Seeking Evening Companionship
I am fed up with bringing home deceptive groceries, possibly hiding unwanted antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones. Can I rekindle my love, trust, and simple enjoyment with quality, happy meat? Is it possible you are out there, not overpriced? Do you exist?
~ Signed, Ima B. Leever
With no one replying to my want ad, I headed out on my own. While shopping at my local Whole Foods market, a grocery store dedicated to “selling the highest quality natural and organic products,” I rounded the grocery aisle between dairy and seafood and gasped at what I saw in the meat section. With giddy excitement, I thought perhaps I might have found my soul meat.
To be fair, I’m a little dreamy when shopping at Whole Foods. The first national chain store to blend the natural foods industry into a mainstream supermarket format makes me tingle. My experience shopping there is a blend of back-to-school anticipation, four-year old Disneyland euphoria, and maybe a couple fluttering jazz hands rolled into eighty-seven minutes and one overflowing cart. You see, for me, it’s the only place tucked up here in the Northeast corner of our country that offers a selection of foods free from artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated fats all in one location. While I can (and do) go searching hither and yon for healthy food options for my family, I’m as busy as the next mom. One-stop shopping is always a bonus.
(At Whole Foods Market Headquarters in Austin, Texas for research on the Global Animal Partnership program.)
FIRST DATE: WHEN I MET GAP AT WHOLE FOODS
Displayed in the Whole Foods meat case was an innovative, color-coded meat rating system. This visual technique allowed customers to understand, in just a glance, how the meat was raised. It proved to be a good first step for me in figuring out where my meat originated and the life it led before it came to reside behind the glass case.
This five-step rating system was established by the Global Animal Partnership (GAP). This organization uses third party certifiers to evaluate the animals’ health, well-being, handling, living conditions, and transportation. The findings were neatly categorized using brightly colored bars and touted the positives in shopper-friendly phrases:
- Step 1: Orange = No Cages, No Crowding
- Step 2: Orange Plus = Enriched Environment
- Step 3: Yellow = Enhanced Outdoor Access
- Step 4: Green = Pasture Centered
- Step 5: Green = Animal Centered, Bred for Outdoors And, a bonus
- Step 5: Green Plus = Animal Centered, Entire Life on Same Farm
Selecting a green over orange could be the difference between your Coq Au Vin having a place to perch and access to outdoor shade, versus living indoors full-time. Or the difference between your beef taking a twenty five hour versus eight-hour ride from the farm to slaughter. GAP rated meat isn’t exclusive to Whole Foods, but that’s the easiest place to find it. In a glance, it allows the consumer a chance to make a more informed decision. An opportunity to choose wiser.
CHECKING OUT USDA ORGANIC
Another option within Whole Foods and some other traditional grocery stores is USDA Organic. USDA Organic promotes healthy, humanely treated animals by ensuring farmers provide them with organically grown feed and access to fresh air and the outdoors. It prohibits the use of antibiotics or added growth hormones. USDA Organic’s ideals are a starting place when shopping at your favorite grocery store. Not all markets carry USDA Organic meat, however, and it can be a somewhat pricey option.
PLAYING THE FIELD WITH CERTIFIED HUMANE
A third option has grown over the last few years as well: meat labeled Certified Humane®. The Humane Farm and Animal Care (HFAC) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the welfare of farm animals from birth through slaughter. When a product is labeled Certified Humane®, it meets HFAC program standards, which include a nutritious diet without antibiotics or hormones and animals raised with shelter and resting areas, sufficient space, and the ability to engage in natural behaviors. Certified Humane® rates meats, deli meats, dairy, frozen foods, and eggs. The standards for HFAC animal care are rigorous and fiercely protective of the animal’s lifestyle. The drawback (for me) for Certified Humane® products is that animals don’t have to be fed an organic diet.
Out of my desire to stay on top of the latest meaty news, I registered for updates from HFAC. Occasionally an announcement will arrive in my inbox of a business who has recently (and proudly) earned the Certified Humane® label. When I receive these announcements, I take a moment to send the business a congratulatory email on their achievement. Regardless of whether they are local or not, I hope sending a random-act-of kindness note shows my appreciation for their efforts.
USDA Organic, GAP, and Certified Humane® are separate ideas, goals, and missions, toward the same movement. These organizations offer options and starting points for consumers who want healthier meat. By taking this as a personal challenge, I was able to locate alternatives to grocery store CAFO meat. While I felt so much better about these choices, it meant cutting back on portions and accepting top prices.
(On the border of Massachusetts and Vermont, having discussions with my children on the food chain and choices. )
THEN CAME MY BREAKTROUGH
Our family visited a grass-fed cattle farm in western Massachusetts. A humble farmhouse overlooked rolling, pastured hills. We spent the afternoon talking to the farmers and touring the farm. There wasn’t a stench. The Belted Galloway herd wasn’t packed in confined spaces for profit. Pleased with what I saw and how I felt meeting the farmers who raised the cows, we purchased one hundred pounds of beef at $6.49 a pound.
I know what you’re thinking: “What everyday family has $650.00 to drop on a side of cow?” or “That’s more than my car payment!” While it was more expensive compared to conventional grocery store ground beef, this was close to a year’s supply of meat for us, simply paid up front. The best news? This delivery included T-bones, ribs, tenderloin, roasts, sausage, and stew meat—a steal by any grocery store flyer. Returning home, we divided the beef and cost among friends. Purchasing meat this way does require a shift in shopping strategy, and finding friends to share the loot makes it more affordable for everyone.
Finding our grass-fed beef supplier was the solution to my meat search.
I felt like I was doing something good for my family, beneficial, not just fulfilling a task.
With a sigh of relief, I was delighted my burgers and sausage exceeded my hunter-husband’s expectations for flavor and taste.
- Since cooking with grass-fed beef requires lower cooking temperatures and a third less time (due to less fat), once I mastered my techniques, I was set.
- Recipes that used slow- cooking methods were exceptionally succulent.
- The most radical suppertime change was an emotional shift. I became deeply thankful. Maybe it was because I had invested so much time into the learning curve. Or maybe I felt at peace with nourishing my body with an animal that also had a decent life. Or maybe it was the extra money I was investing. Roast servings were smaller and bites savored. I made more of an effort to turn leftover chicken breast into chicken salad sandwiches for the next day’s lunches. Poultry carcasses were turned into soup stock. Regardless, not a scrap was wasted or tossed into the garbage.
We may spend a little more, but we use less, and enjoy deeply. None of us has ever craved unhappy, run-of-the-mill meat.
Of course, Michael Pollan was able to capture many of my sentiments in Omnivore’s Dilemma:
The industrialization–and brutalization–of animals in America is a relatively new, evitable, and local phenomenon:
no other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or as brutally as we do.
No other people in history have lived at quite so great a remove from animals they eat. Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.
Tail docking and sow crates and beak clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering four hundred head of cattle an hour would promptly come to an end–for who could stand the sight?
Yes, meat would get more expensive. We’d probably eat a lot less of it too, but maybe when we did eat animals, we’d eat them with the consciousness, ceremony and respect they deserve
(Swooning as I hand my author-hero Michael Polllen the very first copy of Little Changes in Boston, MA hoping he might enjoy flipping through it on his flight home. To this day, I think of his book Omnivore's Dilemna as my 'first' eye-opening experience to the world of food & choices. I highly recommend it to everyone. )
Seven Years Later...
This excerpt is one my favorite sections from Little Changes that I lovingly refer to as "Devour." Since the publication, our adventures have continued (they always do) and 3 1/2 of my family members are currently a-shade-of-vegetarian. (Two of us love it, one is doing it as a personal challenge and the other really doesn't have much choice as the fridge contains what it does.) Our reasons are dynamic, but I can say with certainty -as Commander of the Household Expenditures- this path has a budget-saving benefits.
While I adore my body as a mostly-vegetarian, I believe in sharing this story -- recognizing that each of us is on our own wild journies toward respecting our bodies and our planet.
Meat. It can be an angry, combative, passionate topic when shared online. Rightfully, so - meat is a deeply personal choice. Yet, we know our friends want to discuss options and choices in a welcoming, safe atmosphere. Fortunately, this is we do best.
Our focus around meat is the correlations with nontoxic living -- and the real world challenges of selecting and buying or making changes within a family unit. These three topics together leave those who want to make change often feel....helpless. When hosting a Gathering for your Chapter simply ensure that the tone is set.
- We are a supportive group.
- We are looking for options and choices.
- Encourage each other and share wins.
Every change forward is a good one ..... and we don't tend to turn back around.
For other support, zoom back over to our Chapter Ambasador library of tools for your Gatherings in the Savvy Cafe.
Not part of a chapter yet? Come check us out!