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Monday, October 15, 2007

Meeting your meat

I used to have this feeling that the less I knew about the meat I was eating the better. Who wanted to dwell on the nastiness that I knew was inherent in the food chain? Why not just buy those little bits of meat wrapped in plastic at the grocery store and pretend that it had never really been an animal.

For a period of about a year I tried hard to be a vegetarian, but became increasingly sluggish, unable to think clearly, and heavier as a result. I seem to be one of those people who need protein, and lots of it.

Over the last year or so I have had an interesting evolution, and education, about what I'm eating. Spurred on by An Omnivore's Dilemma, I've become quite the farmers' market fan. And one of the main reasons is access to wonderful, sustainably-raised meat.

I used to walk by the meat stand and think "who would be foolish enough to buy meat at the farmers' market?", but the deeper I get into the subject, the more I now think about meat from the grocery store in those terms. It suddenly feels very odd to buy meat that I know nothing about--how it was raised, what it ate, how it lived, how it died. Somehow knowing details about all of these topics has made me so much more comfortable with my carnivore-self. And more responsible about how I walk on the planet.

Some things to look for/thoughts/observations. This is a big topic, so I am just scratching the surface here.

  • Cows were never meant to eat corn (or worse, to eat other cows...). Doing such unnatural things are a by-product of the mass industrialization of raising meat, and are for the profit and convenience of these ginormous corporations. It puts huge stress on the health of the animal, and leads to the need for antibiotics. Corn is pure sugar--the combination of feeding cows this much sugar and limiting their physical activity is what produces meat with the marbling of fat throughout. A lot like if we were to be confined to the couch and fed a diet of only Snickers Bars. I buy almost exclusively grass-fed meat now. The texture and taste is really different (and takes a bit of a change in cooking techniques). The bacon I'm getting is so lean that I often have to put oil in the pan to cook it!

  • The fats in meats that are raised that way they are meant to live is much, much healthier for you. I've been eating LOTS of red meat and my cholesterol is lower than ever before. Farmed salmon has higher levels of the "bad" fats than grass-fed meat.

  • Some farmers are working to increase the genetic diversity of sheep, cows, and pigs by raising "heritage" breeds (yes, like heritage tomatoes, only different...). These breeds have almost been lost because the don't have "high yield meat conversions", but do very, very well out grazing. They are hardy, strong, and lovely to have around. Gets us away from monoculture of breeds that perform best economically for the large companies.

  • Feed lots are nasty, nasty places. You don't want anything alive to have to live like that, nor frankly, do you want to eat anything that lived like that. If we are going to be carnivores we need to take responsibility that the animals we eat lived well, and lived in harmony with the environment.

  • A lot of what is passing for well-raised food, isn't. For instance, those Rosie "free-range" chickens are actually raised crammed in a giant barn with tiny door to the outside only opened in the last weeks of their lives--too late for them to have any interest in going out. Chickens have traditionally run around outdoors, eating a wide variety of grain and bugs, helping the soil as they go. I have been searching out eggs from such chickens (hard to find...) and the difference between these eggs and the "free-range" ones from the grocery store is dramatic. The yokes are bright orange and are much stronger--they stand up in the bowl and perfect spheres. If differences can be this dramatic at first glance, how many differences are there on nutritional and toxic levels? I reckon it's pretty dramatic.

  • I don't feel nearly as guilty eating meat.
  • I buy a lot of meat from Highland Hills Farm, for whom I have the greatest respect. One of many small farms nationwide trying very hard to do absolutely the right thing.

(Photo Credit: Courtesy Dave Van Antwerp,, borrowed from the site)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The omnivores dilemma is a great book and I fully agree with you about meeting your food. I've eaten animals that I knew when they were alive and it makes you have a huge new concern for the conditions they are raised in.