Save the World and Eat it Too: Why You Should Be Eating Sustainable Meat (and where to get it!)

–Katie Lang

cattle2

There are a variety of reasons why people choose to not eat meat. For some, the thought of eating something that was once alive is too much. Others choose to abstain for religious or health reasons. Some choose not to support a system that can be inhumane and harmful to the environment. These are all genuine concerns, but today I’d like to tell you about how you can partake consciously and in a way that actually betters the environment and is healthy and delicious as well.

 

As crazy as it sounds, the way nature originally designed animals to grow and     be raised is better than the ways that current livestock agriculture is done. We’ve engineered our livestock production system to maximize our output and raise animals for slaughter more efficiently, faster, and cheaper in the short run. In doing so, corners are cut, and this has negative impacts on the quality of life for the animals, the environmental impact of the farm, the nutritional quality of the meat, and the health of the entire world.

Florida_chicken_house

What makes a cut of meat sustainable? This is really as simple as using traditional, humane practices that fit closer to the way that animals have developed to grow, and practices that were used successfully up until the industrial revolution. Smaller scale farms, where farmers can pay attention and care for animals directly both produce quality, humane meat and can heal the environment as well!

 

The modern adaption of these methods include practices such as rotational grazing, where livestock such as cows and chickens are rotated in order to not overgraze land, and so that the animals can benefit from the things that the other animals do to the land. For example, it has been shown that cows and chickens benefit greatly in health from being included in a system of ranging portions of the land after each other. The cows will graze on the grass first, which provides incredible levels of vitamin a, and is what cows are actually able to digest more fully. The cows will typically stay on this area for a few days, and this will draw insects to the area. Chickens are then moved onto the land, and given free range over this area. Chickens are naturally omnivores, and they derive significant amounts of nutrients from eating insects, weeds, and grass, effectively “sanitizing” the fields behind the cows and helping their dung to decompose faster and become available for the soil to use. Their droppings, like that of cows, returns nutrients to the soil and fertilize it naturally, restoring the land instead of draining it. This rotation also allows for one piece of land to serve multiple compatible functions. While acre for acre this isn’t as efficient as locking up thousands of cattle in cells (cow prison, anyone?) and force-feeding them grains and antibiotics, when you take into account the amount of land used to grow food for these animals to eat in addition to the land they are physically using, sustainable growing techniques are better for the land, and require less resources.

 

Animals like cows have issues digesting corn, soy, and other cheap, high carbohydrate grains that they are conventionally fed. These digestive issues actually change the nutritional content of the meat (bad stuff in, bad stuff out) making factory-farmed meat less tasty, and less nourishing. Animals raised in the concentrated animal feeding operations are very frequently sick and can spread disease very easily.  This requires enormous amounts of antibiotics to be used on the animals to keep them alive, which can quicken the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The byproducts of these unhealthy animals are not good for the soil, and often have to be harshly sanitized before they can be discarded anywhere.

grass fed cow large (1)

The good news about going to UVA is that Charlottesville has a great local food scene, including its proximity to farmers who are suing these practices! A small farming champion and renowned activist, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, lives and works less than an hour from Charlottesville. He’s been featured in Documentaries such as Food, Inc. and has written nine books. But thankfully he’s not the only local farmer doing things the sustainable way! Virginia alone has over 100 meat farms listed under the registry at EatWild.com, and that’s only the ones that they know about.

 

It can be overwhelming to sift through all of the choices and try to figure out what meat is well raised and what is simply green washed, especially because labels like organic don’t define everything that is good for an animal, and are often too expensive for small farms to afford. That’s a large part of why we at Greens to Grounds have done the work for you! We always source from farmers who are being stewards of their animals and land, partially because we support this respect of the earth, but also because we want to provide you with the best tasting freshest real food.  So add meat to your next box, and see if you can tell the difference.

polyface-salatin

Resources:

(Gardner, B.A., et al, “Health of Finishing Steers: Effects on Performance, Carcass Traits, and Meat Tenderness.” J. Animal Science, 1999. 77:3168-75.)

 

(“Divers TJ, et al, “Blindness and convulsions associated with vitamin A deficiency in feedlot steers.” J Am Vet Med Assoc 1986 Dec 15;189(12):1579-82.”)

 

(Fukomoto, G., “Pastured Poultry Production, An Evaluation of its Sustainability in Hawaii.” Livestock Management, April 1999, LM-1.)

 

(Kliebenstein, J.B. et al. 1983. A survey of swine production health problems and health maintenance expenditures. Preventive Veterinary Medicine. Vol. 1. p. 357-369.)

 

(Milton, T., “Managing nutritional disorders with high-grain rations in beef cattle.” Proceedings of the 2000 Intermountain Nutrition Conference, January 25-26. Publication 164 of the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station.)

 

http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/global-warming-and-beef-production-summary.pdf.

(“Managed Grazing as an Alternative Manure Management Strategy,” Jay Dorsey, Jodi Dansingburg, Richard Ness, USDA-ARS, Land Stewardship Project.)

 

(Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Robert P. Stone and Neil Moore, Fact Sheet 95-089 )

 

“Soil Organic Carbon in fields of switch grass and row crops as well as woodlots and pastures across the Chariton Valley, Iowa.” Final Report. Lee Burras and Julie McLaughlin, Iowa State University, January 25, 2002.

 

British Journal of Nutrition (2011) Red meat from animals offered a grass diet increases plasma and platelet N-3 PUFA in healthy consumers. Volume 105, pages 80-89.

 

Smit, Liesbeth A, Ana Baylin, and Hannia Campos. 2010. Conjugated linoleic acid in adipose tissue and risk of myocardial infarction. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  Published ahead of print, May 12, 2010.

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