Photo from www.dandelioneatery.com
This morning I was doing a bit of menu research for a couple who are adamant that their reception venue must serve meat from animals that were raised in a free range/organic environment. I called a few venues in Winnipeg and got varying responses from "no, we can't accommodate special requests" to "we can serve free range/organic poultry but it is pricey." I also had a banquet manager ask me over the phone, "Hey, what does free range mean?"
Winnipeg, I think, is just on the verge of really getting into organic menu options. There are a few restaurants that serve organic local meats, and as interest from consumers is increasing, restaurants and caterers are beginning to offer some wonderful options.
I'm sure that the banquet manager that asked what free range means knows the idea behind free range, but has heard a different name for it. That's part of the problem - there are so many different terms and most of them are not well regulated, or not regulated at all. I could purchase chicken that is free range, free run, grass fed, organic, or locally raised. Most of these terms mean basically the same thing, so how do we know which is best?
There are a few things to consider. First off, free range and free run mean that the animal has access to the outdoors, for some time out of the day. The animal doesn't necessarily have to take the opportunity to go outside, but as long as it has a chance it is considered free range. Grass fed means that the animal can go outside and eat grass and bugs off the ground. Organic means that the animal hasn't been given any hormones or antibiotics and locally raised means that the animal came from close by (in our case, Manitoba).
An animal that is able to run around is usually healthier and stronger and produces better meat than one that is forced into a standing position for its entire life. An animal that is not in cramped quarters often needs less antibiotics - there is less of a chance of all the animals coming down with a disease. Locally farmed animals don't sit on a truck for hours and hours where they are likely to become ill just before they are slaughtered.
With the lack of regulation it's hard to know whether the label on the package is reliable. The best thing to do would be to buy meat directly from a farm, or from a storeowner that is able to tell you where the meat comes from. That way you will know that it has the qualifications that you are looking for.
I'm so glad that the banquet manager (from a well known Winnipeg venue) asked what free range means. Understanding that couples are interested is the first step towards banquet facilities offering organic menu options! And in case you are thinking that I am a treehugging activist person I will tell you first that I am a little bit of a treehugger. And second, organic meat tastes better. It just does.