Eco-activists often insist that vegetarianism is the only truly earth-friendly diet for humans. On the other hand, there are many people, honestly trying to live as green as possible, who are not yet ready to take that step completely. Others of us find that we are just not healthy without some animal protein in our diet, and that there is some logic to the argument than humans are biologically omnivorous.
If you are a meat-eater, whatever your personal reasons may be, the problem still remains — the beef industry is a nightmare. From enormous factory farms raising animals in horrific conditions, to growth hormones interfering with our bodies, to mad cow disease resulting from herbivores being fed ground-up brains of their kin, to the ecological devastation… We simply cannot allow ourselves to support this industry by buying its products.
So what is the conscientious carnivore to do?
The answer is three-fold. Buy small, buy local, buy grass-fed.
Buy Small: Support Family Farms
The worst offenses of the beef industry are exclusive to the large, corporate factory farms. For instance, overcrowding leads to higher incidence of illness, leading to indiscriminate antibiotic use. Small family farms have much smaller herds, and so have less illness to begin with. They are more likely to care for their animals individually. And they are less likely to resort to toxic feed mixes, often growing their own feed for their herd.
Buy Local: Visit Your Farmer’s Market
Buying local is always a good idea. In many cases, buying local non-organic vegetables is a greener option (in terms of carbon footprint) than buying organic vegetables which have traveled hundreds (or thousands) of miles. At your local Farmer’s Market, you can talk directly with the folks who grew and raised the food you’re going to put on your family’s dinner plates, whether flora or fauna.
Buy Grass-Fed: The Natural Bovine Diet
The “conventional” diet for farmed cows is primarily grain, soy and corn, with added animal by-products in many cases. Grain, soy and corn are cheaper (usually heavily subsidized) and fattens animals quickly, getting them to market sooner — thus maximizing the producer’s bottom line. Growing all that grain and corn forces out other crops.
However, the natural bovine diet in fact consists of grass forage. By allowing their animals to follow their natural biological diet, grazing freely on existing pasture rather than grain (or worse) in feedlots, farmers find their grass-fed cows are healthier and less stressed. The grazed pasture is automatically manured, and thus regrows as the herd moves on to the next section. So, their feed is naturally self-renewing and sustainable, and does not destroy the land.
Apparently, this method can even offset climate change. Called “sequestration,” the grass absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, subsequently returning it to the topsoil when it is trampled by the herds.
Grass-fed beef farmers are generally very committed to ecological and ethical practices, and do not use pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, or growth hormones. Of course, as with everything, buyer beware. “Grass-fed” is not a regulated term and you may find producers using it for meat that has not been ethically or organically produced. Get to know your supplier.
Meat from grass-fed cows is higher in Omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid (which may fight cancer), but much lower in overall fat. It is also higher in beta carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E. And many aficionados agree, it just plain tastes better.
Grass-fed beef can be harder to find and you won’t generally find it on supermarket shelves. If you don’t have any luck at your Farmer’s Market, do try online. I order from a farm located about 2 hours out of town, and fill my freezer with quality frozen beef about every six months.
Of course, the argument can still be made that any animal production is wasteful and detrimental to the environment. But it is highly unlikely that the entire western world will completely adopt vegetarianism anytime soon, so we must support and encourage sustainable alternatives that are at least more earth-friendly. If your family is not ready to completely eliminate meat from your dinner, this is by far a better option.
[This post was written by Heather Dunham]
Photo credit: iLoveButter under Creative Commons