The myths and truths about your local, organic, grass-fed beef!

As a root cause investigator I am responsible for asking tough questions and sometimes receiving tough answers. Today, the information I will be sharing with you has to do with our good friend, the cow. I’ve been busy interviewing organic beef farmers in New England. Why? Because I have questions that I think many of us have. Like it or not, I have your answers and I am here to help you to continue to become a more conscious consumer. As you know, the commercial meat and dairy industries are powerful industries. Most of us still purchase our meat and dairy from the grocery store. Why? Because it’s more affordable. Luckily, many of us are becoming more conscious consumers and are beginning to purchase our meat and dairy from local farmer’s markets. Why? By supporting our local farmers, we are taking the power away from the commercial food industry which thrives based on our demand for their products.

Finally, we are at a point in our culture where we are beginning to acknowledge that the ways in which commercial dairy and meat cows are treated (not to mention all of the other animals) are quite brutal, leading to great pain and suffering for our ultimate pleasure. In fact, this is quite an understatement.

You can’t beat the taste of fresh veggies, meat and dairy from your local farmer! More and more people are cutting back on meat and dairy consumption by default as it is often more costly to purchase local meat and dairy. Hopefully, local prices at smaller farms will lower a little as our demand increases. The good news is that we are boosting the local economy, getting a chance to connect with the people who are growing our food and having the opportunity to improve our state of wellness.

I think many of us are also supporting our local farmers with the underlying assumption that the animals are being treated more humanely. But, what if part of the puzzle is still missing? Hmm. What if the label  ‘organic, grass-fed beef’ only theoretically says something about about the ethics or practices by which the animal was slaughtered? What if by embracing this theory, we are missing the reality? That’s where I come in. I used to live in Montana on a 26,000 acre beef cattle ranch. To put that number into perspective, the ranch I lived on was almost twice the size of my home town, Bristol, CT, that hosts just under 70,000 people. As you can imagine, the 1300 head of beef cattle lived an awesome life eating tons of green grass with an incredible amount of land to freely roam on. They had very little contact with humans (maybe two cowboys at the most). That is until it came time to go to the slaughterhouse. These cattle took an arduous journey smashed in small spaces in a moving vehicle for the first time in their lives after roaming freely on 26,000 acres of land. They would then travel to Nebraska where they would sometimes spend days or weeks waiting to be slaughtered. They’d even get to watch their family members yell and scream and go through the slaughtering process before it was their turn. Guess what? Their last meal was back in Montana. Many cattle would meet their death on the road from stress, motion sickness, cramped living spaces, disease and dehydration. So, there is your ‘organic grass-fed beef’! Yikes! What’s the deal with that? If that doesn’t sound gruesome enough to you, here is an interview I recently experienced with a local, organic farmer who raises and sells organic, grass-fed beef in New England!

Me: Where do you slaughter your animals? How did you decide on this slaughterhouse?

Farmer: Uhh, well, we looked long and hard for a good butcher. We settled for a USDA slaughterhouse in MA.

USDA slaughterhouses, while government regulated, are far from being the most humane of slaughterhouses… if there is such a thing. Just yesterday I was reading USDA job postings for slaughterhouses that so transparently list the dangerous duties that one will be required to perform. A potential candidate should be able to tolerate loud noises, dangerous equipment and be emotionally stable enough to carry out all job duties, including but not limited to inspecting animals directly before and after the process of slaughter.

Me: Have you ever had the opportunity to witness your cows being slaughtered?

Farmer: No way! It’s just too awful to bear! We love our cattle!

Me: Has anyone ever witnessed the process to know if it is “humane” (quick, limited stress, pain, quiet)?

Farmer: Yes, my partner has. My partner had to stop going though. It was too brutal to watch.

Me: How do they kill the cattle?

Farmer: They are stunned and shot in the forehead or something like that. We’ve been told it is the quickest way. We try to drive them to their final destination the morning of the slaughter so they aren’t dehydrated. It is less stressful than dropping them off several days in advance, which is what we previously did. It is really hard on them. * If you are curious about this process of slaughter, you can check out the exact process of cows being stunned and prepared for slaughter at a Massachusetts slaughter house in this documentary. I highly recommend that you watch the full documentary, but if you’d just like to know about the particular practice that your organic, grass-fed cows might be experiencing, then you can fast forward to 22:33 into the documentary.

Me: How do you even know that it is your beef that you are getting back? Couldn’t you be getting another farmer’s beef that is neither organic or grass-fed?

Farmer: We trust that we are getting our own meat back.

Wow. It makes me wonder why we suddenly discount the last part of the animal’s life? I mean, we completely ignore it. We just say to a cow, “ehhh, you ate grass and hung out with your family for most of your life, so who cares that you got to watch them be starved and then brutally murdered. Who cares that you were scared, sad, sick, in pain and completely stressed?” I find it interesting that most of us who own pets would never relinquish our sick and dying animals to similar protocol, even if they were in the last moments of their lives. In fact, most of us seem to want our pets to exit the world in the most peaceful and loving way possible. So, why is it that we don’t translate this practice to anything that happens outside of our homes? Maybe it is the out-of-sight out-of-mind mentality, but I want to challenge you to be better than that! So, what can we do? How can we be more informed? We can start by asking these questions to our local farmers.

Questions to ask your farmer:

Have you (farmer) ever witnessed your own animals being slaughtered? How did you choose your location of slaughter (cost, distance, method of slaughter)?

Local farmers who have nothing to hide will be completely transparent with you. A farmer who is defensive or unable to provide you the facts you are looking for, probably doesn’t want to share the facts with you because they aren’t fun facts or the farmer simply doesn’t know, which isn’t a good sign either. In this case, they are too far removed from the source. Farmers who are doing things the right way will be proud to share how their animals are being slaughtered and they might even want to educate you on the more ethical practices. There are wonderful farmers out there, who are doing the right thing. You might just have to search a little bit harder to find them, but if you are going to spend your hard-earned money on local meat and dairy, it is important that you take the extra steps to ensure that you are truly getting what you think you are paying for.

Things to consider:

Share with your farmer that you like their product and you’d consider being a return customer if their slaughter practices changed. Don’t be fooled by labeling or a crowd. The farmer that I interviewed is the owner of a very successful, well- known farm. Did you know that not one person had ever asked the questions that I did in our interview?! Not one customer. Ever!

*Another note: This interview was conducted over Skype. I was able to see the facial expressions and feel the emotion of the farmer when discussing the slaughter practices of the livestock. Speaking about this topic clearly caused emotions of sadness, pain and compassion to rise to the surface. Ethical battles were clearly taking place.

Questions to ask yourself:

Why do I eat meat?

Here is a chance to start connecting your own dots. Is eating meat a hobby for you or do you truly feel as if your body needs it? Recently, I had the chance to farm. For me, that easily meant 10-hour days of moving, lifting and digging in the dirt, while under the sun. I was burning a ton of calories and- at the time- I felt that eating veggies wasn’t cutting it for me. I found myself eating spoonfuls of local butter and using lard from the farm’s recently slaughtered pig to cook my food. I must admit; the amount of knowledge I have now doesn’t compare to what I had then, and I feel fully confident now that I would have been able to thrive on a plant-based diet.

I can’t find a local farmer with ethical slaughtering practices. What should I do?

Of course, it is up to you to decide what constitutes an “ethical slaughter practice.” I define “unethical slaughter practice” as ending a life without paying attention to the amount of emotional and physical pain that is being inflicted on the animal. A loud, dirty slaughterhouse where animals are not fed or offered water, are starved for long periods of time, while witnessing the murder of their family and friends. This does not define as “humane” to me. Additionally, we must remember that the quality of an animal’s life from birth-to-death should be taken into account. Just like the end of an animal’s life is often discounted, often times so is the part that comes before death. If after soaking in this information you still decide to regularly eat meat, you might consider looking for farmers who invite the slaughter to take place on the farm itself. This has the potential to minimize negative factors related to the stress of travel in a vehicle, which for many animals will be happening for the first time in their lives. The process is similar to an in-home euthanasia for our beloved companion pets. If you can’t find a farm with an in-house slaughter operation, you might consider asking yourself some deeper questions regarding your relationship with the consumption of our animal friends. I always recommend volunteering at the farm where you purchase your meat or dairy and at the very least, taking a tour. This will give you a much better idea about the farmers and their farm practices. You might even get to meet the cow that will eventually reside in your belly, which will allow you the opportunity to learn about the emotional and physical well-being of the animal, that will later translate into your well-being.

Have you ever participated in the slaughter of your food?

I believe that anyone who eats an animal for pleasure or out-of-necessity, should also experience killing that animal. I find that most people who eat animals for pleasure will often shift to eating animals out of necessity, if at all, after having the opportunity to kill their own food. Yes, I have assisted killing my own food. You might be wondering how it felt? At the time, I was traveling in Africa and it was out-of-necessity. There was a level of compassion and appreciation that I noticed in the process of killing the animal that I think was quite empowering. This respect for the animal would not have been granted had this animal been a part of the commercial meat industry here in the United States. With that said, the experience really made me question my relationship with eating my animal friends. I think it is so very important to not be removed from this process. If even once in our lives we had the opportunity to kill our own food, I think it would greatly humble people and change their perspective. Suddenly stuffing ourselves with ribs for fun doesn’t have the same effect. We begin to truly respect and enjoy our food as a necessity rather than a hobby and we often experience an increased sense of wellness as a result of this shift.

Have you ever seen a slaughterhouse?

Yes, I have. I was walking down a side street in Albania when I came across a slaughterhouse. I remember being shocked by the amount of blood that was pouring out of the freshly killed animals onto the street. I couldn’t get the sound of trickling blood out of my head for a long time after that. I stood there in shock taking in the sights and sounds of this culture that I had only read about in books and seen in documentaries. The garage door of the operation was open and I remember flies gently landing on the meat. This is around the time when several of the employees stared back at me sharing- through a non-verbal exchange- that I should swiftly move on. I managed to snap this photo before they abruptly shut the door.

One of the photos I snapped of the Albanian slaughterhouse in 2006.

One of the photos I snapped of the Albanian slaughterhouse in 2006.

“Surely, if slaughterhouses had glass walls would not all of us be vegetarians, but slaughterhouses do not have glass walls. The architecture of slaughter is opaque, designed in the interest of denial to ensure that we will not see even if we wanted to look…and who wants to look.”

Is Kosher slaughter more ethical?

I’ll let you decide that after watching a video of kosher slaughter practices in the largest kosher slaughter house here in the United States. You’ll see the practice firsthand. I highly recommend that you watch the full documentary, but if you choose not to, you can fast forward to ‘Kosher slaughter’ at 24:10.

I crave meat and I don’t think I could ever live without it. What should I do?

There is a common misconception that we can’t live without the flesh of other animals. There are many diets and lifestyle protocols out there that encourage eating copious amounts of animal flesh. I find it hard to believe that cows exist simply to make their way to our dinner plates, although others may disagree. You might be craving certain nutrients within the meat, such as B vitamins, protein or fats, but I assure you that all of these same nutrients can be acquired through a plant-based diet. You might crave these nutrients less in the form of meat if your overall eating habits were to become more balanced. By disengaging in the commercial meat and dairy industry, you will not only be improving your health, but you will be hugely eliminating your contribution to the inhumane treatment and slaughter of animals, along with largely decreasing your carbon footprint, hence minimizing your contribution to global climate change. Once you see how sick, scared, tormented and stressed these animals are, not-to-mention their filthy living conditions and poor diets, I find it hard to believe we as humans have much to benefit from participating in this type of holocaust.

I’m a vegetarian. Should I still consider veganism?

A dairy cow in the commercial dairy industry lives a maximum of 3 to 4 years opposed to a potential age of 20 outside the world of factory farming. These cows endure a tremendous amount of pain and suffering so you can get your grocery store milk, cheese and yogurt. I would argue that being a commercial dairy vegetarian is just as cruel if not more cruel than supporting the commercial meat industry. Why? By supporting the dairy industry, you are aggressively supporting the veal industry. Commercial dairy cows are artificially inseminated so that they are kept pregnant at all times. If they give birth to a male, that calf is taken away to be fed a liquid diet and killed around the age of 3 to 4 months when it is turned into veal. The reality is that as a commercial vegetarian you are simultaneously supporting the meat and dairy industry. If the cow is female, it will endure the same fate as its mother. A vegetarian supporting the commercial dairy industry (buying grocery store dairy), you are supporting a lengthened process of torture and- in the end- your dairy cow is slaughtered as well.

Where should I get my dairy products if I decide I am not interested in a vegan lifestyle?

As you can imagine, the commercial dairy industry provides us dairy from sick, diseased, infected, miserable cows. In order to keep you from getting sick, a slew of antibiotics and hormones must be added, not-to-mention the pasteurization and ultra-pasteurization of your dairy products. This means that after these products reach the grocery store shelves, there is almost nothing left in the milk to make it beneficial for you, and that is assuming that you were under the impression that you had something to benefit from consuming milk from diseased and tortured beings. Also, almost everyone has some intolerance to “dairy” these days because the pasteurization process heats and kills the very enzymes that allow us to break down the milk proteins casein and lactose. If you want to do your part, I suggest supporting your local dairy farmer. Take a tour of the farm. Get to know your farmers and thank the cows who are working so hard for your benefit. Educate yourself and find a farmer who lightly pasteurizes their products or- even better- seek out a raw dairy farmer. Even the state of Florida has raw dairy providers. In support of raw dairy farmers, please remember that they don’t work hard every day to provide you raw milk only for you get sick; jeopardizing their farm’s liveliness and integrity. Do your research, folks!

Are you practicing veganism? 

Yes. Recently, I have begun practicing veganism, also known as the “path of compassion.” I don’t have access to healthy or ethically slaughtered animal products. This awareness led me to start questioning the reasons why I was consuming meat to begin with. I am in Florida at the moment, and mostly, it is challenging to find any food that is local or organic, whether it be fruit, vegetables, meat or dairy. (Side note: It might be shocking, but if you want to eat organic oranges here in the state of Florida, they will most likely be shipped in from South Africa! Wow!) I am not saying that I would never eat animal products again. Rather, I would like to do so knowing that my body is truly calling for animal products and I would definitely want to be a part of the process or trust fully in that process of slaughter. For the foreseeable future, I don’t see myself reverting back to eating any products coming from my beloved friends. I’ve connected too many dots and it simply doesn’t make sense from a personal, ethical or environmental standpoint. In the future, if my body tells me otherwise, I would most likely not step right into inviting a piece of steak on my plate. For example, I have some friends that have their own hens that are happy, healthy and produce the most delicious eggs. I would be happy to enjoy any extras that come my way! I have eaten meat and dairy on and off throughout my 30 years of existence. I think I have indulged enough in the tastiness of them both to last me a lifetime or two. In the meantime, I am discovering many new and delicious foods that rock my taste buds even more!

What should I do if I want to transition to a vegan diet? 

Support your local farmers market when you can afford it, by eating a variety of veggies, grains, fruits, seeds and nuts. You can also begin to grow your own food. It’s so empowering and not as difficult as you might imagine! Please remember that there are many wonderful sources of non-animal proteins, fats and carbohydrates that can contribute to a healthy, balanced diet. I always encourage people to seek out the guidance of a skilled functional nutritionist when making diet and lifestyle changes. Guidance, support and community are extremely important in creating sustainable change and fostering an optimal state of wellness.

Can someone who eats a vegan diet be unhealthy?

Yes. Just because a person avoids eating animal products doesn’t mean that one is eating whole, unprocessed, fresh foods. I’ve seen vegans who eat processed, fried, sugar-filled foods that happen to be mostly carbohydrates. This is far from balanced and far from healthy. Veganism, also  known as the “path of compassion,” starts with the self. It doesn’t make sense to offer this compassion to other beings without first implementing this concept in one’s own life. This is not sustainable or loving. If we want to advocate for the needs of other living creatures, we must first be able to advocate for the needs of ourselves.

What was your inspiration for writing this post? 

There were many inspirations for writing this post, but the one that was most significant, was a recent farming experience where I was able to see animals being aggressively abused and neglected. I was waking up to dead animals on a daily basis and I thought, if this is happening on a local, organic farm, I can only imagine what is happening on a commercial scale. It is really important to know your farmers and to pay a visit to the farm that you choose to support. Don’t assume that local means less cruel.

What is “selective compassion?”

“Selective compassion” is when we exercise care and kindness only when we believe it to be suitable for us. Selective compassion is not a concept based on truth or fact; rather chosen by engaging in a selective belief system. Examples of selective compassion would be a veterinarian who treats and cares for the well-being of companion animals during the day, but hunts or actively consumes the flesh of other animals for pleasure or sport. Selective compassion would be someone who claims to be a vegetarian or vegan that doesn’t consume the flesh of other animals, but rather wears animal flesh on their bodies in the form of leather or suede. Selective compassion would be running an animal sanctuary, but eating the flesh of the very animals you have saved in the form of grocery store meat on your dinner plate. It is my hope, that while most of us exercise selective compassion unknowingly on a daily basis, it is simply because we are lacking education, following outdated belief systems or have not begun to connect our own dots. I have hope that given this new found knowledge we can truly begin to embrace what is right and good for ourselves, our animal friends and the earth which so kindly hosts our existence.

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