If you’re into eating Paleo and living a Primal life, then chances are you’ve already discovered the differences between conventional meat and it’s healthier counterpart. If you’re a newbie, than you’re in the right place. With meat being such a huge staple in the Paleo Diet, it’s important to understand what makes it good for you, and what can make it down-right scary.
Depending on the animal, there is a nightmarish story for each with respect to factory farming. My first comment here would be to say that realistically, the direction that humanity took in maintaining a food supply for our ever-growing population was logical. I think as with all things, people look for ways to industrialize everything they do, and farming was no different. It was efficient, financially prosperous, and it insured a stable food supply. However, what we are seeing today with the health of our meat is a result of something that seemed like a good idea but is now being realized as a huge mistake on our part. This is where I will warn you before you continue reading. Ignorance truly is bliss sometimes, and if you think that you’re not capable of the work and or money demands that it might take to make a different choice, then I would suggest you stop reading. This information is disturbing enough that it becomes difficult to turn a blind eye to it. That said, here’s a little bit of background on how we manage meat in the US.
Factory farming began in the 1920s soon after the discovery of vitamins A and D; when these vitamins are added to feed, animals no longer require exercise and sunlight for growth. This allowed large numbers of animals to be raised indoors year-round. The greatest problem that was faced in raising these animals indoors was the spread of disease, which was combated in the 1940s with the development of antibiotics. Farmers found they could increase productivity and reduce the operating costs by using mechanization and assembly line techniques.
There are two kinds of chickens raised in the industrial farm setting: broilers (the kind we eat) and layers (the egg-making chickens). Broiler chickens are selectively bred and genetically altered to produce bigger thighs and breasts, the parts in most demand. This breeding creates birds so heavy that their bones cannot support their weight, making it difficult for them to stand. The birds are bred to grow at an astonishing rate, reaching their market weight of 3 1/2 pounds in seven weeks. Broilers are raised in overcrowded broiler houses instead of cages to prevent the occurrence of bruised flesh which would make their meat undesirable. Their beaks and toes are cut off to prevent damage resulting from fights, and the broiler houses are usually unlit to prevent fighting among the birds. Many birds are sick from the chemicals and the obscene growth rate they’re subjected to; as a result, the farmer must go and collected the dead birds through the crowded house each day. Here is an 8-minute video on the Life of a Broiler Chicken. Go to a health store and see what kind of other options you have . There is a different between organic, all natural, and free-range. Organic chickens may be simply on organic feed, but are still raised conventionally, where are a free-range chicken may not be in a broiler house, but is still pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones. Educate yourself about what you’re buying, and make comprises on what you can to keep your food budget under control.
Layers are held in battery cages that are very small with slanted wire floors which cause severe discomfort and foot deformation. Between five and eight birds are crammed in cages only 14 square inches in size. Since the birds have no room to act naturally, they become very aggressive and attack the other birds in their cage; to help combat this behavior, the birds have their beaks seared off at a young age. The layer hens are subjected to constant light to encourage greater egg production. At the end of their laying cycle they are either slaughtered or forced to molt by water and food deprivation, which shocks them into another layer cycle. Many birds become depleted of minerals because of this excessive egg production and either die from fatigue or can no longer produce eggs and are sent to the slaughterhouse. Eggs are similar in that there are organic, all-natural, free-range, etc. choices available. You may startle at the price of a dozen organic AND free-range eggs, but consider what you spend on beer, or a single Starbucks latte to put it in perspective.
Pigs are one of the most intelligent animals… and are definitely the most intelligent among the animals we eat. Pigs are highly social creatures, and are confined in narrow cages where they cannot even turn around. Many pigs become crazy with boredom and develop vices like mouthing, and nervous tics; their tails are cut off at birth to prevent other pigs nervous chewing habits from being confined. Pigs are born and raised inside buildings that have automated water, feed and waste removal. They don’t see daylight until they are shipped for slaughter. Dust, dirt and toxic gases from the pigs’ waste create an unsanitary environment that encourages the onset of a number of diseases and illnesses, including pneumonia, cholera, dysentery and trichinosis. As with chickens, they are fed an unhealthy, abundant diet of antibiotics and hormones to keep them from getting sick from their living situation and to hurry the growth process.
Cattle are first raised on a ranch where they eat grass and roam the countryside until they reach a certain weight. Once that is achieved they are transported to the feedlot. Most beef cattle spend the last few months of their lives at there, crowded by the thousands into dusty, manure-laden holding pens. The air is thick with harmful bacteria and particulate matter, and the animals are at a constant risk for respiratory disease. Feedlot cattle are routinely implanted with growth-promoting hormones, and they are fed unnaturally rich diets designed to fatten them quickly and profitably. Because cattle are biologically suited to eat a grass-based, high fiber diet, their concentrated feedlot rations contribute to metabolic disorders. Because they are no long given grass (what they are designed for), they become ill… so ill in fact that were they not sent to slaughter, they would really only survive a few months longer. Think about that. We’re eating animals that are near-death sick. I can’t imagine that their meat is healthy, but rather as sick as they were when they went to slaughter. If beef is something you enjoy and desire to keep in your diet, consider grass-finished beef. This can be found at some health food stores, as well as from local ranchers in your area. Make sure you ask if it is grass-finished; however, because many cows are grass-fed and then sent to feedlot to fatten up on a feedlot diet. Here’s a good educational series about factory farming, but in a less-disturbing and more enjoyable setting.
In all of these cases of meat, these animals live in close confinement, standing in their own feces for most of their lives. It’s no wonder that we see cases of e-coli and salmonella becoming increasingly common. Ever wonder why we occasionally find those things in our spinach and other produce? The sick animal waste is contaminating our water sources which of course are used to water our other crops.
This is only the tip of iceberg, so please consider doing more research on the subject if you want to know more. It has become one of my most important values and beliefs, and I absolutely will not support such a horrible food system. I would literally become vegetarian before I would go back to eating traditionally raised, factory-farmed meat (I’m not kidding).
So, given that we know all this (which maybe you’re thinking “Ignorance was Bliss”), what do you do?
- For one, you have to resign yourself to the fact that getting high-quality meat that is neither bad for you or the environment means spending a little more money. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to get around it.
- Secondly, check out prices at your local health food stores. Some are more expensive than others.
- Consider purchasing directly from farms who refuse to participate in factory farming, raise grass-finished cattle, natural and organic chickens, etc. They are out there, trust me! The closer to you the less expensive.
- Finally, check out US Wellness. By far, I have not found a better place to get my meat. I do on occasion have to pick up a few things at my local store when I’ve not planned ahead and run out, but I have found US Wellness to be affordable, their shipping is super fast and inexpensive, and ordering through their website has been super convenient for me. I may sound like a spokesperson, but I can’t rave about them enough.