If you were to ask your great-aunt Sue if golden brown was her real hair color, she might respond, “This is all-natural!” Hopefully you would know better than to ask, and especially know better than to call her bluff. And later, when she serves you a chicken dinner and announces that the meat is all-natural, you can be sure that the chicken is about as natural as her hair color.
Six years ago, the documentary Food, Inc. revealed to the world the meat industry’s foul production practices. Many people have also read Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser’s book that reveals many disturbing secrets about the fast food industry. Animals are raised in dirty settings, fed hormones to speed up growth at unnatural rates and treated inhumanely at many farms and slaughterhouses.
Tyson Foods is just one example of a company that has been found to mistreat their animals and use unsanitary practices in their factories. In 2007, investigators witnessed workers urinating on birds as they prepared them for the slaughterhouse. Smithfield Foods is another example of a farm where animals are tortured and abused. Pigs at Smithfield are fed many antibiotics in order to help them survive the filthy factory conditions while they are forced into unnatural cycles of pregnancy. The animals’ ears, tails and teeth are cut off without the use of painkillers. But while all these practices are horrible, knowing what to look for when purchasing your meat products has the ability to improve your health and the industry.
If possible, try to buy meat products from a farmers market. This is the most realistic way for you to be confident about how your food is made and where it comes from. Ask about what the animal was fed and its living conditions, as if you were on the set of Portlandia.
If you cannot access or afford food from a farmers market, head to a grocery store and carefully at the food labels. If a product is certified “USDA Organic”, such as Organic Prairie’s, this indicates that a third party, the United States Department of Agriculture, regulates the feed production, animal husbandry, processing materials and methods for that company. It also means that the product is made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients and does not contain any genetic modifiers.
Another important quality to look for is a company that can guarantee antibiotic-free meat. Many animals are given antibiotics to speed up their growth rate in order to mass produce and save money on the animal’s feed. This abusive animal treatment also contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans. Recently, Governor Brown signed SB 27, a state law prohibiting the use of repeated antibiotics for animals that are not sick. It also requires the California Department of Food and Agriculture to follow a monitoring program to keep tabs on livestock antibiotic usage.
Thankfully, Davis offers a plethora of options to those trying to eat sustainably and ethically. The farmers market in the square every Saturday and some Wednesdays are a great opportunity to buy local and organic products, as well as to speak directly with the people involved in the production of your food. You can also consider Whole Foods, which strives to improve its Animal Welfare Standards. These standards prohibit hormones, growth promotants and antibiotic use in all their animal products. Among other fresh and local foods, the Davis Food Co-op offers meats from various local farmers ranging from grass fed beef to free-range organic chicken raised using environmentally sustainable farming practices.
While ethical eating can get expensive, educating yourself on where your meat is coming from is completely free. Read the ingredients on the back of the package and if you see something you don’t recognize, look it up. Find out what the animal you are going to consume for dinner had for lunch. Keep in mind that each dollar you put toward organic and antibiotic free meat is a vote for stricter regulations and better animal treatment.