(This is long but a lot of people struggle with buying healthy meat so I wanted to be as thorough as possible! I kinda divided it up to hopefully make it less overwhelming for your eyes.)
Two days ago we talked about how to clean up your fruits and vegetables (literally!) and today we’re going to talk about meat choices.
I think this is the area I hear the most from people on when it comes to clean eating and budgeting. Good meat is SO expensive. It’s totally true.
But seriously, think about the opposite of that statement. Crappy meat is cheap. Think about it again: crappy meat is cheap. EW.
I can’t believe how many times I used to utter the phrase “I’d buy better meat, but it’s just too expensive” before I had a complete mindset shift about all of this stuff. Like, DUH the good stuff is more expensive! Rightly so!
And, rightly so, the mass-produced, feedlot-living, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, stuck in their own poop, E.coli- and salmonella- breeding meat is really, really, really cheap. Awesome.
I think that basically you have two options here when it comes to your meat choices:
1. Keep eating the meat at the volume you are eating it, and a) go broke on the expensive stuff or b) keep eating the cheap stuff
2. Reevaluate how much meat you are eating, recognize that it could be scaled back, and reserve your meat budget for healthy (and yes, expensive) cuts of meat that nourish your body rather than fill it with toxins. Watch meat sales like a hawk to get the most bang for your buck.
Here’s a few thoughts for you to consider, again from the book Real Food by Nina Planck:
“The Journal of Dairy Science reported that 30 to 80 percent of conventional cattle [cows on feedlots and fed corn/soy] carry E. coli in their stomachs, but when cattle were switched from a high-corn diet to hay, E. coli declined a thousand-fold in only five days.” (102)
“E. coli is much feared and misunderstood. Large numbers of the bacteria dwell in the colons of healthy cows and humans, where they are quite harmless. Contamination in the slaughterhouse (usually from fecal matter) is how E. coli finds its way into food. If we do eat E. coli, our stomach acid usually kills it. But a new, dangerous form E. coli 0157, has evolved in the unnaturally acidic gut of grain-fed cattle. Highly resistant to acid, it can survive in our stomachs, so it’s more likely to make us sick. E.coli 0157 is not found in grass-fed cattle.” (102)
Let me break this down for you you haven’t been made aware before (please, please watch Food Inc. if you haven’t done so already!!).
Chicken and beef in this country (so are other animals but these are the biggies) are raised in giant pens or giant feedlots (think thousands upon thousands of animals at a time). They are crowded together and stand in their own filth, due to the crowding and the lack of space for them to move around (total breeding ground for bacteria). They eat corn and soy, (sprayed with pesticides), instead of grass (cows) and bugs, scraps, etc. (chickens). They are often fed non-plant items, as well, including other ground animal parts. Eating these unnatural diets makes them sick and makes them need antibiotics when otherwise they would be perfectly healthy. They are often shot up with all sorts of steroids and hormones to make them bigger and fatter much faster so that the “farmers” can provide the mass amounts of meat that the American public demands.
So, bottom line: when you eat a regular piece of meat, you are eating an animal that most likely stood for hours all day in its own poop while eating toxic food its body wasn’t designed to handle, while being treated for diseases it shouldn’t really have and growing at a rate it was never intended to grow.
GROSS. And sad. Really, REALLY sad. For us and for them.
So what are your good and better options for meat?
Better: buy only pastured/free range meats.
Good: Buy the best meat that you can afford and find, and if you can’t afford good meat, don’t buy it. Yup. Don’t buy it.
I read two food books this summer: The China Study and Food Matters. Both really impressed upon me the fact that we are eating way too much protein as Americans. We've been trained to think that we need so much of it, when really we don’t. I was encouraged to eat less meat and treat it more like “a condiment,” as the author of Food Matters suggests. (I’ll show you our menu plans next week so you can see what I mean.)
So I might have bacon-topped pizza, or sprinkle some meat in a lasagna, or add a small amount to a soup or salad. Certainly, there are some nights we still eat meat as the main dish, but it’s not a 5-night-a-week deal like it used to be before.
Here’s what works for my family right now (and we can definitely improve in this area!):
Beef products: Thankfully, as I mentioned above, my husband’s uncle is a beef farmer. If I run out of ground beef, I only buy vegetarian-fed, hormone and antibiotic free beef (although I do that super rarely because it still grosses me out). Our local grocery store carries $4.99/lb free range ground beef, which I JUST noticed yesterday, so I think I will try that next time.
Poultry: Our local store (Stop & Shop) has a brand called Nature’s Promise. I buy that chicken (but only when it’s on sale; I stock up!). It is vegetarian-fed, and also hormone and antibiotic free as well. I would love to look into buying free-range chicken. (You can see the whole chicken I got below; it was on sale for $.99/lb plus it had a peelie on it for $2/off since it was the day before expiration. I always walk buy the meat section and scan it for sales or peelie stickers like the one above and below.)
Bacon: This is the brand of bacon I buy; it is uncured and also meets the same criteria of the other two meats above. Yesterday it was on sale ($3.99 instead of $4.49), so I bought three (you can freeze any meats, bacon, or deli meat).
Deli Meat: This is probably the area where I need the most work still. I only buy Hormel’s uncured deli meats (no preservatives), BUT there is no indication of how the meat is raised on the package (never a good thing). I don’t eat it every day, but sometimes I just really get in the mood for ham or turkey on my salad or a piece of it on my egg sandwich. Again, I only buy it on sale, and then freeze it ($3 or less instead of $3.99).
Fish: I only ever buy wild-caught fish. Farm-raised fish (the majority of fish you’re going to see in the grocery store) doesn’t sound bad at first (at least it didn’t to me). Farms still conjure up healthy images in our minds. In reality, farm-raised fish are confined to tanks, where they are fed mixes of corn and soy (not AT ALL what God intended for them – do you see corn and soy in the ocean anywhere?!), and also ingest each others’ poop. I buy wild-caught salmon at Aldi’s (sorry no picture, I forgot to take one last week) and shop around at your local grocery store for wild-caught fish, as well. Recently ours had wild-caught flounder on sale for $6.99/package, which I purchased. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Yes. We love fish here!
Other meats: We really don’t eat uncured ham anymore (like for dinner), and we rarely eat turkey (but if we do, it has to follow the same criteria as above.
I encourage you to also check out the website Eat Wild. They have a state-by-state directory of local farms that you can check out for meat sources! As I was typing this post, I just remembered that that site existed – I’m definitely going to check it out myself for better chicken sources!
WOW. Are you still with me?!! There was so much that I wanted to tell you and hated to break it up (I wanted to keep it condensed in one post).
If you have any questions, let me know – and I’d love to know what you do about things like deli meat and ham!