financial institutions went as far as roaming off the range by packaging garbage, then labeling and selling that junk as triple-A solid, pixie-dust lined, investments.
Our free-ranging technique of twisting the truth is especially blatant in food marketing. Two, of many, recent examples: 1) In 2009 Kellogs Rice Krispies claimed the cereal would “support your child’s immunity.” 2) Nutella ads stated that their hazelnut spread “is a nutritious part of a kids breakfast.”
With our penchant for free-ranging food claims, what could natural flavors mean as a food ingredient? Bull testicles and sheep lips are natural, so is arsenic and formaldehyde. Our legal definition of natural flavors is wide open according to the US Code of Federal Regulations and could include the aforementioned items.
Exaggeration and hyperbole have been used since there was language. But when accuracy is elongated to harmfully fool others, then those doing the bending are better off put out to pasture.
The marketing campaigns labeling chicken and eggs as free-ranging and cage-free is a more literal example. We’ve grown a sizeable appetite for chicken. A few short generations ago, chicken consumption in the USA per person was, at best, a poultry few per year. Today we gobble down, on average, more than 27 bloated, steroid & antibiotic-infused, mega fowl per person annually. That’s not counting eggs (w/added synthetic yolk colorants).
The same dynamic chicken euphoria is happening around the world. Travel anywhere, to any airport, any major city, and there is no shortage of chicken anything.
Chicken is the cheapest, most efficient form of meat to produce. Chicken producers want us to feel good about eating more fowl because production has turned intensive. It’s estimated that the planet is pumping out at least 50 billion chickens annually. But where are they all? Hmm,…there must be a reason they are hidden, tucked away, and out of sight.
World population is growing strong, and so is our appetite for more chicken. China is the chicken heavyweight. Stats show they produce more chickens than the next four chicken producing countries combined (USA, Indonesia, Brazil, India). The KFC outlets, saturated throughout most China cities, stay more jampacked with hungry chicken customers than overcrowded industrial henhouses. The Chinese also produce a mind-boggling 500 billion eggs annually. And those hens are not free ranging.
But in fairness, some do care, a tiny bit, which is why demand for free-range is on the rise. But in fairness to fairness, this is just free-range marketing. The image of chickens running around, foraging and pecking the ground as is their nature, living part of their life in the sun, makes (some of) us feel a little better about eating them and their eggs. No problem, we are free-range humans. We simply expanded the definition of free-range to include the addition of a popup window to a giant, industrial overpacked chicken coup, containing thousands of birds. As long as the window is open for a few minutes per day, even if only a hand-full lucky enough to be near the window have a glimpse of the outside, voila, we have free range chickens — and free range eggs, and a warm & fuzzy image as a bonus.
But soon, thanks to,
- a growing movement to improve the environmental impact of industrial chicken production,
- an eagerness to significantly upgrade food quality, and
- a new, determined focus to raise the standards for the humane treatment of animals,
a good portion of the world’s chicks destined for meat and eggs will soon be free-ranging, roaming the earth for real….along with fairies, leprechauns, and free-range humans.