Review: What Makes Meat “Healthy”?Here’s the deal: whether or not humans were originally created to eat meat may be up for discussion, but at some point after The Fall, we became quite well suited to digest animal proteins, and in fact, there are some nutrients (B Vitamins for one, if I’m not mistaken) that we can only get sufficiently from meat products. Therefore, I’m starting with the belief that meat is healthy. If you’re still with me, you probably already know that humankind, the same flawed human bodies who were tempted to eat the apple to become like God, have continued to “play God” with our food system, always trying to improve the system and be in control of the natural world. Sigh. We grow crops with chemicals so we can put more into one space and work less to battle weeds, we pack animals into similarly small spaces, feed them things they weren’t designed to eat, and pump them with preventative antibiotics so they don’t get all sick at once, and we try to grow them bigger, faster, and with more milk or eggs, so we use artificial hormones and other unnatural means to do the trick. The meat produced by that sad system is what is mostly found in your average grocery store. We can do better. It takes a reversal, a return to the traditional methods of farming – the way God intended, in my opinion. Because we know that not only is it true what teachers have been saying for years: “You are what you eat.” But really, when it comes to animal products, “You are what you eat, eats.” So what should animals eat?
Avoiding “Real-Washing”What’s “real-washing,” you ask? Have you heard of “greenwashing?” The term describes companies and practices that make a product “sound” eco-friendly, but the company or product really still has plenty of chemicals and just a little “green” twist to trick consumers. The phrase has also been used to describe companies who support breast cancer research, but perhaps their products have been linked to cancer – that’s called “pinkwashing.” “Real-washing” is a fantastic term that we can apply to a great many name-brand foods today. You know the ones – they slap “natural” on their packaging because there’s something real in there amongst the MSGs and fillers. They appeal to the mom who wants to do right for her kids but has only learned about nutrition from the popular media, who recognizes some buzz words but not really what they mean. It’s trickery, and you’re smarter than that, fearless Kitchen Stewards! You need to know what those animals should be eating (and more).
Find a Farmer, if You CanWhen I source meat, I try to find a direct relationship with a farmer so that I can ask the questions and make sure I’m sourcing quality meat.For beef, pork and chicken, I like to hear that it’s:
- free of antibiotics and hormones (although if the farmer starts with that and then stops, you can usually do better as that’s kind of the “real-washing” line that the only slightly informed consumer has learned to listen for)
- allowed to be outdoors
- fed appropriate food
- grass and hay for cattle
- grass, bugs, scraps for chickens; if the feed is organic, non-soy and GMO-free, then you’re really talking quality. Adding flax or shells to the feed is great for healthy eggs.
- pigs eat just about anything, but they should be allowed to root in the mud; milk-fed or whey-fed pork is primo yummy, so try to find a source for pork where they also have dairy cattle or make cheese
- organic is certainly a bonus, but I am not a stickler about “certified” organic – many farmers can’t afford certification but grow organically anyway
Some Notes on Beef and BaconFarmers and butchers can make their stuff sound good, too, even when it’s not ideal, and so can “organic” packaging. Watch for:
- Grassfed beef – What do they really eat? Truly grassfed cattle only graze on pasture or have hay in the winter, not “silage” or “feed” or corn or grain. There are no federal regulations for the term “grassfed” on packaging, so you may want to try calling customer service numbers and asking real questions about how much they’re on grass. 100% is ideal, but I’d say 80% or so is better than nothing. If it’s down to 50%, you might not be getting much better than conventional store meat, so it is probably not worth a price premium.
- Naturewell beef – Many big chain grocery stores carry Naturewell, which I used to purchase thinking I was getting better for my family. Naturewell does not use antibiotics or hormones in the 120-day “finishing period,” if I remember correctly, which means that you shouldn’t be getting those chemicals directly in your meat. However, it’s not necessarily grassfed, not organic, and does use the junk before the end of the animal’s life, so you’re still contributing to toxins in the environment when you buy Naturewell. If I had to buy beef from the store, I might buy Naturewell, but only if it was less than a dollar a pound more than conventional. Any more than that (and that is really pushing it already), you’re getting ripped off.
- Organ Meats – Organ meats are a part of a healthy traditional diet, but here I think it’s especially important to seek organic, perfectly raised meats. (How to cook liver so your family will eat it)
Review: Eggs and MilkI’ve already pretty thoroughly discussed what all the labels on eggs mean and the pros and cons on “What kind of milk should I buy?” For some reason, those two were the easiest for me to tackle when I first started getting into real, traditional foods.
What’s ComingThis week we’ll discuss:
- how to source safe, healthy fish
- how to buy a cow
- is the new “natural” bacon and lunchmeat actually better?
- nailing down good, better, and best cheeses
- where to find truly high quality butter (and some other acceptable options)
Need More Baby Steps?
Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.
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