Most meat (and eggs and dairy) in the United States is “factory farmed” — meaning it’s produced on large-scale farms that operate more like factories than farms. Animals raised in these conditions are usually confined, live in extremely crowded conditions, and are not given the opportunity to engage in natural animal behaviors. They are often given antibiotics to combat the disease that arises and quickly spreads in such conditions, meaning the conventional meat you buy may contain antibiotics that impacts your health (Scary fact: the FDA recently estimated that 29 million pounds of antibiotics were given to livestock in the U.S. in 2009 alone).
You don’t have to be a member of PETA, a vegan, or a zookeeper to be bothered by the idea of factory farms. Most of us would agree that the way we produce meat in this country is not only morally questionable, but also just plain old gross. But it’s cheap, and Americans like cheap food.
So how do you know if the meat you buy is factory farmed or not? Well, if you buy meat at any regular grocery store, it’s probably from a factory farm. Meat that’s raised and produced on smaller farms is available mostly in alternative grocery stores. And unless your meat package labels explicitly state words like “organic, sustainably-raised, locally raised on pasture-based farms, humanely-raised, free-range, Certified Humane,” the meat is probably factory farmed.
So how can you be a more conscious meat buyer and consumer?
- Read labels. Here’s a great slideshow about how to read and understand meat labels.
- Buy meat at alternative grocery stores, like Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Henry’s, Sprouts, Bristol Farms, co-ops, or whatever natural grocery stores are in your area.
- Educate yourself on Certified Humane meat. Use this tool to find Certified Humane meat in your area. If there aren’t any stores that carry Certified Humane meat near you, see what you can do about it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking your local grocer.
- Buy grass-fed beef when possible. “Organic” beef is often still fed corn, which is not the natural diet for a cow, and organically raised cows may still be kept largely in confinement. Buying grass-fed or pasture-raised cows better ensures cows were raised humanely. (But organic is better than conventional)
- Follow these same guidelines when buying eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, and other dairy products.
- Support restaurants that are making an effort to source humanely raised meat and dairy products.
How do you buy sustainably raised meat when you’re on a budget?
- Buy meat in larger quantities when it’s on sale and freeze the extra. Even high-end grocery stores like Whole Foods always have a cut or two of each kind of meat on special, and sometimes it’s very discounted.
- Experiment with cheaper cuts of meat. Organic free-range boneless skinless chicken breasts might be $9.99/lb, but organic free-range thighs, wings, drumsticks, and breasts on the bone will be of equal quality, just significantly cheaper.
- Make a few vegetarian dinners every week. Good meat is more expensive, so it makes sense to eat meat less often. On non-meat nights, get your protein from eggs, tofu, beans, soybeans, cottage cheese, or skim milk.
Everyone wants their food to have led a happy life in lots of space, like this little guy!
(He’s not factory farmed).