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Guide to Food Labels

July 6, 2018

Consumers look at different things in learning how their food is raised, from pesticides to soil health to animal welfare to worker welfare to varying levels of vegan. They get the information in different ways - some good, some less good. There are third party certified labels, marketing claims that aren’t certified, uncertified marketing claims with pseudo-labels (a symbol of the Earth is sometimes just a symbol of the Earth), trusting the individual farmer (direct markets, here you are), and increasingly trusting the “gatekeeper” selling food. Food co-ops are perhaps the best known examples of this gatekeeper role, curating food choices based on clear guiding principles and input from the member-owners. 

Restaurants are also prominent curators of conscientious food choices - which is at the core of the Vermont Fresh Network mission.

Of course, trusting someone else to watch over your food choices makes it easier for consumers, trickier for those other people . . . who are also balancing quality, cost, consistency, managing logistics of getting and preparing food, and dozens of other things. The Vermont Fresh Network has a new project to try to make it a little easier. 

Our updated Member-to-Member business directory allows producers and buyers to publish what types of products they sell and pertinent information about each, including certifications carried, and additional comments. We started collecting information for this directory during our 2018 renewal drive. (Here's another reminder if you are a current member who hasn't provided that information, it only takes a few minutes: Culinary Member Form and Producer Member Form). VFN Members can login to see full profiles in the member search (if you need help remembering your login info, email 

We’re also publishing a series of guides to provide a little more background - linked below. Have questions about Vermont food sourcing and transparency you want answered? Let us know at and we’ll do what we can.  

Quick Overview of Common Labels

The information in this link is accurate as of this writing (July 2018), but things change, so please check the links if you aren’t sure. 

Local Food

Organic Food

Grassfed Meat 

Animal Welfare


The world of labeling isn't just about defining words on a package. As these short profiles show, it involves questions of enforcement, international pressures, citizen-led alternatives, cynically misleading claims, and fundamentally it's about creating a system where consumers can make choices that reflect our basic values. No surprise, then, that it often appears elsewhere in the news. Here are a few articles on this theme that ran while we were researching this series:

Maine Seaweed Stirs an International Controversy - Washington Post

Is Lab-Grown Meat Really Meat? - Slate

Why the Dairy Industry Is Boiling Over Plant-Based Milk - Vox

Conscious Carnivore’s Guide to Meat - New Food Economy

Mandatory Labels Reduce GMO Fears - UVM Food Feed

Best. Packaging. Ever. - Miami Herald

Who Gets to Define Heritage Breed Chickens? - Civil Eats

How US Restaurants Get Away with Falsely Claiming to be Organic - The Independent (UK)

What Is Fresh? - Vermont's Local Banquet  

Thank you to Flavor Plate for donating their time and effort to the design and co-development of our website.