Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the meat we buy from conventional grocery stores came from farms that treat their animals well in humane living conditions, feed them their natural diet without added hormones and antibiotics, and use their manure as a natural fertilizer? But when we order a meat dish in most restaurants or pick up a package of meat in a grocery store, even if there’s a bucolic picture of a farm on the package, that’s not the quality of meat we are getting. In fact, most of us have no idea what we are buying because the labels don’t tell us the whole sordid story of how a few corporations have shut down the meat producing farms of yesteryear and turned the industry into a highly efficient factory process to produce cheap and profitable meat.
The way these corporations have done this is by creating huge feedlots, inhumane and polluting “factories” called CAFOs, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. It’s a situation that’s difficult to face. Who wants to see cruel treatment of animals or acres of animal waste polluting an entire ecosystem or the massive amounts of hormones and antibiotics that are fed to these stressed and miserable animals. And because we don’t see it, we don’t think about it.
But the truth is, that with our denial we are allowing these corporations to continue this appalling business that only enriches them. And ultimately, it is our health, the health of our children and families that suffer. Our environment is being degraded and fouled by these feed lots, and the methane by-products directly affect the extreme weather of climate change.
We wonder why cancer, food borne illnesses, and so many auto-immune diseases are on the rise, and when we look closely at what we are eating and breathing, we can see how our health and the health of the planet is intricately connected: when the environment is toxic, our bodies become toxic. We can close our eyes to this and wish it away, or we can make choices that can help change this profit machine into a more sustainable model.
So even though it’s not easy or convenient, let’s educate ourselves about what we’re buying to feed our kids, our families, ourselves. Here are some questions we need to ask:
If we could peek into a factory farm (CAFO) and see the conditions that animals are enduring from eating food that they weren’t meant to eat in filthy and overcrowded living conditions, would we still buy the meat and eat it?
What if we lived next to one of these factory farms and saw and smelled the waste that pours out polluting the air and water and soil all around us. Would we still be okay with supporting that system and buying their meat?
If we understood that the feed that most of these factory farm animals eat is genetically modified, would we want to be eating that meat? Would we want our children to be the test subjects for a giant experiment that has no regulation in this country?
If we really knew what was in the meat, would we be okay with eating mystery ingredients like rejected parts of the animal mixed with ammonia, growth hormones, antibiotics, and bacteria that makes us sick. Would we still want to buy this meat?
After this sort of questioning, if we’re starting to feel this is not okay, then what can we do?
Luckily, there are some amazing farmers who are leading the way with returning to a sustainable and humane way of raising livestock on their farms. Not only are the animals raised in open pastures, but they are part of a self sustaining system that allows for the natural cycle of foraging and waste to enrich the land.
One of these farmers is Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms.
On his website he describes his model: Polyface, Inc. is a family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture. (From website)
And from his Principles page:
For context, please understand that we don’t do anything conventionally. We haven’t bought a bag of chemical fertilizer in half a century, never planted a seed, own no plow or disk or silo—we call those bankruptcy tubes. We practice mob stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertlization with the cattle. The Eggmobiles follow them, mimicking egrets on the rhinos’ nose. The laying hens scratch through the dung, eat out the fly larvae, scatter the nutrients into the soil, and give thousands of dollars worth of eggs as a byproduct of pasture sanitation. Pastured broilers in floorless pasture schooners move every day to a fresh paddock salad bar. Pigs aerate compost and finish on acorns in forest glens. It’s all a symbiotic, multi-speciated synergistic relationship-dense production model that yields far more per acre than industrial models. And it’s all aromatically and aesthetically romantic.
On a much smaller scale, close to Portland Oregon, Debra and Jon Pearce raise livestock as well as a variety of produce on their 20 acre farm, Nuts About Berries. On gently sloping pastures, their sheep, turkeys, chickens, and pigs live the good life foraging as well as being fed pumpkins, squash, walnuts, and grains. Their waste goes back into the soil, fertilizing the land in a closed loop system that regenerates itself. No toxic runoff, no cruelty to animals, no hormones or antibiotics. This is the type of sustainable model that is gentle to the planet as well as healthy for our bodies. Jon and Debra are the type of farmers we all should support, for they are giving us the opportunity to find an alternative to factory farmed meat. They sell their meat and produce at the Orenco Station Farmers’ Market and directly from their farm.
This type of sustainable farming is not new, in fact, it’s a return back to the wisdom of pre-corporate farming where the farmers understand the cycle of life and soil as well as the ethics of raising meat humanely. By not using pesticides, loads of packaging, and by keeping their products local, they are also using far less petroleum than the conventional meat industry. These hands-on operations do not produce cheap meat, but as they say, we get what we pay for. And it may not be as convenient to find as meat in our local supermarket, but if we as consumers want to make changes, there are many small sustainable farms that need our support. For information on farms in your area, check out these sites: Eat Wild, Real Time Farms, Local Harvest
So here are some steps we can take to reduce our meat footprint:
1. Reduce our meat consumption: try going meatless on Mondays or use meat as a side dish rather than the star of the meal. Some people feel that a plant based diet is the answer to a more sustainable lifestyle, and if that works for your body, that is an option to try as well.
2. Buy from local sustainable farms (often not certified organic because it’s an expensive process especially for the small farm operations.) Ask about their farming practices if you have questions. Most farmers love to talk about their farms!
3. Relearn to cook pasture raised meat that is naturally more lean than the factory farmed fatty meats.
4. If local sustainable farms are not an option, buy organically grown meat. The animals may not be pasture raised, but they aren’t fed antibiotics or hormones or genetically grown grains.
5. Limit buying restaurant meat, especially meat from fast food restaurants. Take lunch from home to work or school.
6. Share this information so that all the small steps we take turn into a tide of change.
For some of us, these steps are difficult, but I think if we are truly aware of what we are eating, we will want to start making changes even if they are small ones. If we can open our minds and hearts to the ongoing cruelty to these animals and to the environment, not to mention the assault on our health, we can begin to change this system one step at a time.
For further reading:
Antibiotic use in meat industry.
The politics of meat
Who are the corporate players in the meat industry?
Industrial meat, interview with Michael Pollan and others
Meat industry reform takes a blow
Growth hormones in beef
Help the climate with your diet
Post shared at Small Footprint Fridays