I'm still trying to figure out this whole eating ethically-raised meat thing, and I thought it was time for an update. Now is the perfect time because I have three different types of chicken coming from three different stores sitting in my freezer right now.
After mine and Mike's trip to Trader Joe's in January, I felt a little disappointed. Its selection of meats was better than my local chain grocery store (that's Jewel for any of you non-Chicagoans). Most of Trader Joe's meats are antibiotic and hormone free, so I felt like that was a step in the right direction. But none of the packaging for the red meat products (i.e. pork or ground meat) led me to believe that the conditions the animals were raised in are humane. I did purchase organic free range chicken that claims to be sustainably farmed and raised without antibiotics. This package of three chicken breasts set me back $7.62 or $6.99 per pound. This is of course more than what our local Jewel sells factory-raised Purdue chicken for. Three breasts of Purdue chicken cost $8.78 or $5.49 per pound. But I'm happy to say I haven't bought mass produced meats (i.e. Purdue or Jewel brand) at all this year.
A few weeks later I went to Whole Foods to see if I could find a better selection. I did find more of the types of meat options I was looking for and purchased a 2.5lb bag of chicken breasts. It advertised that the chickens were vegetarian-fed, minimally process with no artificial ingredients and raised without the use of antibiotics or preservatives. They also were shipped from Ohio meaning they are relatively local. This bag of chicken breasts cost $9.99 or almost $4 per pound. I was surprised that Whole Foods was actually the cheapest option, but the store I went to isn't really located anywhere near my home. So it's not really a practical option.
If I have my choice though (and I certainly do), I prefer buying locally from a small, family run operation. I know this is the easiest way to ensure that the meat I purchase has lived the type of lifestyle I want to support with my dollars. Unfortunately, the local farmer's markets aren't open just yet. Once they do, buying meat in this fashion will become simpler.
There is one more ethical meat option I need to try and compare. The train station I ride into on a daily basis recently opened its very own market. Mike and I went once, and the options for locally grown meats and produce were far more abundant than those of our local grocery store. I just need to check the pricing and selection again.
Meat eating is something I'm thinking about on a daily basis right now. And I'm doing that purposefully. I want to be more mindful of the food I consume because I honestly believe I owe the animals I eat that respect. Part of my attitude has been fueled by the book I'm currently reading: The Compassionate Carnivore. Most pages in this book are littered with statistics that make my stomach churn. It isn't really an easy read. Each new stat I come across, however, strengthens my resolve to not unknowingly become one of those statistics.
One fact that's been turning in my mind over and over since I read it is the amount of food wasted each year in the United States. The simple truth is we waste a lot of food. But saying food makes the statistic sound benign. I immediately think of plates of potatoes, breads, vegetables and desserts heading for the trash - not necessarily meat. However, when I step back for a moment and realize there are animals in our food, these statistics take on a whole new meaning.
According to the author Catherine Friend's rough mathematical calculations, we kill and throw away the equivalent of 15,000 cattle, 36,000 hogs and 2 million chickens. Every. Single. Day.
Seriously stop and think about that. Those are astonishing numbers. Ones that should make everyone pause, meat-eater or not. That is so much senseless killing, so many animals that didn't have to be born into atrocious living conditions only then to be killed for literally no reason at all.
This senseless killing goes on though. And I believe mainly because people don't think of meat as animals. It's packaged and produced in such a sterile way that by the time an animal makes its way to our plate, its original form is unrecognizable. Now I'm not saying we should all go out and purchase whole cows, but I do believe if meat came with a photo of the animal it came from, we wouldn't be as quick to toss it.
It's this kind of mindful eating that I'm trying to practice. I want to acknowledge that the meat I eat is from an animal. It lived, it breathed, and it ate. It had a life. It had a spirit. And when I do eat meat, I want to note that it came from a being that at one point I could have reached out and touched. It lived so I could be fed and nourished. It lived so I could continue living a long and healthy life. I would like to think that that animal had a relatively long and healthy life as well. But at the very least, it had a life. And that's not anything that should be overlooked, and should never be carelessly tossed away.