Don't Eat THAT Meat! (Why You Need to Eat Clean Grass Fed Meat and How You Can Find It--Being More Self-Reliant from the Food Industry)
NOTE: This article is about the horrors, abuses, and facts about meat from Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFO’s), and how you can find healthy clean meat to feed your family.
I got the most hurtful, rude comment on one of my Instagram pictures the other day. It cut me to the bone. People can be really mean. I was told I was “shameful and vile.” I think the word, “disgusting” may even have been tossed in there too. What did this have to do with writing about how to find clean meat and why you need to?
You see, one of the ways we procure meat for ourselves to eat is by hunting. Our practice of hunting legally and ethically for meat is what caused that lady to post her ignorant comment.
And I say, “ignorant” not out of meanness, but out of reality.
I do believe most people in our country lack knowledge about where grocery (factory-farmed or CAFO) meat comes from and how it’s grown. Hence, the word ignorant. People need to actively research these facts, and most just don’t. Or won’t.
By purchasing meat that has been factory raised in a CAFO (and that is about 90% of the meat on the market these days), you are supporting incredible cruelty to animals, and you are also getting a very sub-par, unhealthy product.
Grocery store meat is so misunderstood. It has all these labels. How do we know which kind of meat is the best kind to eat? These labels hide the shockingly dark truth about meat behind fancy words most people erroneously take for granted as being “good for you”.
Free range. Corn-fed. No hormones added. Natural (which is laughable). Raised in the USA. Farm-raised. Or worst of all—no fancy words.
And why on earth should we even care? After all, that meat you see in the grocery store MUST be just fine since the government is regulating it, right?
WRONG, my friend.
Like most folks, when we lived in the city, we shopped at the local grocery store and thought everything there was just fine.
And then, about eight years ago—-we came across food documentaries. Our first few food documentaries were astoundingly disgusting.
We were so repulsed, Mr. V. and I actually became vegetarian for a short time and tried not to eat any meat at all. However, we actually gained weight and felt really bad on that kind of diet. So we decided we were ONLY going to choose meat and fish to eat that are raised and killed in healthy, ethical ways.
It’s been a long process because we had to learn to dig deep and dissect those fancy words the big businesses deceptively use on their labels. We had to learn about the horrific ways of CAFO’s. But I think we have it nailed down now.
These days, we hunt. We farm. And we buy meat and poultry from small farmers we know personally or who we can trust from afar. But you need to know WHY.
Reasons Why You Should Eat Clean, Healthy, Humanely Raised Meat
Here are the reasons why our family (just Mr. V. and I these days) refuses to purchase the typical meat found in the grocery store butcher area...and what we do instead to make sure we are eating healthy, real meat.
If you are raising young children in this modern world, I do hope you will research for yourself and make healthy decisions. My hope is that the facts here will spur you on to make the best choices you are able to.
Reason 1) Our Health: You are What Your Meat Eats
Our first interaction with a food documentary was Frankinsteer (which has mysteriously disappeared from all avenues of purchasing or watching—-Can you say, “Deep Pockets”?). Let me just summarize—-it was horrifying.
This documentary took you through the lives of factory farmed beef cows, all the medications, overcrowded conditions, living in piles of knee-deep dung, growth hormones, and the cannibalistic garbage feed these cattle were being unnaturally forced to eat.
Yes. I said “cannibal.”
According to this documentary (as I recall, as I watched it about seven years ago and must rely on my memory since it has been removed from circulation), animals are fed the cheapest waste foods possible, including animal by-products, even from their own species.
These poor animals rarely if ever see the kind of food they are meant to be eating: grass.
What does this matter?
Well, aside from the fact that choosing to buy meat from animals that are raised and slaughtered in terrible conditions is BAD for you, you are also supporting these devious and disgusting practices. You are supporting a big business model that is all about the money with no care for individual citizens, let alone the environment or the animals.
By purchasing meat from large factory farms, you are supporting animal torture.
Why do these large factory farms treat their animals so badly you wonder?
But I digress—back to the fact: you are what your meat eats.
Just for kicks and giggles, let’s take a look at what you are actually eating when you eat meat from a factory-farm:
1) Waste—-feces, old straw, dirt.
“According to Care2.com, 10 to 30 percent of the diet of feedlot cattle across the U.S. is made up from the floor waste of commercial chicken houses.”
Yep! Do you know what this means? That “one billion pounds of feces, feathers, spilled feed, straw, dirt, and anything else on the floor under the cramped birds are shoveled in front of cattle on feedlots across America each year.” (Mary Jane’s Farm)
In another case, a Chinese seafood exporter was found to be feeding fish (in this case tilapia) feces and waste products from hundreds of pigs and geese. And the FDA reports that around 27% of seafood from China is contaminated with salmonella.
Guess what? It’s been approved for the public to eat!
How do you feel about that?
In order to cut down on feed costs, undercover investigations like this one by the Humane Society of Kentucky have discovered that is is a fairly common practice to feed animals meat, bone, or blood by-products from other animals and even their own species.
In the undercover footage from the link above, investigators found that pigs were being fed the carcasses, intestines, and diarrhea from their own piglets.
How’s that for gruesome?
3) Candy and gum
Evidently, it is ok for these factory farms to feed a certain percentage of candy that is unsaleable to the general public to their animals in feedlots. This includes stale gum still in the aluminum wrappers. In one article I read (resources below), the percentage was 30%! What?
4) Growth Hormones
Dairy cows in large factory farms are fed growth hormones in order to increase milk production unnaturally. Once these cows are finished with their high production years, they are then slaughtered for beef.
Cows meant for beef are also fed growth hormones in order for them to grow as quickly as possible, which means a whole slew of other health problems. for the animals and us. Instead of it taking 4 years for a normal cow to go to slaughter, it takes just over a year for a feedlot cow.
In our country, these companies are not required to list the hormones fed to the cattle that we eat either.
Most factory farmed meat in our country is given some type of growth hormone, with the exception of poultry, I believe.
So yes. YOU are eating growth hormones by purchasing factory farmed meat.
By the way, the six growth hormones most commonly used are known to increase the risks of breast, prostate, and colon cancers in beef consumers.
A little personal observation:
In my previous career, I was a school teacher for several decades. When I began my career in the 80’s, children developed “normally.” By that, I mean that little girls’ menses and puberty typically started within a normal age range, right around 5th to 7th grades.
By the time I left education in 2016, my anecdotal observations over the previous decade and a half noted that little girls had breasts earlier and often began their menses earlier, sometimes as early as second grade! Early onset puberty has become a common thing these days.
Could that at least partially be caused by the growth hormones in dairy and meat? Just wondering over here.
As Joel Salatin would say, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal.”
Antibiotics are given to factory farmed animals to keep them as healthy as possible in the terrible conditions in which they live. In fact, around 70% of the total use of antibiotics in America goes into factory farmed animals for “non-therapeutic” reasons.
Well, these stressed animals are packed into very close quarters and often live in their own waste. They require the antibiotics to keep them as well as possible while they live out their short, tortured, miserable lives awaiting slaughter day.
What do these antibiotics mean for us?
This irresponsible use of antibiotics in our food source has created untreatable bacteria that cause infections in humans. Antibiotic resistant infections kill nearly 100,000 people every year in America!
And did you know that recent samples show that 1 in 4 packages of meat in the grocery stores are tainted with drug-resistant bacteria? Pretty scary, isn’t it?
My friend, YOU ARE WHAT YOUR MEAT EATS. Please keep this in mind next time you are looking at that super cheap steak in the grocery store.
Reason 2) Our Economy: Factory Farms vs. Small Family Farms
It’s a fact nowadays. Big Business Rules.
In my opinion, that is dangerous.
Big business is responsible for creating government regulations that push out and destroy small businesses. This happens in nearly every single industry. But that’s a conversation for another day.
For small businesses in the farm industry, they are required to hold to the same practices as big business, which often makes absolutely no sense. The thing is, small farms are generally cleaner, have better practices, and care about the local food chain.
The processes a small family farm uses is a far cry from the terrors in a CAFO. There’s just no comparison.
But when they must compete with these huge factory farms, they often just can’t keep up and end up going out of business.
This is a pretty simplistic explanation about this particular reason for not buying factory farmed meat and dairy, but trust me: We need our small farms.
I recommend you read these interesting and engaging books by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm. He’s an expert in the management and dilemmas the small farms face: Folks, This Ain’t Normal is the first book of his I read. It’s great. Not only is it interesting, but it really gives you a good idea of what is going on in our country with small farms.
Another excellent book is the Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for All God’s Creation. It’s a strong message to the conservative right to start making better decisions about our world.
Finally, the book, Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, discusses the fact that Americans no longer have the right to choose the kind of foods they buy and eat because of global big business practices and governments more interested in the almighty dollar than in the people they serve.
The dying off of small farms is dangerous for these reasons:
1) Factory farmed meat is mass produced, thereby enabling these big businesses to under cut meat prices. This causes the small family farms to go out of business because they just can’t compete.
Healthy meat from small farmers comes at a higher cost in dollars….but a much lower (or no) cost in health consequences.
2) Factory farms make their money based on the quantity of animals they can get to market. In order to get the most animals to market, they use egregious methods such as mutilation, over-crowding, use of growth hormones, cost cutting measures (such as the feed above) and dangerous antibiotics.
Small farms are more concerned with the quality of the meat they sell. There is a sense of pride these farmers have in their product, in my experience. The welfare of their animals is first priority.
3) On factory farms, the animals are treated cruelly—often never seeing the light of day. Many are mutilated on purpose to keep them from hurting themselves and each other in the stressful conditions in which they live.
***And guess what? The stress hormones in meat from factory farmed animals affect the quality of the meat—-and you probably guessed it—-we end up eating these stress hormones too.
On the other hand, small farmers tend to have very humane systems in place for raising the animals as well as the harvesting of them for meat. These animals are often pastured their whole lives and are happy. It’s too bad this is not the kind of meat you can buy in the grocery stores.
4) Factory farms offer fewer meat choices at a higher cost to us in terms of the environment and our health.
Small farms often offer diverse selections of healthy meat and tend to care for and properly manage their land.
5) Factory farms by their very nature pollute the meat we eat as well as the environment, including our water supplies. The growth hormones and antibiotics fed these animals always make it into the meat you buy from them and also into our water supply.
Small farms are generally mindful about the chemicals they allow on the farm. They are careful about the water and the meat because they realize the consequences of these chemicals.
Reason 3) The Morality (or Immorality) of Factory Farms
I’m going to make some pretty strong statements here. But that’s just me. Here goes:
I honestly can’t comprehend why a person with any tidbit of a conscience would make a choice to support a system that tortures animals.
But that’s what’s happening.
Every single day, millions of Americans head on over to the local bulk food store or grocery store or big box store to pick up the cheapest meat they can find. Unbeknownst to (most) of them, they are supporting the torture and mutilation of animals and some serious issues with the quality of the meat.
Prior to the emergence of factory farms (Concentrated Animal Feed Operations, also called CAFO’s), animal husbandry practices were valued. There was a belief in the world of meat marketing that the quality of the animal’s life directly impacted the quality of the product: the meat, eggs, or dairy.
When you treat animals well, then you get a better product!
SO, I do not understand why the mass cruelty of these factory animals is accepted. People claim ignorance….”Oh, I didn’t know.”
But COME ON, already. We all have this collective “feeling” that things aren’t right in our food world. Don’t we? OK. Speaking for myself, Mr. V. and I feel it very strongly.
Here are some things you should know about how the meat you eat from the grocery stores (from factory farmed animals in CAFO’s) are treated, aside from the disgusting toxins we found out they are fed in the first section:
1) Extreme Stress:
Here are some of the ways these animals live under severe stressful conditions.
** Tight quarters with no room to move:
Animals in CAFO’s are packed together in extremely tight quarters. In some pig farms, in fact, they are kept in cages that are so small there is no room to turn around or even lay down. It makes me feel sick. The floor of some of the pig’s cages are metal slats, and they often never see the light of day.
** The animals are not allowed to behave naturally and often never get outside even once in their lives:
Due to the crowded conditions, social animals like cattle, pigs, and birds are not given the ability to interact normally with each other. In addition, behaviors such as pecking, grazing, rooting, and others don’t happen. This inability to behave normally creates extreme stress.
** Sick and suffering animals are often neglected:
Due to the high ratio of animals to workers, animals who need care may not get it. In addition, the workers are often rough and abusive with the animals because there are so many.
** As stated above antibiotics are misused:
Animals (like people) are not meant to live a life on medication. It’s untenable that CAFO’s are allowed to abuse drugs in this manner with their animals and then pass them along to people.
Mutilated without anesthesia, these animals endure tortures:
** Pigs’ tails are cut off, to prevent biting
** Chickens are routinely de-beaked
** Teeth are clipped in some cases
** De-horning (Now, there are some who believe this is not abuse, but there are some who do. I happen to not de-horn our animals.)
I can’t even think of how awful and painful of a life these animals exist in.
3) Growth Hormones and Poor Feed Cause Health Issues in the Animals:
Many of these animals given growth hormones suffer tremendously due to growing too quickly. Their organs simply can’t keep up with their bodies.
Or take the case of a dairy cow. The calf is removed as soon as possible in order to harvest the milk from the cow. The cow produces extreme amounts of milk because they are given hormones to enhance the yield. A typical cow lives around 20 years, while a dairy cow is sent to slaughter within a few years.
You can’t tell me that factory dairy cow is a happy, healthy cow.
The growth hormones, stress hormones, etc. all appear in the milk that we drink!
If you do watch Food, Inc., you’ll see examples of over growth of meat chickens, if I recall that documentary (It’s been awhile since I watched it.) But it’s horrifying.
Not all of us feel the same way about our meat, but certainly, if the quality of the meat doesn’t bother you, surely, the way these animals are treated does? Or vice versa? There is a LOT wrong with this feedlot system.
Why else should the health of the animal matter to us, the consumer, anyway?
Well, besides the fact that the animal suffers due to being sick and stressed and mutilated, the product (meat, milk, eggs) is negatively affected for you, the consumer.
Think about this for a moment: Decades ago, a steer was slaughtered at about four or five years old. That’s because in the natural world, that is how long it takes for the steer to reach an ideal meat weight of 1,200 or so pounds.
These days, in the CAFO’s, an 80 pound calf reaches that slaughterhouse weight within a little more than a year (while living in complete painful misery). How do they do this?
Well, the CAFO beef is fed grain (as well as the other disgusting things in Reason 1 above). Grain is a completely unnatural food source for cattle. Their stomachs are not meant to eat grains. Cows are meant to eat grass. They are meant to forage.
So what? Why should you care?
Grass-fed beef on small farms is dramatically healthier for you, the consumer. You can find out a lot more in Jo Robinson’s book, Grass-fed is Best, but here are some facts about the quality of grass-fed, pasture-raised beef as opposed to stressed out and sick cows fed toxins:
1) Steaks from grass-fed & finished beef have significantly fewer calories.
2) Grass-fed & finished beef has significantly lower levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind)
3) Grass-fed & finished beef has 2 to 6 times more Omega 3 fatty acids (the good kind). Omega-3’s help your heart, your brain, and also help prevent cancers.
4) And then there is CLA! CLA is conjugated linoleic acid, and it is essential to the human body. This means we don’t make it ourselves, and we must get it from our food. Well, grass-fed beef that actually get to roam around on pasture produce extremely high amounts of CLA—far more than beef from a CAFO. CLA helps prevent cancer. It’s also instrumental in proper weight management.
5) Grass-fed beef has four times more Vitamin E than cows fed on grain, or worse, feed lot toxins.
You can certainly see by now that a cow who gets to live in a natural environment, eating grass and/or fodder and not being unnaturally fed grains, wastes, and meat by-products (cannibalism) will produce meat that is far better for us and the environment.
So What Can YOU Do to Eat Healthier Meat? How Can You Get Clean Meat?
Let’s circle back to the beginning of the article, with that incredibly nasty comment I received from a person who couldn’t understand why we would hunt meat so we could eat clean.
I thoughtlessly put that photo of my proud hunter-husband on social media because it’s part of our lifestyle. It did not occur to me that others living in ignorant bliss may be offended.
Our lifestyle choices in terms of how we manage to eat clean meat are right here in this section. Here are things YOU can do right now to be sure you are feeding your family well, and eating the healthiest possible food. Also, to ensure you are not contributing to the horrors of the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feed Operation), please consider these ideas.
1) Hunt for Your Food
Eating wild game is one of the healthiest ways you can get your meat for your family. I know this option is not available to everyone, but if you can hunt, and if you feel ok about it, it’s a way to ensure you are eating clean meat while allowing the animal to serve its purpose.
But what about how awful it is to kill the animal you ask?
Let’s take a look at how that wild animal would otherwise die.
** There’s starvation, in the event of overpopulation.
** There’s disease, which also is increased with overpopulation.
** There’s being killed, literally torn apart while still alive, by a predator. And yes, there are wolves in this area where we live who are only too happy to oblige.
** There are natural accidents, such as being hit by a vehicle, breaking a leg and dying a slow, agonizing death, or other incidences.
** And then….there is being shot, hopefully with a clean kill, by a hunter, who will then take the meat home to feed his family.
Regardless of your personal feelings about hunting wild game, you just can’t argue with the other possible ways that wild animal will meet its end.
2) Raise Your Own Meat
This option is also not for everyone, I understand. However, if you are living in a place that doesn’t have a lot of HOA, city, or county rules, you could consider raising your own meat.
Even in an urban or suburban area with a small-ish backyard, you can raise rabbit, chickens, and even larger birds like turkeys to supplement some of your meat needs. Most counties allow you to raise your own meat for your own family, so check the regulations first.
But let’s talk about the elephant in the room: EATING YOUR PETS???? Egads!
When Mr. V. and I tell people that we eat our turkeys and use the bones and feet for bone broth, the responses we have gotten are pretty amazing. The most common is the horrified expression from some people about the assumption that we eat our pets.
Well. We do. But let me clarify.
We raise our animals with loving attention in a clean, healthy, uncrowded way. We give them excellent food, and they are allowed to free range, even the chickens. We love our animals.
But when we bring an animal to our small homestead, each animal has a purpose. For the chickens, it’s to provide us with healthy eggs and eventually meat. For the goats, it’s to provide kids for milk and meat.
Eventually, we are planning to add a couple pigs and perhaps a cow. Any bird we have here, such as turkeys or ducks will also provide eggs and meat.
Guess what? Our animals are healthy. They are happy. They are loved. And when it is time for them to become meat to feed the family, they are harvested very quickly and humanely, with no pain.
I think I’d rather die that way than in a CAFO slaughterhouse or being torn apart by a predator, wouldn’t you?
3) Support Local Small Farmers with Excellent Practices:
This one is honestly my favorite way to make sure we are eating clean, healthy, quality meat. When we lived in Southern Nevada, healthy clean meat was really hard to come by in the stores. Local ranchers who sold meat were either SUPER expensive or were a bit farther away in Southern Utah.
But it was possible for us to find groups who organized the sale of meat raised humanely by small farmers in the general area. I just had to do some research and ask questions. And that’s what we did there.
The other thing we did, if we had to go to the grocery store, was to purchase from shops who carried meat that were guaranteed to be raised and killed humanely.
I don’t know if Whole Foods still has its humanely raised levels on their meat since Amazon bought them (because we don’t live anywhere near a Whole Foods anymore, sadly). But if there is one in your area, check that out! We could buy meat from them, even pork, and feel reasonably good about it because you could see how the meat was raised.
And I do believe they support small local farms.
Finally—-most areas of the country (like where we live now in Idaho) have MANY small farms who are able to sell meat to individuals or even to local Farmers Markets and Co-ops.
And some of these small farms, like Crow Bench Farm, will actually ship all over the United States! Who knew?
The reason I know this now is because one of my new friends up here in the panhandle of Idaho has a small farm where they raise about 40 or so head of cattle. Their cattle are COMPLETELY grass-fed from start to finish, and their methods of slaughter are the most humane I’ve come across.
I feel so blessed to have found them! And in turn, they have put me in touch with other small farmers who sell other kinds of meat, like lamb, chicken, and turkey with excellent animal husbandry practices.
Do you know what the REALLY neat thing is about having found this small farm? I have actually been invited to help them care for the cattle. I’ve seen how they are pastured, and I’ve helped move fence lines. I’ve seen their amazing fodder system, and I feel great about the fact that these cows have never had a kernel of corn pass their lips. I’ve even helped with newborn calves.
Here’s the information for my friend’s farm, in case you want to get in touch with them:
Crow Bench Farm
Patrick Slater and Janet Brewer
Pat Cell (916) 752-1550, Jan Cell (916) 752-8811
And here is their Facebook page: Crow Bench Farm
They are well-educated in raising beef and can answer any of your questions.
And the price? Well, buying grass-fed beef is going to cost more than the cheap and unhealthy CAFO meat. So is buying elk or buffalo. But here’s the thing. How about eating less meat, if cost is the issue, and only eating GOOD meat when you do?
Doesn’t that make more sense than supporting the CAFO system?
More Tips for Buying Clean Meat
1) Buy Certified Organic
If you aren’t purchasing your meat from a small farm, then try to buy certified organic meat. Going for organic guarantees that you will not be buying meat with growth hormones, antibiotics, or dangerous byproducts in your meat.
2) Grass-Fed is Best
Labels that state 100% grass-fed gives you the guarantee that the animal was raised on its natural diet of grass. If you can buy grass-fed and organic, that’s the best of all.
3) Avoid Additives
If you see a label that touts the meat is “extra moist,” be suspicious. Marinated meats are also suspect. Basically, you are buying water, salt, and chemicals. Aged meat is also best because this means that you are buying less moisture. Did you know that the term “fresh” can mean as much as 30% water?
4) Packaging Matters
You want wrap that clings to the meat. Some companies package meat with a layer that is meant to trap gases that have been added to keep the meat looking fresh longer. Who knew, right?
This article turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it was going to be. But the more I researched and read and talked with people, the more I learned…and the more dismayed I became.
And to anyone who has issues with how we choose to obtain our meat? I have nothing to say. I will not apologize for feeling strongly about and living my beliefs of not supporting animal abuse.
In order to be as naturally healthy as possible, you owe it to yourself and your children to do your due diligence and find out everything you can about the things you choose to put into your bodies. And that includes (especially includes) meat.
Here are some books you might want to take a look at:
Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson
The Jungle Effect by Daphne Miller (how the healthiest in the world eat)
Farmacology by Daphne Miller (total health from the ground up)
The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs by Joel Salatin
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
A great Ted Talk to watch:
And here is a short but detailed biography of a feedlot cow written by the esteemed Michael Pollan. He describes how a steer he purchased lives from birth to death in a feedlot, including its feed. He also discusses the method of slaughter as well as the “razor-thin” margin of profit each of these beefs brings to the rancher (er…feedlot owner).
And see the resources list below. It’s shocking what’s out there!
You may also enjoy these related articles:
And there are LOTS more on the website!
What do you think of eating meat? I hope you’ll leave a comment. This is an important issue in this modern world, especially with the decline of the American food system.
Hugs, Health, and Self-Reliance,
P.S. I hope you’ll sign up for the newsletter! I have three free eBooks for you, and you’ll never miss a thing!
“You Are What Your Meat Eats.” Mary Janes Farm Magazine. August-September 2017.