Looking at the details of the meat-packing industry, the importance of consuming meat from naturally raised, antibiotic-free animals with space to move around becomes obvious. However, raising animals this way means it takes longer to grow them to the desired size for slaughter and you need a lot more space for them to feed on grass. For that reason, buying organic, grass-fed beef or organically raised pork or poultry in the grocery store can be prohibitively expensive for people on a budget. Plus, the “organic” label is far from perfect where meats are concerned. After all, hopefully you’ve surmised by now that feeding a cow organic corn doesn’t improve its health much.
If you know a small-scale farmer or rancher, however, you might get some ethically-raised meat for a decent price. For example, the Unicyclist’s dad recently bought half a pig from a fellow firefighter who happens to raise pigs as a hobby. He knows how his food was treated and fed during its life, and he is excited to be able to provide healthier meat to his family at a really affordable price.
There is a down side to this type of system, however. Did you catch the part where I mentioned he’s buying half a pig? According to Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont, that means he’s looking at about 23 pork chops, 2 roasts, 1 fresh ham, 8 lbs of fresh bacon slab, 3 lbs of spare ribs, 9 lbs of ground pork, etc., totaling about 75 lbs in the freezer. Buying naturally-raised animals directly from the rancher can often mean committing to a quarter steer or a half pig. Frankly, not everyone has that kind of freezer space or that kind of money up front. Also, not everyone happens to know an ethical, all-natural, hobby pig farmer. I mean, I don’t. And I know a fair few folk living off the beaten path.
Plus, let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Because pasture-raised animals simply need so much more space than factory farms, it’s not realistic in our shrinking world to think that we would ever be able to pasture-raise the sheer numbers of animals that we currently crank through the CAFO machine. The bottom line: for everyone’s health, we need to re-examine the centrality of meat in the Standard American Diet.
Which brings us back to a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet. If you want how you eat to positively impact your health, the environment, and the living standards of animals across the country, it is one of the most powerful steps you can take. In addition, vegetarianism has a lot of specific benefits for you!
- Work Better With a Tight Budget: With all the furor this last year about rising rice prices, including Sam’s Club and Costco limiting the number of bags of rice people could buy, you might have missed an important truth: in this country, rice is still pretty doggone cheap–even the organic stuff. Beans too. And I have to say, I make some killer bean tacos. Top it off with homemade salsa and guacamole (the Unicyclist’s specialty), some organic corn tortillas (still at a grand total of .99 a dozen), and a handful of nice leafy greens, and the Unicyclist and I can stuff ourselves giddy on better-than-restaurant-quality food, almost totally organic, for under $4 for the two of us together.
- Health Benefits: We’ve covered why factory-farmed meat is not so great for you. We haven’t really explored why vegetables and fruits are so good for you, though. The consensus is pretty universal–we should all be eating more veggies for better health. Time magazine reports doing so can reduce your risk of stroke. The Centers for Disease Control seconds that and also says they can reduce the risk of other chronic disease such as cardiovascular diseases and some cancers. The Harvard School of Public Health explains that consuming large amounts of vegetables and fruits can “ward off heart disease and stroke, control blood pressure, prevent some types of cancer, avoid a painful intestinal ailment called diverticulitis, and guard against cataract and macular degeneration, two common causes of vision loss.” Harvard adds that they have a mellowing effect on blood sugar that can help control appetite. That, combined with the filling fiber found in fruits and vegetables, can be great news for both diabetics and those interested in weight control. What’s not to love? Plus, the antioxidants, Vitamin C, and collagen found in plant foods can help keep your skin, eyes, and hair looking bright and healthy. Please note, the benefits of a vegetarian diet depend on a diverse, whole foods diet, not on a boxed macaroni and cheese diet. Remember Rule #1: Food Should be Food. Powdered cheese with thickening agents and “natural flavor” ≠ food.
In a totally non-scientific vein, people in my life who have transitioned to a whole-foods way of eating with all or mostly plant foods tend to have more energy and feel better overall. Try it. Odds are, a whole-foods vegetarian diet, done right, will make both your body and your budget healthier.
Tomorrow, the well-intentioned question every vegetarian hears way too much: What about teh PROTEINZ?!?!?!?!
Oh NOES! Teh proteinz! Stay tuned…2 comments