Question: Should I worry about things like pink slime in my burger and arsenic in my chicken?
Answer: No (But, this is answer comes with a caveat. Keep reading)
There’s been a lot of hubbub about industrial meat production in the US lately—the "pink slime" fiasco, changes in poultry slaughter inspection, arsenic and caffeine (plus a whole ton of other pharmaceuticals) in our chicken, and most recently a case of mad cow disease found in CA. And then there was the recent New York Times op-ed attack on sustainable meat (If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance this is old news. Hopefully you caught Joel Salatin’s biting rebuttal as well). Yikes!
As someone working in the (literal) field of sustainable food, I love seeing these issues come to light. Though it’s changing, mainstream media has devoted much too little attention to the problems associated with our industrial food system. However, like most things covered by mainstream media sources, the current clamor can tend to be sensationalist, frustrating, defeatist, and/or generally overwhelming. As consumers of both media and food, it’s hard to tell where to put our energy, anxiety, and money.
Here’s where I ultimately come down on the issue: It’s all aboutknowing your farmer and knowing your food. You don’t have to worry about all these alarming new exposes if you get your meat, dairy and eggs from a small-scale, local farm, ideally one that pastures their animals (raises their piggies/chickens/cows in a field, not in a factory).
In addition to being more delicious and nutritious, pastured animal products are safer. Cows that have space to move, clean air to breathe, and green grass to chew are healthier and less likely to spread disease amongst themselves. Pigs whose diets are based on pasture and supplemented by organic grain instead of pharmaceutical-laced feed don’t develop antibiotic-resistant strains of disease that could be passed on to humans. Small-scale poultry farmers that do their own slaughtering inspect their birds more thoroughly for disease and contamination than industrial slaughterhouses.
Because they are marketing directly to consumers, small-scale farmers also have a major stake in making sure quality and safety of their meat is prioritized. The short supply chain also makes it possible to isolate the cause if by chance an illness or problem does occur.
Committing to sustainably raised meat is also more expensive. I won’t deny that price is a (if not the) major consideration with regards to purchasing animal products and it’s a major deterrent to making food choices that we know are best. But I will also say that it is possible to do without breaking the bank.
I’ll try to avoid getting preachy, because my financial commitments are thus far pretty minimal and I have yet to know what it is like to try to feed a family on a tight budget. However, as a beginning farmer, my salary is low, my free time is limited, and my protein requirement is quite high—and I’m doing the best what can. For the next 6 months (the duration of my farming season), I’ve committed to sourcing my animal protein needs as sustainably as possible. I’ve signed up for asustainable seafood CSA as well as a pastured chicken CSA. For less than $50 per month, I’ll be getting what I’ve deemed to be enough meat for my diet: two organic chickens a month as well as several pounds of fresh-caught wild salmon—all delivered to my door. For me, this is totally worth the avoiding all of the anxiety, guilt, and potential health impacts that buying conventionally raised meat gives me.
Know Your Farmer Know Your Food-a new project of USDA: search their compass for farmers near you and learn more about where your food comes from.
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