Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Part 2: How I Made the Switch

Learning the truth about our nation’s farms and the treatment of animals, which I shared about in my previous post Why I Made the Switch, was the toughest part of our journey in shifting our eating habits. After we learned the painful truth, we were surging with energy and a new passion that would ultimately impact our lives and the lives of hundreds of animals.

As our first step toward changing our habits, we committed to doing two things we believed were achievable for us: 1) eat one meatless dinner per week and 2) source our meats from a humane farmer.

The idea behind eating one meatless dinner per week was pretty much a no-brainer for me. It would reduce our overall meat consumption and therefore our impact on animals. It would help reduce our grocery bill since meat at the grocery store was expensive and humanely raised meat would be even more expensive. And it would help get us find more creative ways to fuel our bodies using plant-based ingredients.

My husband was more skeptical. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, he feared I would simply plate up a pile of veggies for him and call it dinner. I didn’t quite do that. But, admittedly, in the first few months of attempting meatless meals, we ate a lot of grilled cheese, pancakes and salad. These days I have many meatless recipes in my cooking arsenal, which are currently featured or coming soon to this blog to help others avoid the meatless meal hell of grilled cheese that we endured.

Sourcing our meats from a humane farmer was a bit trickier. Not knowing where to start, I reached out to my network on Facebook to see if anyone had any ideas. Some encouraged me to go straight vegetarian (out of the question for my husband), but one friend suggested I check out eatwild.com.

Though the website was (and still is) a bit unsophisticated, it’s a wealth of information about animal welfare and provides a comprehensive directory of more than 1,300 pasture-based farms across the U.S. and Canada that must adhere to an extensive list of production standards to be included on the website. Features on the website allow people to search for farms in their state, as well as find local markets, grocery stores and restaurants that sell grassfed products.

After rigorous review of all available farmers in my area, I landed on a farmer who offered a range of meats and dairy products and who had a stand at the local farmer’s market so I could buy a few cuts of meat to test out before fully committing.

My first encounter at the farmers market was one of the best shopping experiences I’ve ever had. Eiko, one half of the husband and wife team that runs Skagit River Ranch just a little over an hour outside Seattle, was not only helpful, but extremely friendly and informative. I shared my story about my quest for humane farmers and meats, and she shared in great detail the love and care she and her husband had for their animals, the pasture environment the animals were raised on, their rotation methods, and as much information as I wanted to about their slaughter practices.

She also shared helpful tips to look for if I decided to continue my search for a farmer: Make sure the animals are on a grass-fed diet from birth to death and not finished on grain, which both fattens up the animals and alters the flavor of the meat. Make sure a farmer provides full disclosure about slaughter practices as anyone who has something to hide is not someone I’d want to work with. Oh, and if I’d like to come out to the farm and see for myself what it’s like, I’d be welcome to come out to their ranch.

Needless to say, I was sold.

The price definitely took some getting used to. I went from paying $1-$3 per pound for meat to $6-$10 per pound. (As a side note, the price difference is because farmers using humane practices are not government subsidized, while factory farms using inhumane practices are.) But it also forced me to examine our overall meat consumption and realize that we had been overeating for years. At the grocery store, I would have bought a package of four pork chops and cooked them all up for the two of us. After making the switch, I bought just two pork chops for the two of us.

Recipes that called for several types of meat in one dish went in the garbage. The cost was simply too high to justify a recipe like that, especially when there were thousands of recipes available that were just as flavorful (and usually more healthful) than those that called for lots of meat. Plus, I found that animals that subsisted on grass, were raised without antibiotics and hormones, and were never under stress from horrible conditions or traumatic slaughter experiences produced leaner, more tender and more flavorful meat that was far more satisfying in small quantities than anything we had ever bought from the grocery store.

If you’re contemplating a switch, take small steps first like reducing your overall meat consumption. This option fits into any food budget and greatly reduces your impact on animals and the environment. If you’re ready to take the next step, visit eatwild.com to find farmers in your area, visit your local farmers market, or locate markets in your area that sell grass-fed, humanely raised meats and other animal products.

Stay tuned for Part 3: The Full Diet Switch to learn about how we took our concerns about animal welfare one step further to shift our entire diet to more whole, natural foods. 
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  1. Very interesting series!

    The sourcing of meat is such a complicated matter. Have you seen King Corn? It will answer a lot of questions about the shift in American eating habits. A generation or two ago, meat wasn't served at every meal; it wasn't cheap. And it shouldn't be cheap. But it's also interesting to hear the people responsible for the shift talk about why and why it was a mistake.

    1. Lesley, I haven't seen King Corn. I'll definitely have to check that out. I completely agree that it is a complex issue, which is unfortunate. Of all things, our food should be rather simple, don't you think? I'll be talking about this in my next post, but one of my biggest resources has been Michael Pollan, who talks a lot about what you've described as well. My hope is that as more folks become aware of the issues, we'll all make changes in our lives that have big impacts on the way things are done in the future.