I’ve been on a journey for the past few years, trying to eat healthier and devouring books, movies and blogs on eating well. I know all about the dirty dozen of fruits & vegetables and I’m now discovering the complicated world of how our proteins are produced.
There is an epic tale brewing. There are heroes; Michael Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer and there are villains, Monsanto and Tyson Chicken to name a few. The saga is best left to those with more resources than I. It is a war of well-funded groups with arsenals of lawyers at their fingertips.
What I’d like to share is some quick guidelines to choose healthy proteins and how you can choose a little more wisely, if you choose to eat meat, poultry and seafood.
1. Eat less protein. The average person only needs about 4 to 6 ounces of protein a day to maintain a well functioning body. The fact is, most people meet their daily nutritional needs for protein with their bowl of cereal in the morning. Cut your protein serving at dinner down to 4 or 5 ounces and increase your veggies. Good for the pocketbook and good for the waistline.
2. Educate Yourself. Read, a lot. Watch movies like Food, Inc. Do internet searches on sustainably raised. As you begin to assimilate information you’ll automatically make wiser choices. Once you know what they really do to factory farmed chicken and to the farmers who raise them … you’ll never be able to reach for a standard-raised chicken breast again.
3. Eat grass-fed animals. Beef and lamb should be raised in pastures to produce lean proteins with healthy attributes. Studies have shown that grass-fed animals are healthier and happier, with tastier meat.
4. Don’t eat anything that comes from a factory farm. It is difficult to avoid this, I’m basically vegetarian when I go out to eat unless it’s to a restaurant that agrees with my personal food politics.
5. Remember to choose wisely for dairy & eggs too. Laying hens have an entirely different kind of upbringing in the factory farm system that is equally hellish and, frankly as disgusting, as their broiler cousins. Try to eat organic, sustainably raised dairy products whenever possible, don’t forget the cheese.
6. Befriend Your Butcher. I got a big smile and a “hi there” from my butcher at Whole Foods today. He is used to me grilling him about where the meat comes from. I dutifully write down the farms he mentions and then go home and look them up on my computer. By asking the butcher for information, I now make more informed choices about which chicken to buy and I am buying more lamb too (turns out they are usually raised on pasture).
7. Buy at your Local Farmer’s Market. It’s local, it’s fresh and 9 times out of 10 you can ask the farmer directly how he raises his meat. He’s the guy standing there selling it to you.
8. Consider a CSA. You might be familiar with the process of buying a Farm Share or CSA from your local vegetable farmer but did you know that they have them for animals too? It takes leg work and research and you will probably have to go out of your way to source the food. It’s a big step, one that I myself and still considering. Although I did just put myself on a CSA wait list for pork.
9. Cook meat differently if it’s sustainably raised. In general grass-fed food is leaner than the factory farm systems and as such needs to be cooked at lower temperatures. I’ve left a trail of poorly cooked steaks in my wake until I figured this out. There’s a great blog post about how to cook it here. I use it all the time.
10. Pass it on. I love to throw dinner parties and I’ll fret over the menu, trying to create the perfect meal. I also always make sure that everything is organic, sustainably raised, etc. I quietly announce at the end of the meal that everything was super healthy and why. I know I’ve made a little progress when someone asks me about how they can get their hands on what I’ve bought. I’m always happy to share.
Let me know if you have any tips you’d like to share about your healthy lifestyle path. I’d love to talk with other simpatico people. I’ve also written 10 Food Rules a synopsis of Michael Pollan’s latest book.