Healthy Diet Makeover, Part Three: Out with the Old!

Cow looking over fenceHealthy Eco-Friendly Diets Including Animal Products

No such thing. Next topic, please!

Okay, okay, I hear you: my truth isn’t necessarily yours — or at least, not yet! — and you aren’t ready to talk about going vegan. Eating a plant-rich or even a plant-based diet sounds good, but you’re thinking of keeping a few animal-based foods in your kitchen paradigm. Factory farming isn’t something you want to support, but you aren’t ready to quit all meat, eggs, and dairy foods ‘cold tofurkey.’

I understand; that’s where I started, too. For me ‘organic chicken’ was a gateway food to vegan eating. And I kept looking for an ethical way to eat fish and shellfish for a long time after I’d left all other animal foods far behind (yes, even cheese!). Based on my own best honest reasoning and voice of conscience, I eventually concluded that — for me — there’s just no ‘humane’ way to kill in the absence of need. But food choices (like most ethics issues) exist on a continuum; I don’t think there’s only one way to do things better than we’ve been doing them, food-wise!

So I offer these suggestions for exploration and reflection; in trade, I ask only for your honest best effort in reconciling your food choices with your own conscience and values. Don’t be an ‘excusitarian’ — seek knowledge; consider; then act… don’t simply decide beforehand what you’ll conclude, and then bend the facts to fit.

By honestly exploring food options, you’ll set yourself up for a joyful and satisfying diet that you’ll never be tempted to ‘cheat’ on: when what you think matches what you do, life is beautiful!

Avoid and Seek

First of all, let’s agree to disagree with our society’s acceptance of factory farming. The reasons not to support this industry are worth many posts on their own merit, so I won’t go into nauseating detail. But if you’re going to eat a healthy real-food whole-food non-crap diet, industrially farmed animal products deserve no place on your table.

Sadly, grocery store labels like ‘grass fed,’ ‘cage free’, and ‘free range’ are often little more than greenwashed marketing tools; making the effort to seek out these products is arguably better than nothing, but doesn’t actually indicate health benefits, sustainable practices or decent animal treatment. ‘Organic’ is better from some specific health and environmental angles, but has nothing to do with supporting ethical treatment of farmed animals and farm workers.

Though the primary topic here is healthy dietary changes, the issues of sustainability and ethical accountability in animal farming are deeply intertwined with the health impacts of that food. Whether we’re talking about foodborne illnesses, antibiotic resistance, disease propagation, or (in the case of ocean species) ecological stability of our shared ecosystem, it’s impossible to talk about human health in a meaningful way without addressing methods of food production.

So if you’re including animal products in your diet, I can’t encourage you enough to seek out local, small scale producers. Individual or family owned farms are much less likely to be involved in large-scale pollution, extreme animal cruelty, or exploitation of farm workers than their industrial equivalents. You’re less likely to get food contaminated with things like aresenic, antibiotics, and synthetic hormones. Small farms are also less likely to keep animals in the extremely overcrowded and filthy conditions that contribute to disease mutation and propagation, as well as antibiotic resistance.

You’ll pay slightly more for meat from farms that don’t make profit the only goal; that’s because meat is intrinsically more resource-intensive to farm than plant-based food. US consumers have been conditioned to expect ‘cheap’ animal products thanks to our warped subsidy system, combined with tremendously unsustainable and unethical factory farming practices. The result is not cheap at all — the costs are just externalized, so that the industry doesn’t have to pay them.

Embrace that responsibly produced animal foods cost more. Eat less of them, to balance it out! Humans thrive on a plant-rich diet; we have no need for meat, eggs, and dairy three to five times daily. In fact, we have a really hard time if we embrace such habits — risks for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and cancer all increase with an animal-centered diet! So take the cost of responsibly produced animal products as a hint: animal foods should not make up the bulk of your diet.

Local Harvest offers a searchable database to help you locate local farms wherever you live, for both produce and animal products. Most farmers’ markets feature at least one vendor offering eggs. Many CSA programs offer the choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian baskets.

If you’re keeping animal foods in your diet, take the time to seek out the ‘better’ versus ‘worst’ suppliers. If you’re invested in the health, or environmental, or ethical implications of your food choices: it matters!

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