If you are now or are planning on upgrading your lifestyle to a more “Paleo” friendly, or at least a more whole food friendly version, shopping for meat is quite the challenge. You can pick up some chicken breast or burgers from anywhere, but now you want to know where did that meat come from? What’s in it? And what do I look out for? We’ll be giving you some tips on what to look out for in the coming weeks.
Feedlot in California. Yep, California, USA. Ya'll know that doesn't look right. Most animals in these lots hardly move, end up being caked in manure and likely consume a lot of manure before heading to the slaughterhouse. Courtesy of: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/weekinreview/27bittman.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Tip #1: Find the Source
Knowing where your meat comes from is very important. In a typical grocery store, a lot of meat is shipped from other parts of the country and/or the world. Food comes packaged very nicely, and it’s hard to really picture what that meat has been through prior to arriving on the shelf. So, yes, I don’t like seeing farms where animals are caged, standing on top of each other, often lame, sick, and basically dying their whole lives. I don’t mean to offend animal lovers out there, but my concern for the life of the meat prior to its end is not for the sake of a happy cow, chicken, shrimp, etc, but my concern for the system as a whole, and what the long term effects are for humans to be a part of it. The food industry tries desperately to keep up with the demand of our growing population, and farming has turned our livestock into FrankenMeat. Generally, we are mindlessly eating it. So this installment will focus on environment/source. The next article will be on what is consumed by the animal, ie hormones, antibiotics, and feed.
Cage Free/Free Range chickens. "Any of you seen that door they told us about?"
Cage Free: Applies just to chicken, and means chickens are required to be in a large enclosed area where they can potentially nest and hen, like normal. Access to outdoors is not required, and no other regulations apply in regard to antibiotics, hormones, or feed.
Free Range: USDA likes to leave things open ended, and in the case of livestock, there is no definition of what is actually required, other than poultry. Just means a farmer basically has to provide an open door for the chickens to get their daily intake of a natural existence, but in reality, they are in the exact same environment that could be defined as “cage free” because the chickens don't even know about that door. What does that mean? “Free range” is often a marketing tool rather than an actual regulation so be careful.
Pasture Raised: This is the real deal! “Manufacturers who use this label must meet certain requirements, such as providing year-round access to the outdoors for all ruminant animals, providing them with pasture throughout the grazing season in their area and ensuring that the animals get at least 30 percent of their dry-feed intake from pasture grazing over the course of grazing season” (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/free-range/MY01559). Most legit regulation.
The best thing to do is your own research. Labels will provide the farm/source on packaged meat. If you’re like me, Google the source until you feel like you've gotten enough information to feel comfortable. Delis should be able to tell you where their stuff is coming from, as well. Some farms may actually do a good job of raising meat well, and some may just do a good job of sounding like it. It's your job to figure out which. Even better, buy from a rancher who doesn't sell to stores, like U.S. Wellness Meats or local butchers. Share if you know of some good ones!
If it’s being shipped from somewhere far and away, it was cheaper to buy, and therefore, probably not as high quality as something freshly delivered from a local farm. This is especially important when it comes to SEAFOOD! Most fish is now farmed and shipped from places as far as China. Chinese sourced tilapia, shrimp, or salmon is going to have harmful amounts of toxins. Chemicals used in international fish farming are often less regulated than they are in the United States, and let’s be honest, there isn't a whole lot really regulated by the FDA, EPA, and USDA so you can be assured whatever is being added to your fish is great for you. Farmed fish are like the scary chicken coops you've heard about: animals on top of each other, eating their own or each other’s feces, developing diseases that are harmful to the environment and to the consumer. Just add water. Eew. Bottom line: buy wild caught seafood.
And interesting stuff below: