Here are some lifestyle questions to consider and three healthy ways to include meat in your diet. You’ll find books and articles to support a variety of opinions about the role of meat in our diet. It can be difficult to navigate the issue.
So what’s the perfect way to eat? Do vegetarians really live longer? Is the meat industry ruining our planet? And the latest meme I saw: “Did I get enough protein today. Said a gorilla never.”
So how do you decide what’s right for you as an individual? As a health coach I encourage my clients to get real with themselves and to find their own bio-individuality when it comes to diet. What foods give you the most energy and keep you feeling strong and fit? What foods inspire you in the kitchen? This will be different for all of us. That’s the beauty of the world; we don’t all have to be the same!
I grew up vegetarian until I had a bite of steak at the age of sixteen. We were vegetarian mainly because meat was expensive, and my mom knew the importance of quality meat products, which were not available to us at that time.
So the steak was good, and I was no longer a vegetarian. Things have evolved for me over the last twenty-four years. Now, as a mother of two and a professional health coach, I have refined my own bio-individuality and philosophy around eating meat.
I eat it occasionally, but certainly not with every meal. My favorite new recipes come from a vegan cookbook. I believe vegetables should be the largest part of your plate; the protein can be smaller, about the size of your fist. I’m a huge fan of combining legumes, such as beans and lentils, with whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, barley, or buckwheat, to make a complete protein.
But there’s something about meat. I like the taste, smell, texture, and the way my body feels after eating meat with my meal.
I’ve been to farms and met the animals that will be on our dinner table. I understand this cycle and my heart is okay with it. I even helped my husband carry a deer that he had shot. That was intense but brought me even closer to the source. I felt gratitude. I made venison stew, and it may have been one of the best meals I’ve ever cooked. My kids loved it, and I felt really good about feeding it to them. We were honest with them about where the meat came from, and they felt fine about it. If it made one of them sad I would cook rice and beans or some other protein to support and honor their feelings.
I have enough of a grasp of factory farming to know that I don’t want that kind of meat in my body, nor do I want to support cruelty to animals or the degradation of the environment.
I do my very best to eat meat from animals that have been raised locally and humanely cared for by the farmers, animals that have lived a life outside in a pasture, eating grass or bugs. I love picturing the well-oiled machine of animals, soil, and crops. The animals keep the weeds and bugs at bay and eat vegetables that don’t get sold at the market; their manure is then spread on the garden, and the cycle continues.
It’s possible (though not always) that this meat is more expensive than what you’re used to. So what should you do to offset that? Eat less and use the whole animal. As Michael Pollan says: “Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food.” Bone broth is a good example. Super nutritious and rich in taste, bones are cheap, and leave plenty of room for the rest of the soup to be vegetables!
Select meats from small local farms.
If you like eating meat and are interested in supporting small farmers, check out www.localharvest.org to find farms in your area. This is a great place to find vegetable CSA’s as well. For Willamette Valley locals, I love Winter Green Farm. The farmers are incredibly kind people and have certified organic grass-fed beef.
I recommend visiting the farms and asking farmers about their practices in raising animals. Most farmers are more than happy to talk about their craft. Some questions I would ask: What amount of time are the animals in the pasture? In the Willamette Valley, given our months of rain and mud, about eighty percent is considered good. I would ask to look at the animals and make sure you feel good about their living conditions and that they look healthy. If the animals are not certified organic you’ll want to inquire about whether they’ve been fed supplemental feed that contains antibiotics. If chickens or cows are kept in too close of quarters they will be given antibiotics (for more info about the dangers of antibiotics used in the animal industry, go here).
It matters to me that the animals are slaughtered on site. The trauma comes when an animal is loaded into a trailer for maybe the first time ever and taken to a slaughterhouse that is full of scared animals. Adrenalin in cows has been shown to change the flavor and texture of their meat. At a small farm the same farmer that cared for the animals could theoretically thank it for providing, and kill it quickly and humanely. If we choose to eat meat, it is my opinion that we must take these things into consideration.
Decide what cuts of meat you’ll need and how you’ll use them.
At the butcher’s, he or she will ask what kinds of cuts you want: ground, chops, sausages, etc. Ask for all of the bones to make broth and, if you really want to use everything, ask for the fat and you can render it to make your own lard. Half-butter, half-lard pie crusts are to die for!
For the best results, buy in bulk and keep it frozen.
Having a deep-freeze is extremely helpful when buying in bulk. You can often find a friend or two to share the animal with if it’s too much for your family. With a freezer full of local and healthy meat, your grocery store trips are simpler, and cooking becomes inspiring as you look up recipes for cuts of meat you may not usually buy.
Cheers to your health and the health of the earth!
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