I love good food and eating well and interesting, but my concerns and thoughts about what I eat changed after I saw the movie Food, Inc. a few years ago. The film discussed industrial farming, which takes advantage of technology and economies of scale to produce a high volume of cheap food; and sustainable agriculture, in which the farm becomes a complete ecosystem with typically low volume output of expensive and higher quality food.
While the movie discussed all food production, I took the following main points about meat production:
- Large-scale meat production is inhumane and environmentally unfriendly,
- Livestock can be raised sustainably, but the product is more expensive,
- Organic labeling doesn’t necessarily mean anything since smaller organic farmers can’t afford the testing cost of being labelled organic; you need to know more about the source.
- Eat better and healthier by eating less meat.
- Select meat produce produced in a more humane manner with which I’m more comfortable.
- Keep my costs down as much as possible.
Except for short vegetarian-only breaks, I’ve always been a meat eater, if not vociferously so. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, she gave up red meat immediately. In my own diet, I’ve always been aware that this steak or pork chop was provided by taking the life of a living being; the thought never stopped me, but it was there, regardless. (As an adult, I’ve never eaten veal as I’ve always been uncomfortable with the methods that veal calves are raised. I’m told that it’s delicious.)
Note: This NPR article discusses the relationship between red meat and cancer.
- De-emphasize meat in your diet. My wife’s idea was to reduce the amount of meat in our meals rather than cut it out completely, and treat it more as a side dish instead of a main course. This way, we wouldn’t miss the variety that meat provided in our meals, but consumed it in much smaller portions.
- Find new food sources. We wanted to buy our meat from farms that we knew or were from the area, that were either sustainable, or advertised their produce as humanly raised. In New York City, most greenmarkets feature local farmers and produce.
- Since they don’t enjoy the economies of scale that industrial producers do, goods produced by small farms tend to cost more. Since it’s costlier to produce, the meat they sell is more expensive. However, we’re eating less of it through reduced meat portions or serving meat as a side dish, our pocketbooks feel less of a bite.
- Read the label. If I’m buying beef in a regular supermarket, I look for the keyword ‘grass fed’. I know that grass can’t be fed indoors – the cow has to go to the grass – so, in a pinch at a supermarket., I’ll buy beef labeled ‘grass fed’.
- On the other hand, I ignore ‘Organic’ labeling on meat products, since it’s meaningless when it comes to how the animal was raised. A cow can be labeled as ‘Organic’ without having ever seen natural light or leaving its stall.
- To keep our costs low, we got together with some friends and joined a CSA from an area farm. We’ve actually visited this particular farm – the grounds are open to visitors and they sell meat on the premises. In order to take advantage of a CSA, you need to either eat a lot of meat or have a good freezer.
- Ask where the food comes from. More big-city restaurants are proud to know their growers. If you’re concerned about where the food you’re being served comes from, ask. You can make decisions about what to order based on what your server, or the chef or owner as they frequently come out to answer our questions, tells you.
Note: Dave’s Kitchen visits the farms that participate in my city’s greenmarket program, and is a great resource for seasonal cooking using local produce.