Glossary of Natural and “un”Natural Terms

authored by the Willy Street Co-op
A B C D E  F G H I J  K  L M N O P Q  R S T U V W X  Y  Z

Aquaculture Back to top

The cultivation of the natural produce of water,
such as fish, shellfish and aquatic plants.

Biodynamic Agriculture Back to top

Based on the anthroposophical teachings of Rudolph Steiner, biodynamic agriculture is comprised of an ecological and sustainable farming system. Biodynamics employs the philosophy that the farm should be seen and treated as a whole organism and should be a closed self-nourishing system. Farm health is addressed through the use of soil and plant amendments and recognizes astrologic factors over the use of synthetic inputs to maximize soil fertility.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Back to top

Also known as “Mad Cow Disease.” According to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service,

BSE is a degenerative neurological disease
caused by an aberrant protein called a prion. It is in the family
of diseases—all caused by prions—referred to as transmissible
spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs. TSEs include scrapie in
sheep and goats, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer and elk,
and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, in humans. It’s important
to note that TSEs are not communicable diseases—they do
not spread easily like viruses.

Information about BSE increases every day. For up-to-date information, check the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s BSE page or the Organic Consumers Association’s BSE page. Click here to read Willy Street Co-op’s BSE statement.

Buffer Zone Back to top

Buffer zones are required between certified organic crops and areas that might contaminate them, such as conventional cropland or highways. The size of the buffer zone depends on the body that is certifying organization and type of crop.

Cage Free Back to top

A bird raised in a chicken house that may or may not offer access to the outdoors.

Certified Organic Back to top

Organic food must be certified by a government-approved agency.

CO2 Process Back to top

A way to decaffeinate coffee beans. The beans are bathed in liquefied carbon dioxide, dissolving the caffeine into the CO2, which is separated from the beans.

Commingling Back to top

In regard to organics, commingling is any contact between conventional and organic products. By definition, once this happens, the organic products can no longer be sold as certified organic.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Back to top

A practice where people purchase a share of a farm’s harvest, helping to cover its yearly operating budget. In exchange, the farm provides a supply of esh produce throughout its growing season. CSAs reinforce connections between local farmers and local consumers as well as develop the local economy.

Compost Back to top

A mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land.

Drift Back to top

The movement of particles or droplets through the air from the area where it is being applied to locations outside the targeted area. Through drift or runoff, pesticides can affect more than just the crops it is intended for. Organic crops must
use buffer zones to help guard against drift.

Factory Farm Back to top

A large, industrial operation housing animals in confined areas and treated them with hormones to maximize growth
and yield, and with antibiotics to prevent disease. Animal rights  advocates have decried the conditions the animals live under, and environmental groups have sued some operations for the huge amount of waste they generate.

Fair Trade Back to top

The practice of more equitable, less exploitative dealings with producers in developing countries. General fair trade principles include minimum prices; credit availability; sustainable agricultural methods; and relationships directly with farmers rather than middlemen. The goal is to move workers into a position of stability, security and self-sufficiency.

Free Range Back to top

This term usually refers to poultry that is not confined – i.e, able to go outdoors. It does not necessarily mean that the animal was raised without antibiotics or under cruelty-free circumstances. The use of the term “free range” is only defined by the USDA for poultry production, and need only mean that the bird has had some access to the outdoors each day – USDA considers five minutes of open-air access each day to be adequate.  There are also no stipulations for the cleanliness of the area. The use of this term for beef or eggs is unregulated.

Free to Roam Back to top

Sometimes used to mean “free range.” but use of this term is unregulated – it does not have any legally-recognized meaning.

Fruitarian Back to top

A person who eats only fruit (including vegetable-like fruits: tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.).

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Back to top

A plant or animal whose genome has been modified by humans in some way. Scientists do so to take desireable qualities
in one organism (such as better resistance to disease or increased yield) and apply them to another. Opponents of this ractice, some of who term GMO-derived foods as “Frankenfoods,” complain that tampering with genetic structure could produce new toxins and allergens, create herbicide-resistant weeds, spread disease across species and eventually wipe out non-GMOs.

Grass-Fed Back to top

Products from ruminents (cattle, goats, sheep, etc.) that have eaten nothing but their mother’s milk and grass. Since pigs and poultry cannot rely on grass for their entire diet, “grass-fed” should not technically be used to describe any of their products. This term is not currently regulated by the USDA.

Grass-Finished Back to top

Products from ruminents (usually cattle) that  have eaten grass for the last 3 to 6 months of their lives.

Heirloom Back to top

Also called “Heritage.” Produce grown from an open pollinated seed variety usually at least 50-years-old; also livestock that is physically closer to its natural state, not having been bred or altered to fit commercial standards. The flavor of the heirloom food is thought to be superior because it is not  cross-bred to create a product that will withstand cross-country
shipping, or have a perfectly blemish-free skin.

Heritage Back to top

See “Heirloom.”

Homeopathic Back to top

A medical practice that treats a disease by administering very small doses of a remedy designed to stimulate the immune system.

Hydrogenated Oil Back to top

Hydrogenation is the process of adding hydrogen to oil. Partial hydrogenation makes the oil denser; full hydrogenation
creates a solid fat. Partially hydrogenated oil is often used as a substitute for butter because is it less expensive and has a longer shelf life, but still has butter’s creamy texture and flavor-enhancing properties. Hydrogenated oils contain high levels of trans fats.

Integrated Pest Management Back to top

An ecologically based strategy for pest (both
weed and animal) control that utilizes natural enemies, weather,
and crop management, among other factors.

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian Back to top

A person living on a diet made up of vegetables,
fruits, grains, nuts, eggs and dairy products.

Macrobiotic Back to top

Relating to a diet based on the Chinese cosmological
principles of yin and yang that in its most rigorous forms consists
primarily of whole grains and requires caution to avoid malnutrition,
scurvy, or anemia.

Mad Cow Disease Back to top

See “Bovine Spongiform

Monoculture  Back to top

The growing of single varieties of corn, wheat,
rice or other crops.

Natural Back to top

Meat and poultry calling themselves “natural”
must not contain any artificial flavoring, colors, chemical preservatives,
or artificial or synthetic ingredients, and cannot be more than
“minimally processed” (which is defined by USDA as a
process that does not fundamentally alter the raw product). There
is no legal definition for “natural” in regard to products
other than those made from beef and poultry. Natural foods are not
necessarily organic.

Organic Back to top

According to the National Organic Program:

“Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use
of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to
enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic
meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are
given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced
without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with
synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing
radiation. Before a product can be labeled “organic,”
a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food
is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary
to meet USDA organic standards.  Companies that handle or process
organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant
must be certified, too.” See the National
Organic Program
and the Organic
Consumer Association
websites for more information. Also, a
favorite page of ours is the OTA’s Top
10 Reason’s to Buy Organic

Permaculture Back to top

Coined in the 1970s by Australian Bill Mollison:
“a beneficial assembly of plants and animals in relation to
human settlements, mostly aimed towards household and community
self reliance, and perhaps as a ‘commercial endeavor’ only arising
from a surplus from the system.”

PHO (Partially Hydrogenated Oils) Back to top

Partial hydrogenation hardens
oils but does not make them fully solid.

rBGH Back to top

Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, a bioengineered
hormone designed to be injected into cows to force them to produce
more milk than they normally would. Some studies have shown that
drinking milk from cows given rBGH increases a person’s chances
of contracting some diseases, although the FDA has approved the

Recyclable Back to top

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC),
recyclable is defined as “products can be collected, separated
or recovered from the solid waste stream and used again, or reused
in the manufacture or assembly of another package or product through
an established recycling program.”

Recycled Back to top

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC),
the term “recycled” can be used for products or packaging
that contain either pre-consumer or post-consumer recycled materials.
The percentage of recycled material should be listed (unless the
entire product is recycled). The type of recycled material and the
amount of the material that is post-consumer content need not be
listed. Unless a certification program is cited, the company’s claim
is not independently verified.

Shade-Grown Back to top

Shade-grown or shade-tree-grown coffee refers
to coffee beans grown beneath a canopy of shade-trees. Traditionally
all coffee was grown this way, and the variety of trees and the
animals inhabiting them helped to control pests. When leaf rust
started afflicting coffee trees, many growers began cultivating
other coffee bean tree varieties that didn’t need shade. Some growers
believe that the agricultural practices that support the “sun-tolerant”
trees harm the environment. It is important to note, however, that
not all growing locations have enough consistent sunlight to warrant

Slow Food Movement Back to top

A movement dedicated to the sensory apprecation
of food and preserving regional and artisanally-crafted foods and
beverages. It is also opposed to fast food. For more information,
see their website.

Sustainable Agriculture Back to top

Per the Congressional 1990 “Farm Bill”
[Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (FACTA),
Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1603]
, “the
term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant
and animal production practices having a site-specific application
that will, over the long term:

• satisfy human food and fiber needs

• enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base
upon which the agricultural economy depends

• make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and
on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological
cycles and controls

• sustain the economic viability of farm operations

• enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a

Swiss Water Process (SWP) Back to top

A process to decaffeinate coffee beans. Beans
are soaked in hot water, drawing out the flavor (i.e. the sugars
and peptides). The water is kept and the beans discarded. The water
is then run through a carbon filter to remove caffeine molecules.
New coffee beans are then added to this flavored water. But because
this water is already saturated with the sugars and peptides, only
the caffeine is drawn out. The process is certified organic and
100% chemical free.

Trans Fat Back to top

Also known as trans fatty acids. A small amount
of trans fat natually occurs in milk, meat and other animal-based
products. It is found in much higher amounts, however, in hydrogenated
that are used to make some vegetable shortening, margarines,
cookies, crackers, and other snack foods. Trans fats tend to raise
overall blood cholesterol levels and in some studies have been linked
to heart disease and cancer.

Transition Period Back to top

The interval between when a farmer last uses
substances banned by organic standards and when he or she can start
growing an organic crop – usually at least three years.

Unscented Back to top

Used to describe some body care or cleaning
products. This term is descriptive only – it has no legal meaning.

Vegan Back to top

A strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food
or dairy products. Veganism usually also excludes honey and the
wearing and use of animal products (leather, silk, wool, lanolin,
gelatin…). A “dietary vegan” is one who follows a vegan
diet, but may use non-food animal products.

Vegetarian Back to top

The theory or practice of living on a diet made
up of vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts. Strict vegetarians eat
no meat, fish, eggs or milk. See Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian

Wildcrafted Back to top

Grown in the wild without pesticides and harvested
by hand.