Deciphering Food Labels - Step 3. How were the animals raised?

Deciphering Food Labels Series - These posts will point out some of the most important things to look for when shopping for REAL food in varying food categories. Ideally, you want to stay on the outskirts of the grocery store and shopping mostly for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats, eggs and dairy..all without additives and preservatives. In fact, I enjoy purchasing from local farms where I can get to know the farmer. Ideally grow some fresh produce on your own. Reminder: Everyone must consider the benefit, or disadvantage, of eating from each of the food groups for themselves.   Read Step 1 and Step 2 here.

Step 3. How were the animals raised? There is usually a bit of a price increase when the animals are better cared for, but there are many health benefits to consider for ourselves also.

Let's now consider how the animal which we are using for food was raised? It's likely that you have heard and seen the term 'Pastured' often enough. Food from pastured animals should be a normal part of our lives. But instead, most of our commercially processed meat comes from animals that do not have access to roam and eat the natural diets they were meant to eat. For example, cows should eat grass and chickens should have access to insects.

Psalm 104: 14 reads
"He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate—  bringing forth food from the earth"
Did you know that most of our meat in the U.S. comes from animals that are fed corn and other by-products similar to cereal grains? Our animals are being fed processed foods that cause them to be full of inflammatory diseases and conditions. So, when we eat animals that are sick (i.e. we eat sick food) - how are we supposed to remain healthy if our food isn't?

Initially I thought that the term CAFO stood for 'commercial agriculture of farmed animals'. (Don't laugh at me if you have always known better.) But even though I didn't know what the acronym actually stood for, I did know that it meant that animal conditions were crowded and not ideal. So for those of you who are not yet aware, CAFO stands for 'confined animal feeding operations'. The purpose is to increase production of a large population of animals that are confined to small areas of land. No roaming for the CAFOs and unfortunately most of our foods on the grocery store shelves come from such operations. I don't know about you but I think these animals should have access to open airy places where they can freely exercise and breathe fresh air. It just makes sense.

Since most of our animals are not raised in ideal conditions, then the meats, milk and eggs that they supply to us aren't ideal either. Additionally, I shouldn't fail to mention that farmed fish aren't ideal either. Yes, just like farm animals, they too are often fed cereal grains in place of their normal diet! So, opt for the wild-caught meats for hopes of a better selection.

Better Nutrition for Us: Making better meat and animal products will provide our bodies with better nutrition.  If we eat sick animals our bodies become toxic and have to work harder at doing what it should be doing naturally (re-growing healthy cells and fighting environmental toxins instead of toxins we create). Pastured animals have a better balance of omega-3s and omega-6s. They usually aren't full of hormones and antibiotics because their natural way of eating and roaming causes them to be healthier.

So, how can we make better choices when buying these products*? 

  • Buy from your local farmers at Farmer's Markets
  • Join a co-op that sells meat products: Co-op Directory
  • Select products that are 'Pasture Raised' when shopping major grocery stores. Whole Foods has an animal welfare rating system.
  • Find a butcher that you know and trust
  • Order online: U.S. Wellness Meats (just one I'm aware of, surely there are more)
  • Raise your own cattle, chickens, etc.
*Although sometimes these animals are finished with grains...but, hopefully they had more time in the pasture (seriously).
If you think of anything else I can add to this article, please send me a note. Thanks.

FYI: There are still many farming practices of today that don't follow the original farming practices since man first began herding cattle. Once specific example is the way the animals are slaughtered. You can look up terms such as 'Kosher meats' to discover how animals should be properly treated and prepared for food.

In the next article, we are going to focus on more specifics regarding EGGS!