Making Sense of the Grocery Store Aisles
The following appeard in the January 2012 issue of Etc. For Her Magazine.
Dr. Corale Dorn graduated from Iowa Sate University in 2001. Originally from Kadoka, SD she completed her Animal Science degree at South Dakota State University before getting her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. Dr. Dorn works with all of the animals, but devotes much of her time with dairy management, newborn calf health and specialized orthopedic and soft tissue surgeries.
Being a second generation veterinarian, she has always had a potpourri of animals including dogs, cats, horses, cattle, pigs, milking goats, birds and fish. Her husband, Dan, and her 3 children enjoy their cat Garfield and dog Abby at their home in Dell Rapids where she works at Dells Veterinary Services.
Veterinarian provides perspective on choosing the right foods for her family
By Dr. Corale Dorn, DVM
The list. We all have one. Whether it is on a smartphone, a notepad, or on the back of an envelope, we are all trying to keep track of ever-growing lists of things to do. For my family of five, the list changes by season and which activities my kids are participating in, but one thing is always there: "Buy Groceries."
In addition to planning the family’s meals and snacks at home, there is always food to take somewhere … snacks for softball practice, salad for the church council meeting, hot dogs for the neighbor’s cookout, cookies for the bake sale. It makes for a very daunting grocery list.
The "Buy Groceries" entry on the list is even more overwhelming when I think about how significantly those two words impact not only my family, but also my community and my world. Beyond meeting our daily nutrition needs, the food I choose plays a role in preventing childhood obesity, saving the earth, preventing cancer, heart attacks and diabetes, avoiding food borne illnesses. And, don't forget that it has to taste good and not break the bank!
At the grocery store, we are bombarded with choices and labels: Natural, organic, free range, hormone free, fat free, etc. We pay attention because we want what is best for our families. But, some of the labels also carry a higher price tag. How do we know which ones are better and worth paying extra for?
As a veterinarian, I’m fortunate to work daily with farmers and ranchers who care deeply for the animals they raise. I have a good understanding of how animals are produced, processed, and delivered to my grocery store or restaurant plate. Even with this background, I have to look closely at the labels of food that I purchase.
Some labels are straightforward. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued specific guidelines for organic products. There is a certification process for farmers who grow organic produces, as well as those who raise organic meat, milk or egg products.
Other product claims are less clear. There are no guidelines for what free-range egg production means. It could mean anything from chickens that truly “roam free” around a pasture to ones with a small yard outside a barn to ones that are raised indoors but can see out a window. The same uncertainty can be applied to terms such as natural, sustainable, etc. I applaud the concepts, but without a specific definition of how the animal was cared for, or the produce raised, I'm not willing to pay extra for it.
I've spent my entire life watching farmers care for animals. My parents are veterinarians in Kadoka, South Dakota, and I earned degrees from South Dakota State University and Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine. I've been practicing in Dell Rapids for the past 10 years, working primarily with farmers to care for beef and dairy cattle and sheep.
I spend most of my time with farmers on prevention -- doing everything we can to make sure that animals are well-fed, well-rested and comfortable. In many cases, this includes housing animals in climate-controlled barns that protect them from South Dakota weather and the spread of disease. It also includes carefully planned diets that are often monitored by nutritionists, and training employees on how to handle animals calmly to reduce stress on the animals and keep employees safe.
Just like humans, cattle, pigs and sheep are often vaccinated to prevent diseases. If an animal does get sick, it is examined by a veterinarian and treated. As a mom, I believe it is important to use antibiotics and other medicines to responsibly treat my children when they are sick. As a veterinarian, I also believe it is important to responsibly treat animals that are sick.
I work closely with farmers to prescribe the right medications for animals in appropriate doses. Farmers keep detailed written records to keep treated animals out of the meat production or dairy production process until medicines have left the animal's system. Meat and dairy processors also have stringent testing procedures to make sure all products meet safety requirements before they are processed for consumers.
Each shopper will choose the "label" that is most important to them, but when I go shopping for my family, I'm confident that all of the meat, milk and eggs on the store shelves were raised by farmers who took great pride in their work and their animals.