Keeping two young carnivores happy can be a challenge. So I stocked up on protein before my sons came home for the holidays. Tonight I pulled out four gorgeous New York strip steaks from WholeFoods, a real treat.

Then I laughed out loud at the label.

“No antibiotics ever.

“No added hormones.

“Vegetarian diet.

The first two are granted, since the meat was purchased from WholeFoods, the nanny grocer.

But a “vegetarian diet’? Cows are vegetarians! Yes, yes, I hear about the horror stories that make the rounds of the Internet about cows in giant feedlots being fed all kinds of crap. But 99.5 percent of cows eat grass and hay and grains and legumes. I believe that makes them vegetarians.

So sure, watch what you eat. But food labels these days can be utterly ludicrous and misleading. For instance: I paid a WholeFoods premium for that steak, in hopes it would indeed be grass-fed, which translates to “delicious” to this farm girl. But the label doesn’t say anything about grass-fed.

This is a real Angus cow.

This is a real Angus cow.vegetarian.

And if you spring the extra $1 per pound for Angus beef, you’re being hookwinked by the USDA, which says beef can be labeled “Angus” if the cow is 51 percent black in color. Could be a cross-bred Hereford or even a Holstein, doesn’t have to be Angus (which my father raised for years). Not that city slickers would know the difference anyway.

My point is not to sneer at the food purists. It is simply to warn you that food labeling is an art form in the U.S. agricultural industrial complex. Read with care and be skeptical.

BTW, the aforementioned steak was delicious, served grilled with our own horseradish and a nice red wine.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

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