My wife called my cell the other day and asked if I could pick up a few things on my way home. The first item was eggs. But not just any eggs. I was reminded to make sure I got “free-range” eggs. The term has something to do with how the chickens, the egg producers in this case, live. Free-range eggs are laid by chickens that live happy, fulfilled lives, a much higher quality of life than their colleagues of the caged community of chickens that are not given free ranges. I wondered as I picked out my carton of eggs if the chickens that laid them knew they were laying “free-range” eggs, and therefore were producing a superior, a more desirable egg that they could feel good about.

I got to thinking of some of the other words and phrases that are now attached to many of the food items we eat. The word “organic” is one. Our modern use of the word organic began with people like author and nutritionist Adele Davis and back-to-the-land idols Scott and Helen Nearing, who left New York and moved first to a farm in Vermont then Maine, to live what they termed “the good (organic) life.” Over the years there have been lots of discussions and arguments about exactly what the word “organic” means when used to describe food. I’m still confused about it, but always choose organic when given a choice, even though I still have no clue if the food product I’m buying fits any known definition of the word.

When dinner guests tell you they’re “vegan,” it means they probably won’t be able to eat anything you’ve prepared, or any food item in your house, for that matter.

“Gluten free” came along when most of us weren’t paying attention. Now, we see the phrase is everywhere and those in the gluten-free food business make sure you know that their product is “gluten free.” They plaster the words “gluten free” all over their packages and restaurants that serve gluten-free items make sure you know you’re in a gluten-free zone. Now, you can even get gluten-free organic. And I have no doubt that they’re working on something that is “free-range-gluten-free-organic.

Trans fat is another phrase that appears often on many food packages. I know it has something to do with cholesterol, but since my doctor tells me that my good cholesterol numbers are up and my bad cholesterol numbers are down, I’m not too worried at this point. But it’s still good to know that many of the food products I buy have zero trans fats.

I’ve never liked hot, spicy food. The hottest spice I like on my food is parsley, so when I see words like “zesty” or “chipotle” on a package I avoid it.

Time was when the only two spices on your restaurant table were salt and pepper. When some restaurants started the custom of having a server go around the dining room offering fresh ground pepper, I knew something was up. I was right. There was something fishy going on and it was not of a marine nature.

Recently, I was in a restaurant with friends and when I opened my menu, a bold headline across the top said: “How about something Brewed, Braised and Briny?”

I don’t like surprises, so I didn’t even ask for details.

John McDonaldis the author of five books on Maine, including “John McDonald’s Maine Trivia: A User’s Guide to Useless Information.” Contact him at [email protected]


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