Monday, May 6, 2013

The Meat We Eat

The food we eat in our home has been changing.  What sent my family over the edge to be more conscious of what we were eating was the infamous pink slime stories that spread like wildfire through the media a little over a year ago.  I have always been interested in eating organic, but my husband was a bit resistant due to cost.  Though, once we started to read more about what is in our food we became concerned about our health and especially our children's and began to slowly switch.  Unfortunately, we met challenges along the way in finding "organic" foods that were not severely over priced and not doable with our graduate student income.  Within the past six months we have done our research, found what works for us and have  fully made the switch.  It feels good and tastes good.  I also feel GREAT about what I am feeding my kiddos.  

We live in a small city in northern Indiana where you would think that due to the fact that most of Indiana and the surrounding states are very rural and farm driven that you would have quality meats and vegetables in the grocery store.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Thank goodness for us, we recently were blessed with a Whole Foods which has simplified our grocery shopping. is some of the information we gathered regarding meat that has convinced us to make the switch to "organic"!

As most people know, (at least I hope most know) our grocery stores today are filled with meats that come from mass producing factory cattle, chicken and pig farms.  Animals at these farms are treated very inhumanely and fed food that is pumped full of antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease, and growth hormones to make the animal grow twice as fast and much larger than they are naturally supposed to. You should consider watching a couple documentaries that my husband and I have watched in the past two years that have opened our eyes to something that we were not completely aware of and has greatly swayed our interest of where our food comes from.  This is the biggest problem among Americans.  We need to care about what we are eating, where it comes from and what the ingredients are!

For those of you that don't realize what is happening, an easy way to see an example is to take a moment to compare the size of chicken breasts in your local grocery store.  There are typically a couple options; some big name companies "conventional" chicken, or "natural" and "organic".   Take a moment to compare the size of the different chicken breasts next time you go grocery shopping.  You will notice the big name chicken breasts, i.e. Tyson or Perdu are HUGE.  They are not a normal size chicken breast, and bigger does not mean better.  The huge chicken breasts don't have any flavor, and they are a strange texture before cooking, and after cooking they are tough.  The chickens that are raised the "conventional" way are terribly mistreated.  They are placed in huge barns where there is little sunlight.  Many never see more light than what comes through the door way when someone comes to supposedly care for the chickens.  Each chicken has no room to move, they are fed grains that are heavily laced with growth hormones and antibiotics.  Several of the chickens die due to their living conditions.  The "natural" and "organic" chicken breasts, on the other hand, are much smaller.  The size that a chicken breast should be.  If you go with an "organic" chicken, by law, they can not be fed antibiotics or injected with growth hormones. Now, there is controversy as to the treatment of these chickens as well.  Typically, if it is a big name company, they are fed the healthy diet, but are still treated poorly.  Do your research about where your chicken is coming from so that you know exactly the quality of life they have and what they are being fed.  It feels good to know!

Along with poor meat quality, the egg quality is equally effected.  Hens are kept in very tight cages.  In some situations, they clip their beaks to prevent cannibalism among the hens, as well as wing clipping.  So, the hens are mistreated and they produce low quality eggs.  Organic free-range eggs are much larger, the yolks are a deeper yellow and the flavor is far and wide much more rich than an industrial hen egg.  Again, do your research prior to buying so that you know exactly where the hens are raised and how they are cared for.  

BONUS: The color of the yolk does not reflect the nutritional value of the egg.  The color of the yolk varies depending on the diet of the hen.  

Poultry Farming Wikipedia - free range, organic vs. factory farm conditions

Now, let's talk about ground beef.  Not only is the beef coming from factory farms where the animals are treated poorly and fed hormones and antibiotics, but as it is being ground into ground beef, they are adding a filler commonly known as  "pink slime".  "Pink Slime" is also known as Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB).  They use the excess of the cow that normally wouldn't be used in ground beef and break it down through a process that uses heat in centrifuges to separate the fat from the meat in beef trimmings.  The resulting product is exposed to ammonia gas or citric acid to kill bacteria.  It has been reported as of March 2012, 70% of the ground beef sold in the U.S. contained "pink slime".  Ground beef is also allowed to contain as much as 25% of the additive.  Since last March 2012, many supermarket chains have committed to not selling ground beef containing pink slime, although, I would still ask the butcher before you buy.  Last time I asked, there was only one type in the case that was "pink slime" free, and it was much more expensive.  It's certainly worth the price.   The alternative is buy your own steaks, and grind your own meat.  We have started doing this, and it is amazing how tasty our hamburgers and ground beef recipes are compared to the already ground meat at the store. 

You also have to think about your steaks and roasts as well.  It is the same issue that we have with chicken.  "Conventional" beef is poorly treated animals pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones being mass produced and shuffled into a factory to be processed and shipped across the country to restaurants and grocery stores.  The meat does not taste good, is tough and not juicy.  It is often beginning to turn brown prior to the sell by date.  I will say it your research.  Be aware of where your meat is coming from and how it was raised.  

Pink Slime Wikipedia
Pig farming is another issue.  The pigs are kept in very inhumane living conditions.  The sows are repeatedly bred, and confined to very tight living quarters to prevent squashing the piglets.  The piglets have their tails cut off to keep from the other piglets from biting them which would lead to possible infection.  They are in caged areas, no straw or grass to lay in which they would normally root around in and keep them from the interest of biting one another.  The piglets are then weaned far to early from their mother in order for the mother to be bred again, and to feed the piglets a diet to fatten them up much faster than they would naturally.  Pigs are very smart animals, and studies have revealed that they do become depressed in such poor living conditions.  This won't be the last time I say it.....find out where you meat is coming from.  Research their living conditions  and what they are fed. It makes a tremendous difference.  

Humane Society - Pigs - More information about pig welfare

Ways to Change
We have an unrealistic perception that the animals we eat come from farms like this:

Unfortunately, these images are not reality for what is in most grocery stores.  

Next time you are shopping for meat, have a conversation with the meat counter attendant.  Find out where your meat is coming from.  Ask if there is pink slime in the ground beef.  You will be sadly surprised that it is still sold in many stores.  If your options are not up to your standards, start researching your communities options.  Find a local co-op and buy locally raised meats directly from the farmer.  It is quite rewarding buying food from the person that has cared for and raised what you are putting on your table.  You feel good about your choices and what you are feeding your family.  

Factory Farm Map - find out how factory farming effects the animals and the environment

Green-Blog Post about Factory Farming - Great post in more detail on factory farming

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