Sustainable Veal from Pasture to Plate at Rossotti Ranch: What Do All These Terms Mean?
Organic. Pastured. Grass-fed. Natural. Sustainable. We hear a lot of terms thrown about when we talk meat and produce, or agriculture and ranching in general. For many of them, there seems to be no real consensus as to what they all mean. So dictionary definitions aside, let’s break some of the more commonly used words down and see what they generally refer to when we talk about veal and other meat.
First off, let’s look at what we sell at Rossotti Ranch: sustainable pasture-raised veal using humane methods, along with grass-fed goat, chicken and ducks. We sell locally at our Sunday farmer’s market here in Marin county, we are in butcher shops and restaurants across the state of California, and can ship our products across the country. Our animals are always antibiotic- and hormone-free.
Sustainable: If something is labeled sustainable, it generally means that the act of raising or creating it will not permanently damage the environment, and that the process and procedures used can be repeated without having to change. For us, that means our cattle don’t do permanent damage to the land they graze on—with by eating too much or producing too much waste. We carefully consider the health of our land in our ranching methods, mostly because we want to be able to sustain or grow at our current production levels without harming the environment.
Pasture-raised or pastured: Usually, pasture-raised means an animal is raised entirely out in grassy fields that it grazes on. Our cattle spend their whole lives out on the pasture, munching on all the grass they could ever want!
Grass-fed: Grass-fed seems self-explanatory—the animal is fed grass. But grass-fed doesn’t necessarily imply that the animal only eats grass—some producers supplement their animals’ feed with other non-grass edibles. For us, if we say something is grass fed, that means it eats only grass, nothing else. Talk to your ranchers and farmers at the farmers’ market or ask your butcher at your favorite market about the meat that you buy. Honest purveyors should be able to tell you exactly what you are getting.
Natural: This is a lovely poetic word that presumably means that the product comes from nature, that it is not artificial in any way. This unregulated word is now slapped onto all kind of food products, and has been taken over by big food corporations to mean… well, anything they’d like it to mean. When we say natural, we mean that our product has been raised as nature intended—with lots of sun and fresh air above, and actual dirt and grass below.
Humane: The meat industry in this country has become synonymous with factory farming, which most people agree is not the most humane way to raise animals. The traditional veal industry is also known for raising cattle in tiny pens, something we never do at Rossotti Ranch. In fact, all our animals are raised free from confining cages, and are free to roam about the pastures. We think this makes them happy, and happier animals make better tasting meat!
Antibiotic-Free / Hormone-Free: All our animals are free from antibiotics and hormones. Antibiotics are routinely given to factory farmed animals, which is leading to antibiotic resistance in humans and a host of other problems. Hormones are sometimes given to certain animals to make them grow bigger, faster (which makes them cheaper to produce). But this can lead to human consumption of hormones we don’t need—and potentially disrupting our own delicate hormonal balance.
Local: There’s no real geographical limit for the word local—though most proponents of the local food movement put the radius at around 100 miles. We are local for the more than seven million people living in the Bay Area, and always available to be shipped around the country.
As these terms continue to evolve, it’s our responsibility to continue to expand our own definitions and think critically of how and why we buy the meat and produce that we do.