Eating meat has come under attack in recent years, and for good reason. That reason is factory farming.
Most of the meat being produced today in the United States is barely fit for consumption. Further, industrialized meat production is spreading to other areas of the world, or being imported there, including Europe and South America.
In the United States alone, 99% of all Chicken, 90% of all Pork, and 80% of all Beef are grown and “harvested” on these properties called mega factory farms. Factory Chickens and Pigs, in particular, lead very miserable lives inside their factory cages and barns. And Factory Dairy/Veal is perhaps the cruelest trade of them all.
We go into the History and Facts of Industrialized Farming here. But in short, between Nixon’s USDA Secretary and excess labor and technology left over after the World Wars, what happened is that local small farmers farming by hand were slowly bought out or pushed out by larger farmers farming with machines. Most of what is left today are corporate farm monoliths, owned and run by Wall Street and at the bidding of investors, not consumers.
It is still so bizarre to me to think of a Wall Street and Food together in the same concept. We all have these visuals associated in our minds when we hear the word “Farm”. Lush grass, grazing cattle, frolicking hens, a pastoral landscape. Unfortunately, the vast majority of food produced today all over the world is the opposite of that. Filthy, dark, inhumane and cruel – not a blade of grass or shred of sun in sight.
When we think of Corporations and Wall Street, most of us get different visuals. We think of high-tech. We think of companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Intel. Or the retail giants like Nike, where I served the last 6 years of my corporate career. I, like most of us, certainly don’t equate Wall Street and massive corporations, with Food.
And yet, food made by corporations comprises roughly 90% of what Americans eat. Every single day.
Let’s take chicken as an example. As mentioned above, only 1% of all chicken eaten in the US is NOT produced by a mega factory farm. Check out the following typical factory chicken “farm” (ie warehouse):
Tyson Foods is the largest of these factory farms, and they “process” (slaughter, butcher and package) about 43 Million chickens every week. They own 42 different brand names across all their meat products (which includes pork products like Jimmy Dean and Hillshire Farms). Their meat is everywhere – at all the fast food chains, at the large grocers.
There are just 4 chicken producers that control over 90% of the chicken market. And if you are shopping conventionally, which is generally just through a regular old supermarket, even if you’re being careful with “organic” brands, you are likely purchasing chicken from one of these 4 suppliers. Many organic brands are now subsidiaries of these 4 companies. The 4 companies are Tyson, Perdue, Sanderson, and Pilgrim’s Pride. Smaller Factory Farms include Koch Farms and Foster Farms.
Other types of meat are much the same. Pork production is almost entirely monopolized by Smithfield Farms and Brazil-based JBS. These companies also have multiple subsidiaries and brands in order to reach a wider market, including the organic and health-conscious segments. In most cases, those segments are nothing more than a different label.
We call the animals that have been raised and slaughtered on factory farms, “industrially produced meat”. This type of meat has all kinds of things wrong with it because of the cost-cutting corners that the corporations take.
They feed the animals the cheapest edible substances possible. Cheap toxic grain, artificial “food” pellets, and even candy. The feedlots will grind up hide and bones of slaughtered pigs and cows and feed it to the next generation as “bone meal supplement”. The chicken industry now sells its chicken waste to the hog and beef industries. Diseased and waste chicken products now find their way into the digestive tracts of larger livestock.
Massive amounts of antibiotics must be administered to keep these animals from dying before they get to slaughter. In fact, a whopping 80% of all antibiotics produced in the United States are administered to domestic livestock – not humans.
Over generations, this toxic food and environment has resulted in a heavy load of toxins in today’s factory farmed animals. And the corporations are doing this in an environment of filth and extreme stress on the animals.
All of this leads to a really contaminated meat product. These facts have led us to the following belief about meat.
It is our opinion that meat itself is not causing a lot of the nation’s health crises, but the method in which most meat has been produced – ie by these factory, industrial farms.
If you want to read more about Industrial Food, feel free to head on over to my article about it.
But meanwhile, this article is about how you DO eat meat right then, if you’re still a meat eater after all of this?
STEP 1: EAT LESS FAST FOOD MEAT
Even if you continue buying conventional meat from a grocery store for now, it’s likely to be healthier than anything you get at a fast food joint. Start reducing your overall consumption of fast food, particularly meat products at fast food, as an initial step into this new world of saying No to factory farmed meat.
Even if you go no further than this step, between reducing factory meat, deep fried food and (likely) soda as well, you’re reducing inflammation and risk of heart disease and cancer by as much as 50%. That’s pretty good for one simple change to your diet.
STEP 2: EAT MORE LOCAL OR PASTURED MEAT
Pastured pigs doing what pigs do best.
The natural and simple solution is to eat the opposite of what factory meat is. DON’T eat factory meat, whenever you can help it. Go to places (direct at a farm, at a farmer’s market, or in a grocery store) that sell local or regionally produced meat.
The great news about pastured, small-farm meat is that it can be shipped frozen, unlike local produce. In our Where to Shop section, we have a list of companies that ship across the US where you can place orders either via subscription or ala carte.
It is really encouraging that these types of companies are popping up all over, because there is a large food movement happening right now as consumers are becoming educated on the multiple horrors of factory mega-farming.
Factory farmed pigs are held in cages so small they can’t move, much less do what pigs do best – root, forage and run.
Lastly, meat is NOT something you should aim to get cheaply. The cheap up front cost hides a plethora of costs down the line. Health care costs, illness costs, quality of life costs, increased necessity for drugs with side effects, and environmental cost. If you are concerned about protein cost, buy more plant protein. Beans and legumes are very inexpensive.
Super cheap or bulk-packaged meat is likely to be chock full of the toxic stuff you learned about above.
Local and/or organic meats are likely to be a little spendier. But if you combine this step with Step 3 (balancing meat protein with plant protein), you can maintain your grocery budget by focusing on quality over quantity. This is the sweet spot when it comes to any sort of animal product. Pay a little extra for GOOD stuff, focusing on quality over quantity. Hopefully you’re saving all kinds of money not buying fast food as much, so you can put it into more home cooking. 🙂
(Don’t, however, pay extra for the factory-farmed meat that they’ve just slapped a fancier label onto – you’re just throwing your money away if you do that. Make sure your source is local or regional, and a fancy label with a factory farm hiding behind it.)
STEP 3: BALANCE ANIMAL PROTEIN WITH PLANT PROTEIN
In my balanced diet guide, I recommend getting about 20% of your dietary calories from protein – that’s about 100 grams a day for a 2000 calorie diet. (It’s fine to get a little more if you’re under heavy athletic training, but sedentary people really don’t need more.)
I also recommend making a concerted effort to get more of that overall protein from plant sources. That isn’t because animal meat is evil. It actually has a ton of health benefits, including iron, complete essential amino acids, multiple b vitamins, and beneficial bacteria.
Rather, in the Standard American Diet, people are almost entirely excluding plant protein that is cheap and unfashionable, such as beans, lentils and other legumes. The benefit of getting more of these things in your diet is because they ALSO have massive health benefits, which includes things animal protein does not: namely, a ton of fiber, which makes both your gut and your heart very happy and healthy, but also a wide range of protective, anti-cancer plant chemicals, and vitamins and minerals they’ve absorbed from the soil.
So what are some tips to start eating a little less animal protein?
TIP 1: The easiest way is to stick with smaller serving sizes, like 2-3 ounces per meal, and only 1 or 2 meals per day including meat (not all 3).
TIP 2: Start treating meat as an accompaniment to the rest of the meal – rather than everything else on the table as “the side dishes” to the meat (which is how I, and probably a lot of us, grew up!). Change your perspective to view meat as a side dish and a veggie or plant-based dish as the main course. Or serve your meals tapas/small-plate style, with no “one” main dish. This is my favorite type of dinner, and it’s also great for kids because the “family style” serving may help them feel more empowered to dish up their own plate.
TIP 3: Have a plant-based protein on the table along with the animal-based protein, or mix them together. For example, you might make a nice bean or lentil based dish and serve that alongside some roasted veggies and chicken. When meat isn’t the only protein option on the table, you’re more likely to eat a little less of it since you’re also eating the plant protein, which is really satiating due to the fiber.
STEP 4: VARY YOUR ANIMAL PROTEIN SOURCES
If you’re going to eat meat, try to really eat a variety of animal protein, which can be difficult to do. Unlike the plant kingdom in which you literally have thousands of choices, animal choices can be pretty boring: poultry, pork, beef, lamb, fish and seafood.
But a lot of us get into a rut with our favorite recipes or meals. We may end up having nothing but chicken all week. Or we may make a huge pot of this Triple Meat Chili and then eat all 8 servings in succession over 4 days, flooding our diet with only beef protein. (That Chili is stupid-good, but I recommend freezing some for later!)
When you eat a more varied animal protein diet, you not only get different types of protein, minerals and vitamins, but you also help spread out any toxins that you may be getting from one source.
One trick is to try to eat animals with “less legs” – that is, if you eat mostly 4-legged animals (beef, pork, lamb), try more 2-legged animals (chicken, duck, turkey, quail, etc). And if you eat a ton of 2-legged protein, try to eat more no-legged protein (all different types of fish, shellfish and other seafood). If you’re pescatarian, don’t eat all the same kind of fish. There is a lot of variety in the sea, so take full advantage.
SAMPLE WEEKLY DIET
Here is what I do (generally – tee hee). Don’t feel like you have to follow this, but it’s somewhere to start if you want to try it out.
First, I personally don’t generally eat animal protein for breakfast except the occasional egg or scramble. I find a lot of “breakfast meats” are cured and high-fat, so I skip them in favor of eggs or dairy – or I just have a guilt-free high-carb breakfast. This is the time of day your body is most likely to use energy.
Beyond Breakfast, that leaves 14 lunches and dinners per week. Here is what we do for those:
Beef: Two to three meals a week
Pork and/or lamb: One to two meals a week
Fish or seafood: One to two meals a week. Our faves are wild salmon and scallops.
Cured protein: One meal a week. This is usually associated with a treat, like prosciutto on a pizza or bacon thrown in with a salad. We eat only nitrate-free, high quality and local artisan cured proteins and charcuteries.
Remainder: For the remaining meals, usually a combo of white or dark poultry and plant protein.
The point is: you shouldn’t eat only chicken all the time, any more than you should only eat broccoli for your vegetable. Spread your wings and try new things. Eat a varied diet that will balance cravings and deficiencies. Try wild game, if you like red meat! You may like it. I grew up on Elk and loved it.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON EATING ANIMALS
It is our position that being a meat eater or not is a personal decision. Some people prefer to get 100% of their nutrition through plants, and there is nothing wrong with that. When managed appropriately and well-balanced, it is one of the healthiest ways to eat. Some people like to eat meat, and there is nothing wrong with that either, when the animal is sustainably, humanely raised and slaughtered.
What we try to advocate for on Dinner in Provence is to eat meat more like our great-grandparents did. They hunted wild game, they raised their own animals, or they bought meat from a butcher down the street.
In many places around the world, meat animals are very much still highly respected by small local growers. Many people grow their own meat if they have the land. Or they may share with neighbors.
Even though factory farming dominates the meat scene, there is a growing movement and interest of raising meat animals traditionally and without corner-cutting. Pigs in particular are prized in many European cultures, and the animal’s life is honored by using the entire animal in various foods.
One reason we love French cooking is their penchant for utilizing an entire animal in some way or other.
THAT is how to eat meat right.
Factory produced meat, specifically, is not ethical. As we’ve discussed, the animals are treated inhumanely, the byproducts to the land and feeding systems for the animals are unsustainable, the amount of waste generated is unsustainable, and the amount of toxins flowing into our bodies through this system is also unsustainable.
This is where diets like Paleo fall a little short. They encourage “eating like our ancestors did” with higher protein content. And it is true that eating high protein and natural whole foods is generally great health advice. But these diets fail to acknowledge that our ancestors did not eat factory farmed, corn and bonemeal-fed feedlot cows. They did not ingest hundreds of pounds of genetically modified, diseased chickens.
This is why it is so crucial to consider the source of your food – particularly when it comes to animals (meat, dairy, and eggs).
Whatever you choose, remember that it is your choice. You get to vote on our world’s future food system three times a day. Eat with thoughtfulness and honor, and you will be fine. ❤️