The Best Meat and Eggs
As some of you know, I’m super passionate about farming. Sustainable farming, that is.
In fact, when people ask, “What would you do if you weren’t a hormone and nutrition coach?” I say, “Farm.”
[Image: li’l Lauren McCann]
I could write a long, philosophical story here. The gist is that I spent many idyllic summers on my grandparents’ ranch and my other grandparents had a massive garden and fruit trees that could have fed hundreds.
I was (mostly) raised on food they grew, butchered, canned, and froze.
My memories of running around in the gardens, riding tractors and horses, chasing dogs and cats, the smell of manure wafting in the air, picking strawberries and green beans, and playing in the barns are some of my very best childhood memories.
I’ve volunteered for an organization that educates eaters about local and sustainably-grown foods and later worked for a sustainable agriculture nonprofit which was, by far, my favorite job outside of what I do now.
am obsessed with listen to the country music that my parents and grandparents listened to, I have two very well-worn pairs of Frye boots, and I have a nice collection of western shirts with those fancy pearlized buttons.
In other words, the roots of my raisin’ run deep. (Perhaps some of you recognize this as the title of a Merle Haggard song. He’s my favorite musician – of all time.)
But enough about me. The meat (pun intended) of today’s post is written by my friend, Jack McCann, owner of TC Farm.
I interviewed Jack – my very first blog post – four years ago and it’s still a fantastic read. You should get to know the guy behind today’s post. It’s a moving read. Seriously.
He and his wife Betsy are true experts on raising animals right – and they didn’t grow up on farms. In fact, they go above and beyond “best practices” to produce the highest quality animal products you can find.
My husband and I have broken bread with Jack and Betsy at their home and of course, got a very personalized tour of their farm. And yes, the meal was amazing.
I know that many of you don’t live near the Twin Cities. And many of our clients ask, “How do I find the best animal products? What questions should I be asking?”
Today, Jack is answering these questions for you. Yes, he talks about the implications for your endocrine/hormonal system, including thyroid and reproductive
And no, I’m not receiving any kick-back for promoting Jack’s farm – I just want you to benefit from his vast knowledge.
Consider the list below your “bible” for buying the best animal products.
Two quick things, before we get to Jack’s list:
1. You may want to consider my Understanding Eco Labeling on Our Food audio course. It’s a lotta learnin’ for only a few bucks.
2. Here are some online sources for sustainably-raised animal products; these growers will likely be anemable to being asked the questions/topics that Jack presents below:
TC Farm is a pasture-based farm raising beef, pork, chicken, and eggs. With monthly deliveries throughout the Twin Cities metro area, feeding your family the healthiest meats available is easy—unless you live outside the Twin Cities, that is.
People who live in other communities often ask us what to look for when buying meat. Here’s a quick rundown of our top priorities. Visit our website for more information.
Asking about what feed is used to raise your meat is really important. The health and composition of meat changes drastically based on what the animals were fed.
- Organic / transition:
Using organic or transition organic feed is the best way to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals and help the environment. Organic is always non-GMO.
Most non-GMO feed that isn’t also organic is the same as conventional feed except it doesn’t use GMO seeds. Without being genetically modified, these crops require more insecticides, and depending on the farm, sometimes less or more herbicide [i]. As such, they could be viewed as worse for you and the environment than conventional. [Jill’s addition: GMOS have been implicated as a factor in the rising rates of autoimmunity.]
Getting access to organic feed is difficult for small farmers, so most use the convenient, cheap, GMO conventional options. Try to avoid if possible.
- No Soy / No Corn:
Many people should avoid soy because it’s a phyto-estrogen [ii]. Environmentally, corn and soy are terrible due to soil / fertilizer run-off. Besides, pork raised without corn or soy tastes so much better.
If you want the health and taste attributes of grass-fed beef, be sure to ask if it is 100% grass-fed. After just a few days on grain, healthy fats will begin to disappear [iii].
None of these require labeling:
- Hormones / Growth drugs [iv] are usually are added to increase growth and the farm profits an extra 2-5 cents per pound [v]. You pay the cost of increased risk for cancer [vi] from eating synthetic hormones that could also impact your thyroid, endocrine, and reproductive systems. Just because the meat is labeled ‘hormone free’ doesn’t mean they aren’t using other growth drugs that are residual in the meat.
- Arsenic is also commonly added to factory-farmed chicken [vii] to boost growth. Even at low levels, it is as toxic to children as lead poisoning [viii].
- Artificial dyes are used to make farmed salmon pink and egg yolks yellow [ix]. Dyes contribute to behavioral issues, vision, and other serious health concerns.
Age / genetics:
Thanks to loose labeling laws, big operations can cut corners and still label a product as ‘natural’, ‘free range’, etc. These are often misleading labels, and we try to avoid them. The one label they can’t mislead us on is age. Healthier, better tasting animals are typically older.
- Chicken: Factories and most small farms use a fast growing Cornish-cross breed. These birds are ready for market in 6-8 weeks and are cheap to raise. However, they don’t develop normally and are generally unhealthy birds. Chicken doesn’t develop much flavor until at least 10 weeks. Ask for birds that are more than 11 weeks old and you’ll likely have a much more nourishing, tastier meal [x].
- Beef: It takes 24-30 months before beef starts to develop significant flavor. There are a lot of grass-fed beef operations popping up that use intensive (and some could argue dubious) techniques to increase profits. These methods lower the steer’s age down to the 15-16 months, the same as a typical feedlot steer.
- Pork: Genetics make more of an impact with hogs than age. Look for heritage breeds and avoid purebred Yorkshire, Duroc, or Hamshire. Most pork is about 6 months old. Even heritage breeds, like Berkshire, only take an extra month or two. Some breeds like Guinea Hog grow slow enough to take a year to finish.
- Health: Meat and eggs raised on green growing pasture have significant health improvements, including more healthy fats like CLAs and more vitamin A and D. Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness. Both A and D are difficult to find in vegetables or conventionally raised animals [xi].
- Dirt: When a farm says their products are raised on pasture, find out what that really means to them. Do they ensure the pasture is always green and growing when the animals are on it? Many websites show their animals “outside”, but a closer look shows poorly managed pasture with animals on an over-grazed patch of hardpan dirt or on a freshly cut hay field without any greens to eat. This is bad for your health, bad for the environment and misses the entire point of finding something pasture-raised.
- Seasonality: The health and flavor benefits of pasture-raised animals diminish fairly quickly after a farmer changes over to feeding the animals hay as the animal gets older. Look for meat that was raised in the summer and then frozen to preserve the quality nature provides. What kind of grass were those grass-fed steers eating in February?
- Welfare: If your meat is Animal Welfare Approved, you can be assured the animals had good access to pasture and lived a long and happy life.