The modern industrialized process that buffers the general public from the not-so-tasty aspects of meat eating manages to grow cattle to slaughter weight in record time. But opting for breakneck speed and bottom-dollar prices in our food system comes with a hidden tax that we end up paying with our health.
Can you imagine going to a restaurant where you’re served heaping platefuls of steamed garbage garnished with chicken feathers and a side of old chewing gum? No way we’d eat that junk—much less pay for it. But, since we don’t watch these and other kinds of “byproduct feedstuffs” being dished out to cattle in feedlots, and since we can’t see the internal processes by which cattle convert trash into T-bones and prime rib, the truth is easy to ignore.
According to Care2.com, 10 to 30 percent of the diet of feedlot cattle across the U.S. is made up from the floor waste of commercial chicken houses. “One billion pounds of feces, feathers, spilled feed, straw, dirt, and anything else on the floor under the cramped birds are shoveled in front of cattle on feedlots across America each year.” And according to watchdog organization FoodSecureCanada.org, experts recommended that stale bubble gum— still in its aluminum packaging—“may be fed to safely replace up to 30 percent of corn-alfalfa hay diets for growing steers.”
But how on earth could you and I even dream of casting stones at Goliath meat companies? It’s simple. All we need to do is to start choosing alternatives to fast-paced factory meat because immense power lies in the choices we make as consumers. Of course, that means stepping off the beaten path to search for better options. But hey, I’d rather take the scenic route any day.
One of the first great steps to eating better is eating local, or seeking out food as close to home as possible. This way, we know what we’re getting and we can also see firsthand how our local environment—and our neighbors— benefit from our choices. But if you can’t get it local, at least KNOW and trust the people who raise your meat.
There are a couple of ways to go about getting healthy meat. First, there’s hunting. While it may not appeal to everyone, venturing out into nearby woodlands and shooting wild game is the original definition of “eating local.” There is primal fulfillment in harvesting food for yourself, whether it’s the wild blackberry or the deer.
In his acclaimed book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan explains it in terms of accountability. Learning to eat from the wild, he says, gave him “the opportunity, so rare in modern life, to eat in full consciousness of everything involved in feeding myself: for once, I was able to pay the full karmic price of a meal.” Or how about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who set a “personal challenge” for himself in 2011 to be more thankful for the food he ate by eating vegetarian or only meat that he had killed himself. He reported, “I’m eating a lot healthier foods. And I’ve learned a lot about sustainable farming and raising animals. It’s easy to take the food we eat for granted when we can eat good things every day.”
The option I chose many years ago was to grow my own. It probably wasn’t as big a stretch for me as it was for Zuckerberg, given my parents took us fishing most weekends and every fall we filled our freezer with deer meat. Now, as a small dairy owner, putting meat on the table is an integral part of producing milk. That’s because bulls happen. This year, my Jersey dairy herd gave me two bulls and three heifers. The girls, I’ll train to become milk cows someday. The boys will sire more babies once they’re old enough (about 1 year of age). But after a couple of years, sometimes as many as five, I harvest them for my freezer. We’re a farm family of six adults and four children, so the unadulterated, organic, grown-right-here-from-start-to- finish meat is an accomplishment I’m proud of.
If wild harvest or growing your own just isn’t your game, there are other avenues, too. Shop around within your community. Visit the farmers’ market and ask questions. You can also find producers in your area by searching the directories at EatWild.com or LocalHarvest.org.
Published by MaryJanesFarm.com Aug/Sept 2017, reprinted with permission