This article is part of a series that explores the idea of mindful meat consumption. Have a question about what it means to be a conscious carnivore? Fill out the form below, or click here. We’ll build an article answering your best questions in fall, 2016. Stay tuned!
Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, ex-vegetarian, or a meat-eater, being mindful and aware about the food you eat matters. Among carnivores in the mindful community, responsibly-sourced meat is a big deal. “I have come to believe that when we no longer consume food with full awareness, we are removing ourselves from a bigger world in which our daily decisions are the difference between destroying ecosystems and building them,” writes Taylor Collins, co-founder of EPIC Provisions, a meat snack company.
Awareness is the most important step. But what does a mindful carnivore look like? Just what does it mean to be a conscious consumer?
The Big Picture
The first part of being a conscious consumer is to understand the big picture. The act of raising animals doesn’t happen in a vacuum: It’s important to consider effects on the animal, the environment, and our own bodies. Even domesticated livestock evolved to live outdoors, for example, not in pens.
These so-called “happy meat” practices are quantifiable. The Global Animal Partnership is a nonprofit organization that works to help improve the lives and the quality of livestock worldwide. By considering the Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Program, both ranchers and consumers can better measure the quality of their product. A Step 1 rating simply means that the animals do not live in cages or crates, and have the ability to stretch their legs. On the other end of the spectrum, a Step 4 rating means that the animals live their lives on a pasture-centered farm. A Step 5 rating means that the conditions in which the animals were raised were animal-centered. A Step 5+ rating means that the animal spends its entire life on the farm.
“As a species we have been conscious carnivores for the greater part of 200,000 years,” writes Collins. “It’s important to recognize that the meat on your dinner plate was once a living creature with emotions and consciousness. These traits not only lead to a greater appreciation for the animal that gave its life for our own nutrition, but also a strong bond to the land that is foundational for life to exist.”
Factory Farms vs. Sustainable
The second part of being a conscious carnivore is to understand where the animal comes from. When raised correctly, livestock can contribute to a holistically healthy ecosystem that includes regenerative grasses and healthy soils. When the Earth is healthy, it in turn grows hearty food, rich with living microorganisms and bacteria. Regenerative farms use techniques that build topsoil, and refrain from using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that pollute both the groundwater and soil.
To boot, healthy farms are cognizant of their carbon footprint. This means better use of resources, and less greenhouses gases being emitted into the atmosphere. Research suggests that regenerative, responsible animal raising may actually result in CO2 being removed from the atmosphere, and cycled back into the soil, increasing the soil’s richness.
“Being a conscious carnivore begins with taking a moment to be mindful and grateful for the food that is on my table,” writes Collins. It isn’t a radical idea to be grateful for the food on your plate—Native Americans commonly thanked the animal after killing it. Yet conscious meat consumption is as healthy physically as it is psychologically.
Grass-fed beef, for example, contains more omega-3’s, four times more vitamin E, and 10 times more vitamin A than grain-fed-meat. Grass-fed meats do not contain antibiotics or hormones present in the grain typically fed animals on factory farms.
What to Buy
The third part of being a conscious consumer is to understand what you’re purchasing. While “cage free” and “free range” sound OK, these definitions can be misleading. Cage free hens are sometimes packed in small warehouses, and free range simply means that the animals must have some access to the outside. Important keywords to look for when buying meat are pastured or pasture-raised, and grass-finished or grass-fed.
One good way to buy meat is from farmers or farmers markets. You can then ask the farmers directly what the animal was fed, and how it was butchered. You could also search for community supported agriculture (CSA) programs in your area, which distribute farm-fresh goods, including meat, on a regular basis—and ask the farmers who deliver the goods about their products as well. Bear in mind, however, that very small farms may not have the same levels of regulatory oversight required of larger producers, and as such may pose other health risks. In regular grocery stores, look for products that are transparent about where their meat comes from and that are passionate about raising healthy animals.
“Compassion and respect for food is encoded deep into our genetic makeup and grounds us to this majestic planet,” writes Collins. By supporting responsible meat consumption, we encourage an agricultural system that enriches and restores the earth. While it may be more expensive initially, the benefits to the environment, animals, and your health are so great that the price of sustainably-raised meat is actually an investment in ourselves—and our planet.