On this site, we talk quite a bit about eating local food versus industrialized food. Hopefully you’ve read a few other articles to give you the basics on that. If not, feel free to visit our Eating Local landing page.
Yet, learning that industrial food is less-than-ideal food is entirely unhelpful unless we have practical options for replacing it. We have to eat after all, and busy people need ready-to-go alternatives that aren’t terribly inconvenient.
Because industrial food is literally everywhere we look, it can be tough to get past. What my family did was start with one food type at a time, and just kept expanding. I opted to start buying local and/or all-pastured meat as my first and foremost priority. Next we moved on to veggies and fruits, and finally, local bakery bread over the commercial stuff in the plastic wrappers.
If you need a go-to resource for local and sustainable food of all kinds, we hope this article will be helpful to you.
The best bet for anything perishable is to stay as local as possible. There are four options for this. We’ve listed them from the simplest to the most involved/complete. If you’re just dipping your toe into the local produce world, start with Step 1. Eventually you’ll probably be doing all 4 during different weekends or times of year.
STEP 1: Seek out Local Produce at your Grocer
Find a small local grocer who stocks produce from local farms. That may mean changing the grocery store where you shop – usually from larger to smaller. In the Portland area, New Seasons and Natural Goods both stock local and organic produce whenever possible (though certainly not exclusively). I appreciate that New Seasons and other grocers have begun to put sourcing information on their vegetables. This makes it easier to see, for example, when cauliflower has come from Washington or from Peru.
STEP 2: Start Frequenting Farmer’s Markets
Make a trip to a local Farmer’s Market. In the Portland area, there are more in the Spring and Summer, but there are still a few that operate year-round. If you can set aside time on your weekends to do this regularly, then you can knock out the vast majority of your week’s fruit and veggie needs there. That way you can avoid grocery store produce entirely.
In Portland, Friends of Family Farmers also puts on a Fill your Pantry event that is like a specialized Farmer’s Market. It allows you to pre-order a wide range of items from frozen berries to natural popcorn to beans to local wheal flour to storage veggies like onions and garlic. Check their website for more information!
STEP 3: Visit an Actual Farm
Sometimes these are further out and require special visits, but they’re so worth it! Visit U-pick farms or farm stands for specific items in bulk, like berries and apples. Berries especially are great to freeze in bulk so they can be used throughout the winter. Many farms have started to offer little farm stores as well which is really convenient.
STEP 4: Become a Farm “Member” via CSA (Weekly Veggie Subscription)
Sign up for a CSA. Becoming a CSA member literally changed my life. It took care of my groceries for me, and made me a better cook. I highly recommend the cookbook Six Seasons by Josh McFadden if you have no idea what to do with some of the stranger vegetables like kohlrabi, fennel and rutabagas. Josh is an executive chef/co-owner at one of the most popular restaurants in Portland, and put together a chef-quality cookbook that is a perfect accompaniment to a CSA subscription. You can get it in our Cookbook Shop.
CSA’s are hands-down the most ideal option for receiving fresh, local, better-than-organic produce. It does usually require an up front payment, along with a commitment for a season – so if you are just dipping your toe into local sustainable eating, you can start with a smaller commitment. There are dozens if not hundreds of CSA options in your area that offer a wide variety of options to suit different family’s needs. If you want to know more about CSA’s, read our Intro to CSA article here!
A Note on Large Chain Produce
Even though they may be marked organic, we recommend mostly staying away from bulk produce importers such as Costco, Sam’s Club, Major Supermarkets, and even Trader Joe’s. This goes even for frozen produce like peas and fruit. Most of it is shipped in internationally and there is no way of ensuring that US organic standards are met in countries like Turkey and Taiwan – regardless the USDA label.
Additionally, most international produce will be of subpar quality. It is likely picked far before it is ripe to account for its long transit times. This makes it not only less fresh, but with duller flavor and less nutrients.
At the same time, we all are busy and have life demands whether they be time, money, or otherwise. So if you do continue shopping for your produce at these places, make sure you at least buy organic as it will offer some protection over international and domestic non-organic produce.
If you’re “mostly” avoiding international produce, don’t panic with the occasional use or certain staples like citrus. Remember, diets just like life aren’t black and white. Aim for 80% local food and 20% larger chain. That’s a great goal that will allow you to stay sane and not let grocery shopping stress you out. My family loves bananas and avocados, so those are things that I will always buy year-round, regardless where they come from. Their thick peels protect them somewhat from pesticides and exhaust fumes.
DAIRY & EGGS
Dairy and eggs are also highly perishable and do not do well freezing, so it is best to stay as local as you can for these items as well. If you can find a local farm or buy dairy and eggs from a farmer’s market, that is ideal.
For supermarket shopping, look for eggs that say “Pastured” (not simply Cage Free or Free Range). For Dairy, look for 100% Grass-fed or Pastured also.
If you want to see the difference between how the cows live, check out these two pictures. Pastured organic dairy is on the top, and feedlot (still labeled organic!) dairy is on the bottom.
We haven’t included a picture of pastured laying hens versus factory egg hens, but the photos are similar with the exception that factory laying hens generally spend their lives even more cramped, so much so that they often peck and fight each other out of distress.
Beyond the living condition difference and obvious health of the animals, practices are different at small family farms. As you likely know, the dairy industry only exists because of pregnant mother cows. This results in millions of baby cows being born with no real purpose. Feedlot babies are often immediately killed or they go into veal crates, never getting to even taste their mother’s milk or feel her tongue cleaning them. However, small farm babies are often left with their mothers on pasture for some time. Later, the females become dairy cows themselves and the males are raised more humanely for meat.
For this reason, it is very important to support pastured dairy cows, not simply organic. Also consider experimenting with alternative forms of milk, such as goat milk and plant-based milks.
In the Dairy and Egg department, one of our favorite companies that is nationwide and offers both pastured dairy and eggs, is Vital Farms. Vital Farms is based in New York and they have set up a co-op type business model for a variety of small family farms to participate under the Vital Farms brand name. Their hens are truly pastured, with about 110 square feet per hen. Their dairy cows are 100% grass-fed. Their butter is delicious.
We still recommend supporting local family farms, but if you aren’t able to locate any, look for Vital Farms branding at your local grocery store.
A Note on Labeling
It’s important when making the switch to local meat, dairy and eggs, that you not be tempted to rely on package labeling or claims by the big suppliers. Various nonpartisan groups have checked up on claims of everything from free range to humane treatment certifications and found the opposite to be happening in the actual mega-facilities.
Further, certain labels can be extremely misleading. For example, free range poultry and eggs does not mean the same as pastured. It means they technically have some amount of access to “outdoors”. However, there is no regulation on how much outdoors, the quality of the “outdoor section” (it could be nothing more than a tiny patch of mud) or how much the birds actually use it. If a massive barn is so crowded that birds can’t walk around, or they are so unhealthy they are unable to, then what good is a door offering access outside?
When looking for local dairy, you want the label to say 100% Grass-fed or 100% Pastured. Make sure it says 100%, not simply “Grass-fed” or “Organic”. The latter labels mean the farmers can still grain-feed their cows 2/3 of the year. Grain feeding dairy cows destroys the beneficial Omega 3 content in their milkfat, and their grain is of questionable quality in today’s monocrop agriculture.
When looking for local eggs, you want it specifically to say Pastured – not Organic, Cage Free, or Free Range. The latter only require 10 square feet per bird and are often still set up in abysmal, cruel conditions. Suffice to say that labeling can be deceptive.
The rule of thumb is to get as local and small as you can, and to look for truly pastured animals.
Butter & Egg Substitutes
It goes without saying, but do not purchase “alternative” products to butterfat or eggs. Margarine is an extremely unhealthy industrialized and hydrogenated oil. Egg substitutes are no better. These are fake foods and your body cannot thrive on them.
Many people who previously had sensitivities but not true allergies, find that after removing Factory Dairy or Eggs from their diet completely for 60 days (an Elimination Diet giving your immune system time to calm down), they can slowly add in very high quality, pastured local products and have no issues.
If you have a true allergy, simply eliminate your allergen. There are still thousands of foods out there to eat! It is better to avoid an allergen than it is to substitute it with something fake and factory-made.
If you are ready to stop eating factory farmed meat and switch to local pastured meat, we highly applaud you. Factory Farming will eventually go down in history as one of humanity’s most cruel practices.
Whether you are a meat eater or not, it is important for so many reasons to boycott this Industrial practice.
A Better Meat
But for meat-lovers, that does not mean your only other option is becoming vegetarian! While studies have found that a plant-forward diet is most healthy, we humans have historically been omnivores – we have always eaten whatever is around us that is edible.
Animal products contain many excellent nutrients for our bodies. But today’s domestically produced meat isn’t anywhere close to what our ancestors consumed.
For this reason, we should avoid factory corporate farming and try to source our meat as close to nature as we can get. That means either hunting or growing it ourselves in an animal’s natural environment, or buying from people who do.
It’s important when making the switch to local and pastured meat that you first be prepared for the flavor difference. Pastured meat in particular is not going to be as fatty. It is very lean, and it may have what you consider to be a “wilder” taste. In no time, your taste buds will be trained off of grain cattle, however. You’ll also adjust to its cooking differences. Whereas fatty animals benefit from higher heat to render their fats, grass-fed meat does well at lower temperatures (or searing quickly for thin cuts). It is easy to overcook leaner meats when you first start, so check it often until you are accustomed to it.
It is also important to not be tempted to rely on package labeling or claims by the big suppliers. Various nonpartisan groups have checked up on claims of everything from free range to humane treatment and found the opposite to be happening in the actual facilities. Further, certain labels can be extremely misleading. For example, Free Range broilers does not mean the same as Pastured. Organic meat and dairy is not the same as 100% Pastured.
In terms of sources, again there are local meat farms in every area. You can sign up for a Meat CSA, you can likely buy local meat at your Farmer’s Market, or you can contact a Farm directly – many have half or quarter shares of larger animals, or sometimes even individual cuts. We have local chicken and turkey farms not 5 miles down the road from us, and we live in a pretty deeply suburban area.
But meat lovers should rejoice: Even if a local farm isn’t an option for you for whatever reason, several high quality online companies have been launched that sell pastured meats from small farms across the US. Because meat can be frozen, your order is shipped to you in dry ice packaging. This really opens up options that you may not have in your local area – and it’s convenient to do your meat ordering online. Many places even have a subscription service so you don’t even have to think about it. A box of fresh, pastured, organic meat just shows up on your doorstep every week. Take that, factory farming! 🙂
For your convenience, we’ve listed several of our favorites here. This is likely not exhaustive, as new companies are popping up all the time. Feel free to reach out to us here at Dinner In Provence if you have a favorite you think we should add to this list!
Butcher Box – Online Subscription
Butcher Box is based in Massachusetts. They are an online subscription service for cuts of chicken, beef or pork. You can choose a regular box for $149 or a big box for $270. Frequency of shipment is either every month or every 2 months. You can select add-ons to your main box, including lamb and salmon options. They frequently run specials such as free bacon or free ground beef with your order. Butcher Box is committed to 100% grass-fed and pastured animals. They partner with local farms and do not produce their own meat. Their shipping is free!
Find out more about their animal sourcing here: https://www.butcherbox.com/sourcing/
Primal Pastures – Online Store
This farm is based in California and ships to the Western half of the United States. They offer cuts of 100% grass-fed beef and lamb, and 100% pastured pork and chicken. They also have additional items like bone broth, jerky, and even raw pet food. Although they ship in dry ice as Butcher Box does, they also have on-farm pickup as well as classes. Primal Pastures does charge a small fee (around $10) for FedEx shipping – but on the plus side, all of their ordering is ala carte, so there’s no need to sign up for a subscription service. Another difference from Butcher Box is that the meat belongs to Primal Pastures farm.
Read more about their animals here: https://primalpastures.com/pages/our-animals
Farmer Girl Meats – Online Store
Farmer Girl Meats is located in the St Lous Missouri area, and delivers 100% grassfed/pastured meats throughout the 48 contiguous states. Shipping is typically via UPS, but local orders are welcome to pick up at the farm, and home delivery is also available. Orders can be placed ala carte, and they also have an “Automatic Reorder” option which is like a customized subscription. All meats offered through Farmer Girl, including Beef, Chicken, Lamb and Pork, are raised on 5 small family farms in the Midwest. They also offer lamb that is grass-fed but finished lightly on non-GMO grain. Farms tours are available at their beef farm in Princeton, Kansas.
You can learn more about this wonderful company here: https://www.farmergirlmeats.com/page/our-story
US Wellness Meats – Online Store
This company is based in the midwest and also has a partner farm in Tasmania (run by personal friends of the owners). Their products are 100% grass-fed and pastured. They offer Beef, Lamb, Bison, Pork, Poultry, and also Seafood. They also offer sausages and jerky, bone broth, and a few accessory foods. They have a minimum order of 7 pounds and $75. There is a handling fee (the fee for someone to put together your order for you), but no shipping fee.
You can read more about their FAQ here: https://discover.grasslandbeef.com/faqs/
Crowd Cow – Online Store
Crowd Cow partners with small family farms to sell meat online. They offer 100% Grass-fed beef, pastured pork and pastured poultry. It’s important to note that they also offer grain-finished beef and wagyu beef. However, you can always choose what type of beef you order and you can also (virtually) meet the farmers who raised your beef! Their site does not list any minimum order. They ship to the contiguous 48 states and shipping starts at $12.99.
Read more about their story here: https://www.crowdcow.com/who-we-are
Mariposa Ranch – Online Store
Mariposa is a family ranch in central California that raises 100% grass-fed beef. They recently added pastured chicken and pastured pork as well. Their products are available ala carte via an online shop, and you can also set up a subscription. They ship across the United States though their shipping is not free (most likely because they are smaller volume). My shipping to Oregon runs about $15. I like Mariposa’s story because their owners used to work in the conventional cattle industry, but after seeing a grass-fed operation in Australia, decided they wanted to produce meat in a better way. You can read more about them here: https://mariposaranchmeats.com/ranch/
Vital Choice Seafood – Online Store
Vital Choice is a home delivery option for wild and sustainable seafood. They are based in the Pacific Northwest and ship throughout the 50 United States. They offer free shipping on any order of $99 or more. Their products include wild salmon, halibut, tuna, code, and sole, along with shellfish such as scallops, clams, oysters, mussels, shrimp, crab, lobster and calamari. They also offer canned and pouched seafood goods, and fun items such as poke kits. Recently they began to offer 2 and 4-legged proteins also (chicken and beef). They are all grass-fed, but we haven’t tried them yet as the offering is so new. If you do, be sure to let us know what you thought! Vital Choice’s FAQ is a little lengthy to read, but we appreciate their transparency.
You can read more about them here: https://www.vitalchoice.com/content/About-Vital-Choice
White Oak Pastures – Online Store
White Oak is a 150-year old farm in southwest Georgia. One wonderful thing about White Oak is that they practice on-farm slaughter – animals are not transported anywhere, which increases their stress response. They have an extensive offering of 100% Grassfed beef, goat, lamb, pork, turkey, chicken, duck, goose, guinea, and rabbit. They also have organic vegetables, pet food, and various artisan goods. White Oak also participates in efforts to rebuild grasslands and soil that has been damaged. They offer overnight lodging, have a dining option available on-site, and offer farm tours as well. White Oak ships throughout the contiguous 48 states, offering 3-day ground shipping through the entire east coast and into the midwest. For those on the west coast, you must choose 2nd day air or overnight, so the meat will not spoil.
You can learn more about White Oak here: https://www.whiteoakpastures.com/meet-us/about-white-oak-pastures/
Many small grocers will have a local grass-fed or pastured meat option available – so just ask them.
For the mainstream shoppers: One larger 100% Grass-fed beef company that we’ve found who is available in many major supermarkets is Teton Waters Ranch brand. Originally from Idaho, they are now based in Denver and work with pastured cattle ranchers across the US. Their products are available at Krogers, Safeways, Albertsons, QFC, King Soopers, Lassens, Sprouts, and Natural Grocers.
You can find a list of stores that carry their products near your zip code here. They do not offer online orders. https://www.tetonwatersranch.com/where-to-buy/
Other grassfed meat brands we’ve found include Carman Ranch, and First Light. If you have a 100% Grassfed/Pastured brand of meat that you love, send us a note so we can include it for others.
Making a commitment to eating only humanely raised, non-factory-farmed animals is a big deal. For more guidance on eating meat, see our article How to Eat Meat Right. It has quite a few pointers on how to best incorporate meat into an overall healthy diet.
Finding trustworthy pantry staples is easier than ever thanks to places like Thrive Market, and even supply chain experts like Amazon, starting to offer non-perishable food items from specialty and artisan suppliers.
We have a separate section with recommended organic, non-GMO pantry staples. We are working on getting that up for you soon!