Child grabbing strawberries off counter | Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?

It’s an exercise which far too many people are finding themselves doing. Open the refrigerator, take out the bag of veggies or tray of meat, and check whether the contents are involved in the latest food recall.

The newest scandals to hit the news involve romaine lettuce and ground beef. Dozens of people from nearly 20 states have been sickened (one has died) by lettuce originating in Yuma, Arizona contaminated with E. coli. Then a North Carolina food processor recalled more than 35,000 pounds of ground beef for possible contamination with plastic bits.

Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?

The Problem

These types of recalls are not uncommon … and they lead to a very uncomfortable question: Do you know where your food comes from?
So much has been written about the adverse effects of artificial ingredients in packaged foods that many health-conscious people are increasingly buying what are termed “one ingredient” foods – fresh, unpackaged or minimally packaged items that can be mixed with other one-ingredient items to make a delicious meal. But what happens when one-ingredient foods are the ones being recalled?

The sad truth is fruits and vegetables are often picked while unripe, shipped long distances, stored for long periods of time, and handled extensively. At every step, the potential increases for carrying diseases and contaminants. Meat and dairy products are just as bad.

Woman carrying metal container with plants

An Alternate Choice: Locally-Grown Foods

It’s no wonder people are becoming more interested in locally-grown foods. Not only does buying locally support small farmers, but less energy is required for shipping, handling, and packaging.

You don’t need a lot of space to grow your own food. Raised garden beds and planters are great solutions for small yards and patios.

Of course, the ultimate “locavore” experience comes from what you grow, raise, or produce yourself. What could be more satisfying than picking a breakfast of fresh strawberries? A salad lunch with your own lettuce and tomatoes? Dinner with green beans or corn?

Some go further and raise their own chickens for eggs and cows for milk. Others raise their own pork or beef or buy these products from local sources they trust.

It can bring great security and comfort to grow or raise your own food, or buy it locally. No more wondering what happened to that romaine lettuce as it traveled 2000 miles to your supermarket. No more wondering about that crunchy bit in your hamburger.


The Importance of Knowing Where Your Food Comes From

The modern food system is very complex. Understanding how your food is grown/raised and processed is vital if you want to be intentional about what you are feeding your family. Buying food from producers who are diligent about sustainable farming practices and environmental stewardship is an excellent way to begin taking control of your food source.

If you want to take it a step further, you can become your own food producer! 

In the next portion of this post, I want to walk you through the basics of where your dairy, eggs, meat, produce, grains, and commonly added ingredients come from, what can be made from each of these food items, how you can find local producers, and how you can become your own producer.

*Not all grocery store/commercial food is bad, but I will touch on the general processes and food quality differences between locally grown, processed, and marketed foods and the food that you find on store shelves. 

Dairy

Where Does Dairy Come From?

Dairy products usually come from cows & goats, but milk from other animals like sheep and buffalo can also be consumed. Milk and milk byproducts can be purchased from commercial companies with large dairy operations, family farms that pasteurize milk and sell in stores, or from small local producers through a herd share program.

Dairy products on table | Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?

What Can Be Made From Fresh Dairy?

  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Buttermilk
  • Cheese
  • Soap
  • Sour cream
  • Coffee creamer
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • The list goes on

Why Is the Dairy Source Important?

The source of your dairy is extremely important. A clean & healthy environment with clean & healthy animals makes for clean & healthy milk. Shelter, feed (grain-fed, grass-fed, pasture-raised), medical care, and sanitation should all be considered when choosing where to purchase milk.

The source of your dairy products is also important because milk can be raw, pasteurized, ultra-pasteurized, homogenized, non-homogenized, organic, A1, A2, and so on. Most commercial milk comes pasteurized and homogenized while many small dairies & homesteads will offer raw non-homogenized milk. 

How to Find Local Dairy Producers

To find local dairy producers, you can search for a local food guide (this is an example from my region), visit the local farmers’ market, look on Facebook for farms near you, search through local Facebook farm & homestead groups, or just ask around in your community for local herd share options. 

If you want to purchase raw milk, you will most likely need to join a herd share (depending on your local laws). This protects the producer as raw milk has heavier regulations. 

Dairy cows in field

How to Become A Dairy Producer

If you choose to become your own dairy producer, take a few steps to make sure you are prepared before jumping in. 

  • Decide what type of dairy animal you would like to raise. 

When choosing, consider the difference in the amount of milk produced daily, the fat content, space requirements, feed, etc. Goats and cows have very different needs and provide different quantities of milk with different uses. 

There are significant differences within the breeds of each species as well. For example- Nigerian Dwarf goats have a very high butterfat content. This is excellent for making soaps, butter, and cheeses. If you are strictly looking for milk to drink, then you might want to consider a breed with lower milk fat like Saanens. 

If you choose to add a family milk cow, decide whether A1 & A2 proteins make a difference to you. Many people prefer A2 so you may want to find a cow that has two A2 genes (to produce A2/A2 milk).

  • Do Your Due Diligence

Research tools, supplies, and infrastructure that you will need for this new livestock addition and set that up BEFORE bringing an animal home.

Understand the laws surrounding selling dairy products (if you want to sell to your local community in addition to providing for your own family). Selling raw milk is illegal in most places unless you sell through a herd share. Do plenty of research so that you can provide quality goods to people while protecting yourself. 

  • Find a Mentor

I can’t stress this one enough. Having a skilled and seasoned mentor to guide you along your dairy journey is invaluable.

  • Choose a Quality Farm

When purchasing your first dairy animal, be sure that you are purchasing from a reputable farm with genetics that match your needs.

Eggs

Where Do Eggs Come From?

We can eat eggs from many different birds- chicken, duck, quail, turkey, pheasant, goose, etc. Eggs can be purchased from commercial companies that have large poultry operations, family farms that sell to local grocery stores, and local producers that sell direct to consumers. 

White eggs in flat on table

What Can Be Made From Eggs?

The list of what can be made with eggs is truly endless… 

  • Many different breakfast dishes are centered around eggs- frittatas, omelets, fried eggs, poached eggs, etc.
  • Baked goods and desserts like custard pie are made with eggs
  • Hard-boiled eggs make a great protein snack and “deviled” into a tasty side dish
  • Eggs can be pickled
  • An egg wash can be used to make pastries shiny
  • Eggs help coatings (like bread crumbs and flour) stick to food when breading them. 
  • You can even feed eggs back to livestock for additional protein.

Why Is the Source of Eggs Important?

The source of your eggs is important for both health & ethical purposes. 

Commercial production birds are raised in a very different environment than with small “backyard” producers. If you are purchasing eggs from the grocery store, then they were most likely produced in a long enclosed barn with no outdoor access. There are exceptions of some brands that raise their birds on pasture. The eggs on grocery store shelves can also be months old before you purchase them. 

If you want eggs from birds raised with continuous outdoor access, look for free-range or pasture-raised on the label. Cage-free usually means that they are raised inside of a fully enclosed barn. 

When purchasing from a local producer, consider the shelter (coop type & cleanliness), feed, egg collection schedule, and sanitation practices.

Be mindful that a farmer may not allow you to visit their coop or run due to biosecurity reasons (this is a good thing), but they should be willing to share photos and information with you. 

Another thing to consider is whether or not the producer washes the eggs before selling. This comes down to your personal preference. Unwashed eggs have the bloom intact so they can be stored on the counter, but if they are washed then they should be refrigerated. 

How to Find Local Egg Producers

To find local dairy producers, you can search for a local food guide, visit the local farmers’ market, look on Facebook for farms near you, search through local Facebook farm & homestead groups, or just ask around in your community for local options. 

How to Become An Egg Producer

If you choose to become your own egg producer, take a few steps to make sure you are prepared before jumping in. 

  • Decide what type of poultry you would like to raise. 

Choose between species first- chicken, quail, turkey, duck, etc. Then choose a breed within this species. Egg color, size, and production level vary from breed to breed. 

Quail eggs | Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?

If you choose to have ducks and chickens, be aware that male ducks can easily kill female chickens by attempting to mate with them. This doesn’t always happen (I have had luck keeping ducks & chickens together), but it is a potential issue that you should be watching for. 

Now you can decide whether you want to purchase chicks, juvenile birds, adult birds, or hatching eggs for incubation

  • Do Your Due Diligence

Research tools, supplies, and infrastructure that you will need for this new livestock addition and set that up BEFORE bringing an animal home.

Examples of things that you might need:

  • Chickens: brooder, heat plate, feeders, waterers, shelter (coop/run/tractor), feed, coop scoop, nesting boxes
  • Ducks: brooder, heat plate, feeders, waterers, shelter, feed, water source 
  • Quail: shelter, feeders, waterers, feed
  • Find a Mentor

This tip can save you a lot of time, money, and heartache. Take the time to find a skilled and seasoned mentor to guide you along as you choose animals, build or purchase a coop, decide on feed type, and care for your new animals.

  • Choose a Quality Farm

When purchasing your first bird (or fertilized eggs), be sure that you purchase from a reputable farm with animals that match your needs.

Meat 

Where Does Meat Come From?

We all know the simple answer to this question- the muscles of animals like cattle, chickens, pigs, goats, quail, rabbits, fish, turkey, deer, etc. However, when you dig deeper into the different types of production, living environments, processing methods, etc. the answer gets a little more complex. 

Just like the other food categories we have discussed, meat can come from operations (large or small) that sell to a packer/buyer that dispatches, processes, and packages the meat for retail sale OR from a farm that sells meat directly to the consumer.

Farms that sell direct to consumer can sell in a few different ways:

  • They can sell processed & packaged meat cuts (processed on farm or in a facility depending on species and state law)
  • Or they can sell fed animals to the consumer for finishing and processing
  • Or they can sell whole, 1/2, and ¼ animals for a consumer to pick up at the processing plant. 
Meat and tomatoes on wooden cutting board

What Can Be Made From Meat?

Meat is an important source of protein in our diets. It can be prepared and consumed in many different ways such as:

  • cooked on its own as the main dish of a meal (steaks, chicken breasts, ribs, fish filets, etc.)
  • sliced into deli meat for sandwiches
  • add to soups, stews, casseroles, and salads for additional protein 
  • Meat also includes bones and cartilage that can make a nourishing collagen-filled broth. 

Why Is the Source of Meat Important?

The source of your meat is extremely important. The food that the animal consumes, the environment that it lives in, and the stress level that it endures are all directly related to the quality and safety of the meat. 

→ Environment & Stress

If the animal was stressed during its life or dispatch, the meat can become tough and unpalatable. In meat chickens, if the wings flap heavily before dispatch the muscle can bruise causing “green muscle disease” which turns the meat an unsightly green color. Sometimes bruising occurs regardless of the efforts of the producer/processor, but stress should be minimized as much as possible. 

Age of the Meat

The fresh meat cuts that you are purchasing from the store may have been sitting there for 10-14 days plus the time between processing, packaging, and delivery to the store. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad (as long as it has been handled properly), but it is something to think about. 

Frozen meat can obviously be older from both local producers and the grocery store. Fresh meat in coolers is the biggest concern with age as additives are often included in meat packages to make unfrozen meat look fresher than it really is.

Ingredients Added to Meat Packages

You also have to consider the added ingredients when purchasing meat. For example- many meat packages have Carbon Monoxide added to keep red meat looking red as they age (unadulterated meat will start to have a grey/brown color which is totally normal). You can read more about this here

If you purchase cured meats like hot dogs & bacon, you should be aware of the nitrites (NO2) and nitrates (NO3) added to cure the meat. These compounds (specifically nitrites) have been linked to cancer. Some processors use celery instead, but nitrites are produced by the celery so the concern is still there even though this is a more “natural” method.

How to Find Local Meat Producers

To find local meat producers, you can search for a local food guide, visit the local farmers’ market, look on Facebook for farms near you, search through local Facebook farm & homestead groups, or just ask around in your community for local options. 

How to Become A Meat Producer

If you choose to become your own meat producer, take a few steps to make sure you are prepared before jumping in. 

  • Decide the livestock species that works best for your family 

Cattle, chickens, goats, pigs, rabbits, and even fish can be raised for meat. Once you choose a species, research different breeds and choose the one that fits your needs. 

Decide whether you want to purchase weaned animals that you will finish and process yourself or if you want to keep your own breeding stock.

pig and chickens in meadow
  • Do Your Due Diligence

Research tools, supplies, and infrastructure that you will need for this new livestock addition and set that up BEFORE bringing an animal home.

Familiarize yourself with the laws surrounding selling meat (if you plan to sell). There are different laws for different species so make sure you are aware and protecting yourself.

  • Find a Mentor

I can’t stress this one enough. Having a skilled and seasoned mentor to guide you along as you choose animals, build or purchase a shelter, decide on feed type, and care for your new animals is invaluable. Learn as much as possible from this mentor before making a purchase. 

  • Choose a Quality Farm

When purchasing livestock for meat, choose a reputable farm with animals that match your needs.

Understand Added Ingredients

We have covered several whole foods in this post, but I want to scratch the surface of ingredients used in processed foods. Many added ingredients are simple extracts, but some of these ingredients are a bit shocking. 

Natural Flavors

The term “natural flavors” covers a large range of ingredients derived from plants & animals. Some natural flavors include:

  • Citral- extracted from lemongrass, orange, lemon, and pimento
  • Amyl acetate- distilled from bananas
  • Benzaldehyde- extracted from almonds and cinnamon oil
  • Castoreum- You may want to sit down for this one… Castoreum is commonly used as a vanilla flavoring and it is extracted from the anal secretions of beavers.

Anti-Caking Agents

These ingredients help keep food from clumping & sticking to itself. Common anti-caking agents include:

  • Cellulose- made from wood pulp often used in shredded cheese and many other processed foods
  • Silicon Dioxide- this is the most common component in sand and it is found in several powdered foods like spices

Natural Food Coloring

  • Anthocyanins- Red & Blue food coloring derived from black grapes, cherries, elderberries, red cabbage, strawberries, and blackcurrants
  • Carmine- Red food coloring derived from an insect called cochineals. Also called cochineal extract
  • Annatto- Orange/red food dye derived from the seeds of the achiote tree
  • Betanin- Red & pink dye derived from beets
  • Chlorophylls/Chlorophyllins- green dye derived from multiple green plants like spinach
  • Carotenoids- Yellow, red, and orange dyes derived from plants like carrots, oranges, saffron, and sometimes from prawns
  • Riboflavin- yellow color derived from eggs, milk, and yeast
natural food color powders | Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?

Other Additives & Supplements

  • Acheta- Powdered crickets used to add protein to foods.
  • Collagen- Protein derived from the bones, skin, and connective tissues of animals usually pigs, cows, and chickens. Found in broth, gelatin, and health supplements

Original content from Patrice Lewis in 2018- updated by Homesteaders of America in 2024


Pin “Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?” for later

As nationwide food recalls become more common they lead to a very uncomfortable question: Do you know where your food comes from?
As nationwide food recalls become more common they lead to a very uncomfortable question: Do you know where your food comes from?
As nationwide food recalls become more common they lead to a very uncomfortable question: Do you know where your food comes from?