How to Know If Your Meat Is Healthy
Wondering what meat to serve for your holiday parties? What is going to be hearty and yet healthy for all your loved ones to consume? Admittedly I have to beg the forgiveness of vegetarians and vegans as I’m going to focus on meat for now. Thanksgiving was a no-brainer for most, roasting a turkey is an American tradition after all. However, I know when I was growing up I never had a traditional Christmas meal. We had ham a few years, turkey some others, and I even remember throwing some steaks on the grill in the snow for a festive BBQ. But since I’ve started learning more about where our food comes from and how it’s processed, I’ve been forced to reconsider the question of what kind of meat, if any, to serve.
More awareness has been raised, in recent years, to the less than reputable state of our food industry, and in particular, our meat industry by well-known authors and filmmakers like Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma), Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Robert Kenner (Food Inc.) and Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me). Unfortunately much of the horrors of the food industry remain elusive and perhaps forgotten when we walk into the grocery store after a long day at work and a tight budget to adhere to. The food we eat can literally shape us inside and out. And because of its centrality to our culture today, meat has a special potency to either enrich our health, or destroy it. Because overconsumption of meat leads to heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and other illnesses, we must first try to consume less. Once we’ve reached moderation, choose the meats that are the highest quality with the lowest costs to our personal health, the public health, and the environment.
So we return to Christmas dinner. Pork? Turkey? Beef? Chicken? Though an in-depth analysis of each of these merits its own thesis, I’ll do my best to highlight the basics here:
- Pork- Unfortunately, only four massive companies produce over half the pork consumed in the United States through Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), where pigs are crammed together 25,000 at a time, which creates a stressful and less than healthy environment. But fortunately, there are local producers that allow pigs to roam in their natural state and act as only a pig can before providing them with the most humane death possible.
- Turkey and chickens- Not the same bird, but both have some things in common. Some 99% of all poultry grown in the States is genetically modified to grow faster and therefore shorten their lifespan to about 48 days. Their short lives consist of being crammed together by the thousands under one roof for meat birds (called broilers) or confined to one-foot square cages (layers) for egg laying hens. There are local producers of chickens and turkeys, though they are only found through famers markets or direct farm-to-consumer programs.
- Beef- The vast majority of cows in this country (dairy and beef) are grown in CAFOs. There, they are fed mainly grain diets, which increases the amount of e coli viruses in their gut and increases the amount of fat in their muscles. If you’re planning a beef BBQ for the holidays, search for grass-fed and finished beef. This way you’ll know that at least the cows ate a diet for which their bodies were designed. This meat will also be more lean and healthy for you!
In general, purchasing USDA Certified Organic meat is a step up from regular meat. This certification, while not necessarily changing the living conditions of CAFOs, prevents the harmful overuse of antibiotics as well as avoids the synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the food chain to result in less toxic meat, happier animals, and a healthier environment. It is always best to buy meat directly from a local producer. This increases the accountability between producer and consumer and supports the local economy.
So, if you’re looking for meat to serve this holiday season, give it a second glance and a second thought. If we rethink how we buy, tending towards healthier, leaner, more consciously grown meat, the producers will produce meat that is grown in accordance with nature, not against it.
For Denver residents, I strongly suggest a visit to In Season Local Market for all your holiday food needs. They source all their food from within 250 miles of the store and have done all the research for you. I’ve fact-checked their meats and the farms they source from are top-notch. You’ll find them up on 32nd and Wyandot in the Highlands. For those outside the Denver-metro area, check out eatwild.com to find the nearest source of natural meat.
Happy holidays and all the best!
This is a guest post by FeelGoodNow Contributor: Joseph Teipel
Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova, Joseph also finds time to indulge his obsessions for non-fiction reading, helping from afar with Revision International - the nonprofit organization in Denver which he cofounded in 2007, and spending time with his wife sipping French press coffee and experimenting with different bread recipes.