The other day my mother was unpacking her CSA basket (shout out to Lufa Farms here in Montréal) when my sister-in-law commented on the meat she’d gotten from a local, ostensibly sustainable farm.
“I heard that they mistreat their animals and the meat is not as pure as they say”
It got us wondering if we were being naïve in thinking that there is such a thing as “virtuous meat”. If you’ve ever paid a premium for fancy supposedly sustainable meat you may at some point have thought to yourself "is it worth it?".
If you love a good t-bone like me, this knowledge is devastating, and that’s before you start thinking about how cute farm animals truly are. While all of this should give you pause, do not despair, there are choices we can make when choosing the meat we buy that have a lighter footprint on the earth and less negative impact on our health.
Hormone Free Meat:
This is more on the health impact side of things, but it’s an important consideration. Studies have shown an increased risk of hormonal cancers from consuming meat that contains elevated levels of synthetic and natural hormones. The incidence of hormonal cancers has increased since 1975 coinciding with an increase in the administering of hormones to livestock:
breast cancer has increased by 23 percent while prostate and testicular cancer have seen an incredible 60 percent increase in the U.S. where hormone use is heaviest. Not surprisingly U.S. meat is banned in many countries.
While correlation is easier to prove than causation, where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. The bottom line is that adding hormones isn’t necessary to turn a cow into a great steak, and scientists can’t agree on their safety. Stear clear of added hormones in meat if you can.
In the world of health care, antibiotic resistance is a catastrophic result of the overuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals. When I battled a nasty strain of pneumonia that made it feel like an elephant was dancing the chacha on my chest, I was so grateful to have the miracle of antibiotic therapy to keep me alive. Anyone who has ever contracted MRSA knows the importance of Antibiotics. Buying meat and animal products that have been produced without the use of antibiotics is one way to prevent them from unnecessarily ending up in our waterways and in our bodies creating tougher to kill, more dangerous strains of bacteria.
Free Range/Grass Fed Meat:
This one’s a bit trickier. Lamb, beef and pork are the most carbon intensive animal proteins, while chicken, eggs and duck are the least intensive. Unfortunately, whether you feed them clover in a meadow while yodelling Sarah McLachlan’s greatest hits or you lock them to a feed trough in a dark hangar, they all produce the greenhouse gas methane. That's because methane is the result of decomposition and all living things release this gas at some point in their life cycle.
All of this is just a small part of trying to source environmentally friendly and healthy meat and just one piece of the puzzle of eating and living more sustainably. At the end of the day, the only truly sustainable way to eat a meat is to inform yourself, eat less, and buy from local reputable farms and butchers. Your body and your environment will thank you.