Vegan, Vegetarian, Ovo-lacto Vegetarian, Pescetarian, Paleolithic, Traditonal Foodie, Meatetarian… what are you? Are you confused about where you fit into the food spectrum? Maybe you’re not even sure what half of those terms mean. Until a few years ago, I was generally in the “stuff whatever looks good in your pie-hole-etarian” genre.
But…after much research, thought and consideration, we changed our evil ways and my family now eats meat and animal products in careful moderation and I’m very picky about where what we do eat comes from. Our normal animal product consumption consists of raw milk from grass-fed Jersey cows, eggs from chickens we raise ourselves, grass-fed butter (the butter doesn’t eat the grass, the cows do!), raw cheeses, and carefully sourced beef, pork, chicken and fish. I do my best to make sure our meat products are organic, grass-fed (or fed their traditional diet), naturally and sustainably raised. Of course cost and how far my budget will stretch is always a consideration, too. So what does all this mean and how can you make sure you’re getting the healthiest products for the bucks you have to spend?
Here are three factors to consider when choosing/purchasing animal products.
What went in will come out
And no, I’m not talking about poo. The first thing to consider when choosing your meat and dairy foods is what went into this animal I’m chewing on?
- What type of diet was it fed?
- Was the food it ate treated with pesticides?
- Was the primary diet the natural and traditional diet of this animal type? (for example, was your omnivorous chicken fed an all soy or corn diet? Or even chicken? Sick, I know.)
- Was the animal given antibiotics, hormones, vaccines or other drugs?
If you’re like I was, you probably have no idea how to find the answers to these questions and may have never even considered asking them. Well, now that the cat’s out of the bag, I’m going to help you decode labels and have a better idea of what went into that nice, juicy hamburger you’re wolfing down. See this post for how to read your meat and dairy labels.
You can pretty much bank on commercially farmed animal products being laden with pesticide, hormone and antibiotics residues as well as the animals being fed unnatural diets and kept in sub-par living conditions. Look for products that are labeled organic, free-range, pastured, not treated with rBST, wild-caught, etc.
What the animal ate and was treated with really makes a huge difference in the final product quality as well as your long term health. The very best way to source meat and dairy is from local farmers. In our area, we have access to raw milk dairies and organic, grass-fed and sustainable farms where you actually buy your food directly from the farm that produced it. We can tour the farm and see the animals in their natural living conditions. If you don’t have access to local farms, farmers markets or can’t afford those options, products from whole foods grocers or sometimes places like Costco and other mainstream grocers are usually the next best thing. Otherwise, pick one or two items that you eat a lot of and splurge on that. If you use ground beef and chicken in a lot of your cooking, find the very best hamburger and chicken you can afford and buy that on a regular basis.
Filthy as a pig sty
Equally as important as the diet of the animal is how it was raised and kept.
- Was the animal caged inhumanely?
- Was the animal allowed access to pasture, sunlight and fresh air?
- Was the animal elbow deep in doo doo and given one square inch in which to live out its short life?
Chickens like to run around loose, freely pecking at grass and eating unsuspecting grasshoppers. They are omnivores who enjoy their greens as well lizards and insects. The most omega 3s are found in eggs from pastured chickens (i.e. chickens who roam free a majority of the time). Cows are ruminants whose mains source of food should be grass and forage. They are designed to be constantly grazing on pasture. Commercially farmed animals are generally caged or confined unnaturally and fed a grain or soy-based diet. This causes all sorts of trouble for them and for the unsuspecting humans eating their meat, eggs and milk. Choosing products from animals that are naturally, sustainably and humanely farmed ensures you get the healthiest, most nutrient dense food.
My chicken’s injected with what?
Once you’ve considered what the animal ate and how it was raised, you must consider what happened after slaughter or collection and during processing. I know no one really wants to talk about the fact that eggs come from a chicken’s butt or that your juicy, rare T-bone is really a piece of a dead cow, but it’s a fact folks. How animals are treated directly before being slaughtered makes a difference in the meat you eat. That’s a whole other post in itself (or maybe not…), but sadly, it’s true.
How your eggs or milk are handled after collection makes a difference in the quality and nutrition.
- Is your milk pasteurized or homogenized?
- Were your eggs pasteurized? How old are those eggs really when you buy them? I have read that some are upwards of six months old when sitting on the grocery store shelf.
- Is your chicken injected with a “solution” of mysterious origins? Oh yes people, they do that, too.
My most asked question for a while was does this meat contain fillers or the dreaded “pink slime”? (dry heave) While it seems completely ridiculous, up to 80% of ground beef has “pink slime” added to it. Our own FDA has given its blessing for this nonsense since 2003. What’s “pink slime”, you ask? That’s a story for another day, kiddies. Or Google it. On second thought, don’t if you ever plan to eat a fast food burger again. To make sure you never unwittingly partake of “pink slime”, make sure to always buy meat labeled “USDA Organic”. If possible, get yours from a local grass-fed farm. Only 100% beef there.
Bottom line here, friends, is to be informed consumers. Do your best to know what you’re eating. Learn to read labels and pay attention to ingredients. Your health is worth the extra time and cost it takes to source out organic, ethically and sustainably raised food. We are given stewardship and dominion over the animals of the earth to use carefully and with prudence and thanksgiving. It’s our job to make sure that we’re taking that responsibility seriously and doing the best we can for our animal friends.
CC Images courtesy of Archief National and the U.S. National Archives on Flikr