The BEST Way to Eat Meat

I have many reasons for eating the way I do. I have food allergies. I care deeply about preserving the environment. I’ve struggled with depression, weight issues, and health concerns. But the most important reasons? 1. So I can be happy and 2. Because it tastes so damn good.

A whole foods diet comes down to that for me. The food just tastes better! And I’m happier when I eat healthily – my body and brain are in sync and working together to help me enjoy life, rather than “fighting food”. Fighting food for me means struggling with guilt, emotional eating, or cycles of ups and downs triggered by sugar, gluten, and other foods I am intolerant to. It is your choice to prioritize your health or the planet’s health, and I choose to do that in the most enjoyable way I can think of – eating awesome food with a clear conscience.I’ve never been a huge red meat eater. I’ve also avoided jumping into the meat topic here because I am friends with so many vegans, but the reality is I eat meat and so do many people. If you do eat animal products, I think you have the responsibility to do it in a sustainable and humane way. That is what I mean when I say eating food with a clear conscience. And bottom line? Sustainable meat always tastes better, because it is higher quality.
Sustainable meat usually means grass-fed or free-range, but there is such a labeling stigma that I want to break it down further.  I’ve decided to cover red meat in this post, moving on to pork next and maybe even updating my previous post on chicken down the line.“Regular” meat that you see in stores is a product of commercial farming or factory farming. Animals no longer live out a happy life with sweet old farmers, plenty of sunshine, fresh air,, and grass. Rather, meat production today has turned into a profit-driven market, where animals are force-fed genetically modified corn and soy along with discarded garbage or even animal waste, kept in dark, extremely overcrowded feedlots or pens, and pumped full of artificial hormones and antibiotics because of unsanitary conditions. Cows contribute more pollution than transportation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Environmental Working Group has released an extremely worthwhile and helpful report called the “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health.” I’ll give you a quick summary, but I think you owe it to yourself and your health to read it through.- Lamb, beef, cheese, pork, and salmon are the worst for your health and the environment. Commercial farming of these products creates more manure and pollution. Eating meats with concentrated greenhouse gases exposes you to toxins and leaves you at a greater risk for cancer, diabetes and heart disease.What to do? Eat pasture-raised, completely grass-fed beef, lamb, and dairy products. True grass-fed beef raised with organic practices has more nutrients and reduces your exposure to toxins, pollutants, and artificial hormones. Choose wild caught salmon and try eating more sustainable seafood choices like sardines, anchovies, or local fish.

- Commercial lamb, beef, and cheese production emits high amounts of methane gas, which is twenty-five times more potent than carbon dioxide.

- Manure leaks pollutants like nitrogen, phosphorus, antibiotics and metals. Factory farm slaughterhouses dump millions of pounds of toxic pollutants – nitrogen, phosphorus, and ammonia – into our waterways each year. That means that not only your meat is dirty, but water and other crops that the waste runs off into. Ever wonder why there is so much E.coli in spinach?

- Because conventionally-raised meat is raised and fed in essentially a pond of it’s own manure, overuse of antibiotics on these animals leech into the meat we consume and our groundwater. This also  creates “superbugs”, viruses that are more difficult to treat because they are resistant to vaccines. Conventional meat also contains artificial hormones that increase cancer rates.

What to do? Eat free-range, pasture-raised animals for a scrumptious way to lower your risk of bacterial infection and cancer. How great is it that if you prioritize your health, not only you will reap the benefits but the environment as well.

Sustainable meat choices conserve soil, reduce soil and water pollution, preserve biodiversity and wildlife, and eliminate our overdependence on chemicals while promoting pest and weed resistance.

What if I can’t afford it?
1. First, assess your priorities. Think of your health care costs down the line if you wind up needing heart surgery or lifelong treatment for diabetes. Find other things to cut back on in your life and use the money instead for better quality, better tasting food.
2. Use meat as a side. Mark Bittman is a huge advocate of this, and he has many recipes that use meat economically and in a way that still lends great flavor to dishes.
3. Order meat in bulk and split the cost with a friend, family, or neighbors.
4. Eat less meat. If there really is no room in your budget, than reduce your consumption of meat in favor of more filling vegetables, squash, lentils, beans, and other plant-based proteins. It’s better to eat good quality meat twice a week rather than terrible quality meat every day.
5. Buy tougher (and cheaper) cuts of meat and use slow cooking methods like braising to yield mouthwatering results.

What if I can’t find it?
1. Look for a meat CSA. You can start here at the Ethicurean, or search the directories at LocalHarvest and the Eat Well Guide.
2. Check out your local farmer’s market or ask local farmers. Buying local supports your community and reduces the impact of transportation costs on consumer prices and pollution.
3. Ask your grocery store to start carrying sustainable meat choices! Let’s make this mainstream – consumer demand is a powerful thing.

What if I can’t cook it and I’m afraid to screw it up?
1. Get a friend or mentor to help you out with the cooking or show you some techniques.
2. Check out this helpful site and recipes.
3. Use your crockpot! It is the most forgiving way to prepare meat. There is less risk of burning it or drying it out. Stay tuned for the recipe tomorrow!
4. Email me with any questions. I’m here for you.

A word of caution. While grass-fed beef is a better health alternative for you, it’s full environmental impact is currently up for debate. I still think it is 1,000 times better, taste, health, and environment-wise, than factory farm meat, but I believe in moderation when it comes to red meat.

Check back tomorrow because I am going to introduce you to your new best friend – the slow cooker – and my favorite sustainable meat choice!