Pasta, some veggies and a wine or lemon-based sauce, all tossed with fresh herbs and parmesan cheese is hands down one of my favorite meals.  It’s quick, versatile, and helps clean out the refrigerator.  Lucky for me, Noodles & Co. provides several super tasty (and admittedly high in sodium and not the cheapest) varieties of this for me on the road.

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We stopped by a Noodles in Minnesota a few weeks ago, and I noticed they had Naturally Raised Pork as one of their meat options. It was available in pasta dishes, salads, and on the tasty BBQ sandwich pictured below.

What does naturally raised mean, anyway?  In a pasture?  Free to roam?  Cared for like a pet?  Fed only truffles and bon-bons?  Still lives at home with Mom & Dad?  What is a naturally raised pig?  Who defines these questions?

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I asked the manager who took our order what they meant by naturally raised.  He said something about pigs being able to move around and “you know, live naturally.”  Yep, whatever that means.  I explained that we work in the livestock industry, so we’re always interested in how meat is raised and marketed.

While we were waiting for our take-out, the manager  brought out a little corporate information card about the pork.  I recall that Mr. Manager explained that Noodles & Co. offers pork that is fed a vegetarian-only diet.  That’s one way to define “naturally raised,” I suppose.  It was nice of him to follow up with me, I thought, especially since the corporate line differed from what he had originally said.

The recent Dairy Carrie & Panera Bread kerfuffle reminded me about Noodles’ pork.  I forgot to take the card with me, and I wanted to confirm this definition since I knew I was forgetting some of the details.  So after not finding anything on the Noodles website, I hopped on Facebook last week and asked how they define Naturally Raised.  Noodles’ response was this:

Our definition of naturally raised means that the animals meet the following conditions: 
1) no growth hormones were administered to the animals 
2) no antibiotics were administered to the animal
3) no animal by-products were fed to the animals  

I’ve said before that I support the consumer choice and the choice of a farmer to raise livestock in a way that fits his operation.  I personally believe that the judicious and responsible use of antibiotics in animals is a-okay, but I also really really believe that choice is important.  And that includes a vegetarian-only diet or organic or no antibiotics*, if the farmer chooses.  While I’m thankful that Noodles & Co. didn’t leverage the antibiotic free piece in the same unfortunate way Panera did (and I thanked them for that), I do wish Noodles & Co. were more forthcoming about the marketing line on their pork.  “Naturally raised” is a loose definition and should be clearly spelled out on their website and in their stores.  This could be a great opportunity for messaging for education instead of leveraging a trendy phrase for marketing.

I responded to Noodles and encouraged them to educate their customers instead of just marketing to them.  If they actually change anything on their website, I’ll feel like a total rock star!  And regardless, I’ll feel good knowing that I took a small step to further a conversation I believe in.

Yummy sandwich photo source: Facebook

*Good first-hand reads on raising animals with antibiotics: Chris Chinn at CNN, Debbie Lyons-Blythe at Life on a KS Cattle Ranch, Emily Zweber from Zweber Farms (Organic)