Wednesday, August 31, 2011

American Meat... from factory to our plate?

While researching and analyzing foods for my own knowledge and good health, it has come time to discuss the complex topic of meat. I stopped eating meat a year and a half ago because I realized that I became nauseous after eating dinner (which was pretty much the only meal that would include meat). I decided that I would stop eating meat for a while to see if it helped (it did). I thought I would rather cut it out of my diet instead of masking the sick feelings with medicine- which is what most people do. So for one year I ate no chicken, beef, pork or other meat products. (I did however eat fish and eggs.)

How could you treat this guy poorly?
I stopped eating meat before I developed an interest in the quality of the foods that we eat so I wasn't really concerned with why I was feeling nauseous after eating meat. Now I am. After about a year of eating a meat-free diet, I started eating meat every now and again (usually steak) because I just craved it- I would say about 4-7 times a month. In all of my reading, I have come to understand that my food's food is extremely important.

There are several factors on this topic which I would like to bring to the table....

#1 All meat sold at large grocery chains (maybe with the exception of Whole Foods and Fresh Market) is raised on factory farms. The animals are fed an unnatural diet of corn and soy (insert Big Agra Companies) which promotes an unhealthy abundance of Omega-6's fats (pro-inflammation). A seed based diet (corn & soy) is so unnatural for these animals that it causes them to get sick and need antibiotics (insert Pharmaceutical Companies). Then comes the topic of slaughter, which in America is one giant question mark. There is a shroud of secrecy around the practice of slaughtering and multitudes of stories from the first-handers about how horrific it is- you can YouTube those videos and testimony- it's disturbing to say the least.

#2 Animals in the wild naturally seek out the healthiest possible diet that they can find. Cows will eat grass. Pigs will eat grubbs, bugs, and acorns. Chickens will eat insects. There is nothing about factory raised animals that is natural. I am not going to get into the ethical reasons for being anti-factory farming, but there are plenty of them if you want to look into it (look up Eating Animals written by Jonathan Safran Foer). "All Natural" labels on factory farmed meat are contradictory- just like most health labels paid for by the food companies...see my post: FDA & Other Health Associations- I wouldn't trust them.

#3 Don't think for a minute that the animal's food does not effect you after you eat that animal. It is the same concept as high levels of mercury in fish. The large fish (tuna, shark) are at the top of the food chain. They eat smaller fish that have accumulated levels of mercury, who eat smaller fish that have accumulated levels of mercury (you get my point). It is called biomagnification, and guess what? Humans are at the top of the food chain. So the growth hormones and antibiotics that are fed to our cows while they are being milked, and to our pigs before they are slaughtered...end up where? IN OUR MEAT AND DAIRY! Cows for instance are meant to graze on grass. Their digestive system is meant to break down leaves (grasses) not seeds (corn & soy). When a cow is allowed to eat its natural diet it will produce meat that is higher in Omega-3 fats (anti-inflammatory). The same goes for chickens and the eggs that they lay. Fresh-laid eggs, when you crack them, have bright orange yolks that do not break easily. The more orange the yolk, the healthier the chicken.

#4 Small farms still exist. I live in NJ and even we have small farms. I actually visited one last week for a couple of reasons. First was to see how the animals were raised (100% grass fed or not, and came to learn about humanely raised animals). Second was how the animals were cared for (like livestock or pets). Third was how they were slaughtered. Fourth, to see if I could really tell a difference in how the meat and eggs tasted.

I drove up to the farm (a house with gated pastures and pens, chicken coops, and woods) and met the incredibly nice lady who runs the farm...every day. She was a wealth of information and talked almost the entire time she walked me around to meet each and every one of her animals. Every one had a name, a notable personality, a health record, and many were children and grand-children of others. This was all from memory. She explained the difference between the goats and the sheep, the pigs and the chickens in terms of what they ate naturally, what they ate in the winter, and what needed to be supplemented if and when they were sick. The animals on her farm were far more than livestock...they were her pets.

She explained the difference between 100% grass fed and humanely raised animals- humanely raised being that the animals are primarily allowed to eat what they would in nature, only supplemented or given antibiotics in the event of sickness or a serious medical condition, never given growth hormones, and allowed to exhibit natural behaviors. I was able to see the supplemental feed she gives the pigs and chickens. She even ripped off the labels for me to read the list of ingredients (most people don't even do that for themselves, and she was doing it for her animals). I asked her about where she sent the animals to slaughter and to my surprise it was right down the street to a local butcher. Her animals were not sent to feedlots and anonymous slaughter houses.

After my 2 hour visit (4 hours round trip) I had decided that I will never buy my meat from anyone other than a small farmer who is willing to take 2 hours out of their day to speak with a customer about their farming practices and the quality of their meat. I do not believe that my safety is in danger by ingesting meat that comes from a small farmer who may not be under the same regulations as the big guys. AND the meat isn't any more expensive than what you would buy in a grocery store. The only difference is that everything is not available all of the time and I buy in bulk and freeze it because I cannot just run down to the grocery store to pick it up.

BUT the true test was when we cooked it. The meat (uncooked) even looked and smelled different. It was darker in color and did not have that dead animal raw meat smell. We cooked the skirt steak (our absolute favorite) the same way we always sauce, Jamaican curry, garlic, paprika, salt and pepper. The meat was more tender and had a completely different flavor than the traditional store bought steak. It was a great eating experience, however it is different when you are eating meat that you know. When you pick up a package of meat at the store, there is no thought of the animal that was raised half way across the country (or possibly the world). I did however think of that while I was eating the steak that was raised in the middle of NJ on the farm that I had visited that day.

Something to think about, but I encourage everyone to explore this subject and look into eating locally for yourselves. Some great websites to find out where you can buy locally and humanely raised meat products are:

Eat Wild
Humane Farm Animal Care

Meat and Cancer Prevention

Everything that I am reading now is focusing on how a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables is the best way to prevent cancer (and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, etc). There are strong correlations between the amount of animal products Westerners eat and the types of chronic diseases we inflict upon ourselves (that's right I said it- you are responsible for all of the shit you put into your mouth and the resulting sicknesses!) 

So how can I advocate eating meat? Well simply because everyone is not going to be able to or want to go 100% raw. I myself am in the process of increasing the raw factor of my diet (by diet I mean eating habits not Atkins, South Beach or Zone), however I love to eat a nice piece of meat every once and a while, and like to eat eggs and (organic) butter on my whole wheat bread. (This may change once I start seeing results from increasing the raw portion of my diet)

I believe in moderation. If you like something eat it, but in moderation. Over the past year and a half I have drastically cut down on the amount of meat that I consume. I do not want to eat meat every day, but I still eat it every once and a while, and when I do want to make sure it is the highest quality meat I can get my hands on. My sister on the other hand has been a vegetarian for over 10 years now, and she is grossed out by meat. People are different- what more can you say?

But as far as cancer prevention goes...the less meat and dairy the better. 

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