This month I wanted to focus on a topic that I am interested in-meat! There are a lot of health proponents who frown upon meat-eaters, but for those of us who just can’t live without it, how do we consume animal products in a healthy and ethical way? It’s the same way you maintain any lifestyle: by being aware and exercising your viewpoint. What I mean by this, for example, is learning about the benefits of various work outs and then joining a gym or a basketball league. In the same way, we can take a stand on food products by learning about their origin (where was it produced?), growing techniques (organic vs. conventional), food miles (transportation from farm to fork), harvesting, packaging and processing methods (sustainable, fair wages for workers), and of course nutritional content, and then buying according to our educated decision. Now let’s apply this concept to animal products and look at labels!
According to Giancoli, MPH, RD, because “the USDA does not regulate the care of animals raised for food while on the farm” states have taken matters into their own hands. I do not want to bother you with a tangent on my opinions about factory farms, but I do want you to have all the tools you need to make a decision for yourself as well as be knowledgeable enough to converse with inquisitive minds. Some states regulate housing conditions for animals, while others have produced care standards for farmers to follow. Private certification agencies also conduct audits to ensure that animal welfare standards are being met on the farm. These include:
1. American Humane Association: This agency gives the label “American Humane Certified” and checks for housing and equipment that are designed for health, security, well-being, and ability to engage in natural behavior. Also, the farmers must be trained in humane care.
2. Animal Welfare Institute: Will have the label “Animal Welfare Approved” and grants that animals were raised outside on pastures or ranges. Another interesting requirement of this label is that it only applies to family farmers.
3. Humane Farm Animal Care: Cages, crates, and stalls are prohibited with this certificate. The animals must have ample space, shelter, water, and a healthy diet as well.
I understand it does take a bit more effort, and a bit more money, to buy these types of foods; but I would imagine that if you were committed to voting with your food dollar, you may eat less meat (simply due to cost), but it would be a greater quality when you do. This means you are having a threefold positive impact! 1) You support the actions taken to treat animals better. 2) You consume less animal fat and carnitine. And 3) You consume better quality meat, providing superior nutrition.
Sustainability of seafood is also extremely important. Our oceans are becoming over-fished due to greater demand of the healthier meat provided by many different fish. To choose the best option for you try to follow these guidelines given by the Natural Resources Defense Council:
1. Eat lower on the food chain. Smaller fish tend to be more plentiful and also have lower levels of mercury. Try squid, oyster, sardines, and mussels. I always get the baked mussels when I go to sushi; they are so yummy!
2. Buy American. Although our fish isn’t perfect, we do have stricter fishing and farming laws than other countries.
3. Go for wild caught. There are some controversies over the environmental impact of fisheries.
4. Eat local! As with all other foods, transportation of food has various impacts on the environment. Fish must be transported by air, which is the most energy intensive method of shipping.
5. Look for the above label by the Marine Stewardship Council which ensures seafood is caught or raised in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.
Another questions I’ve always asked myself: which is better, fresh or frozen? Apparently, freezing at sea maintains the quality of fish, and also lessens the transportation costs.
It is my hope to arm you with valuable information not only for yourself, but also for future patients, friends, and family. Food is a very complicated topic, as we have all learned. It goes so much farther than eating a minimum amount of calories or growing an orange in California versus Florida. Food encompasses all aspects of life such as land, biodiversity, technology, energy, economy, and more. You are now aware of just some of the labels pertaining to animal welfare, go forth and exercise your viewpoint by buying the types of foods you believe are the best.
Giancoli, A. Understanding Animal Welfare Certifications. 2012. Food and Nutrition Magazine. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 12-13
Sustainable Seafood Guide. 2009. Natural Resources Defense Council. http://www.nrdc.org/oceans/seafoodguide/default.asp?gclid=CJr006C81LYCFQyEnQodr0kA9w