Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Holiday Meats

This blog entry was written for FeelGoodNow. If you'd like to read that version, click here. Sorry for posting it late, but the message still applies :)

What to serve? What to make the centerpiece of the table for family and friends this Christmas? Admittedly I have to beg the forgiveness of vegetarians and vegans as I’m going to focus on meat for now. Thanksgiving was a no-brainer for most, roasting a turkey was the obvious answer. Yet I know for me growing up I never had a traditional Christmas meal. We had ham a few years, turkey some others, and I even remember throwing some steaks on the grill in the snow one year. But since I’ve started learning more about where our food comes from and how it’s processed, I’ve been forced to reconsider the question of what kind of meat, if any, to serve.

Though there has been a lot more awareness raised in recent years as to the sorry state of our food industry and in particular our meat industry by well-known authors and filmmakers like Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, etc), Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Robert Kenner (Food Inc.) and Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me), much of the relevance to each of our personal lives has unfortunately remained elusive every time we walk into the grocery store. The food we eat literally shapes who we are. And because of its centrality to our culture today, meat has a special potency to either enrich our health, or destroy it. Because overconsumption of meat leads to heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and other illnesses, we must first choose to consume less meat. Then, once we’ve reached moderation, choose the meats which in and of themselves offer the highest of qualities with the smallest of costs to our personal health, the public health, and the environment which sustains us.

So we return to Christmas dinner. Pork? Turkey? Beef? Chicken? Though an in-depth analysis of each of these merits its own thesis, I’ll do my best to highlight the basics here:

·      Pork. Unfortunately, only four massive companies produce over half the pork consumed in the United States through Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), where pigs (not uncommon numbers for the industry are 25,000 swine) are so crammed together and so stressed that the managers of the firms have to chop off their tails to keep them from biting them off one another in their panic. But don’t fear, there are local producers which allow pigs to roam in their natural state and act as only pigs can before providing them as humane a death as possible.

·      Turkey and chickens. Not the same, but both awkward birds that can’t fly. Some 99% of all poultry grown in the States is genetically modified to grow faster (life spans for meat chickens is down to only 48 days). They live short, brutish lives crammed together by the thousands – up to 100,000 – under one roof for meat birds, called broilers, or confined to one-foot square cages for egg laying hens, called layers. There are local producers of chickens and turkeys, though they are certainly only found through famers markets or direct farm-to-consumer programs.

·      Beef. The vast majority of cows in this country (dairy and beef) are grown in CAFOs. There, they are fed mainly grain diets, which increases the amount of e coli viruses in their gut and increases the amount of fat in their muscles. If you’re planning a beef BBQ for the holidays, search for grass-fed and finished beef. This way you’ll know that at least the cows ate a diet for which their bodies were designed. This meat will also be more lean and healthy for you!

In general, purchasing USDA Certified Organic meat is a step up from regular meat. This certification, while not necessarily changing the living conditions of CAFOs, prevents the harmful overuse of antibiotics as well as avoids the synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the food chain to result in less toxic meat, happier animals, and a healthier environment. It is always best to buy meat directly from a local producer. This increases the accountability between producer and consumer, usually means the farmers don’t use CAFOs to produce their meat, and supports the local economy.

So, if you’re looking for meat to serve this holiday, give it a second glance: a second thought. If we rethink how we buy, tending towards healthier, leaner, more consciously grown meat (and less meat in general!), the producers will produce meat which is grown in accordance with nature, not against it. For Denver residents, I strongly suggest a visit to In Season Local Market for all your holiday food needs. They source all their food from within 250 miles of the store and have done all the research for you. I’ve fact-checked their meats and the farms they source from are top-notch. You’ll fiind them up on 32nd and Wyandot in the Highlands. For those outside the Denver-metro area, check out to find the nearest source of natural meat.

Happy holidays and all the best.

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