Animal Welfare: FAQ & Useful Links


Frequently Asked Questions

Why aren’t you a vegetarian?
I’m not a vegetarian because I enjoy eating meat, meat is nutritious food, and I believe there are ways to eat meat that are in keeping with my environmental and ethical values. I don’t make the decision to eat meat lightly. Meat-eating has always been a messy business, shadowed by the shame of killing and, since Upton Sinclair’s writing of The Jungle, by questions about what we’re really eating when we eat meat. Forgetting, or willed ignorance, is the preferred strategy of many beef eaters, a strategy abetted by the industry. (What grocery-store item is more silent about its origins than a shrink-wrapped steak?) A few years ago while writing The Omnivore’s Dilemma I decided if I was going to continue to eat red meat, then I owed it to myself, as well as to the animals, to take more responsibility for the invisible but crucial transaction between ourselves and the animals we eat.

Meat eating may have become an act riddled with moral and ethical ambiguities, but eating a steak at the end of a short, primordial food chain comprising nothing more than ruminants and grass and sunlight is something I’m happy to do and defend. The same is true for a pastured chicken or hog. When obtained from small farms where these animals are treated well, fed an appropriate diet, and generally allowed to express their creaturely character, I think the benefits of eating such meat outweigh the cost. A truly sustainable agriculture will involve animals, in order to complete the nutrient cycle, and those animals are going to be killed and eaten.

That said, I have the ultimate respect for vegetarians and vegans. For they have actually done the work of thinking through the consequences of their eating decisions, something most of the rest of us have not done. My own examination of those consequences has led me to the conclusion that eating a small amount of meat from certain kinds of farms is something I can feel good about. But we all have to decide this question for ourselves, and different people will come to different conclusions, depending on their values. To explore the question further, you might want to read my essay, An Animal’s Place or chapter 17 of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

How do I know what type of seafood is sustainable?
If you’re wondering whether it is sustainable and healthy to buy Chilean sea bass or eat maguro sushi look to the Seafood Watch program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They put together an easy-to-use guide for what seafood to eat and what to avoid.

Is grass fed meat really better for me?
There is reason to believe that it is. The diet of the animals we eat has a bearing on the nutritional quality, and healthfulness, of the food itself, whether it is meat or milk or eggs. This should be self-evident, yet it is a truth routinely overlooked by the industrial food chain in its quest to produce vast quantities of cheap animal protein. That quest has changed the diet of most of our food animals from plants to seeds, because animals grow faster and produce more milk and eggs on a high-energy diet of grain. But some of our food animals, such as cows and sheep, are ruminants that evolved to eat grass; if they eat too many seeds they become sick, which is why grain-fed cattle have to be given antibiotics. Even animals that do well on grain, such as chickens and pigs, are much healthier when they have access to green plants, and so, it turns out, are their meat and eggs.

For most of our food animals, a diet of grass means much healthier fats (more omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA; fewer omega-6s and saturated fat) in their meat, milk, and eggs, as well as appreciably higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants. Sometimes you can actually see the difference, as when butter is yellow or egg yolks bright orange: What you’re seeing is beta-carotene from fresh green grass. It’s worth looking for pastured animal foods in the market and paying the premium they typically command. For though from the outside an industrial egg looks exactly like a pastured egg selling for several times as much, they are for all intents and purposes two completely different foods.

“Free range” doesn’t necessarily mean the chicken has had access to grass; many egg and broiler producers offer their chickens little more than a dirt yard where nothing grows. Look for the word “pastured.” And in the case of beef, keep in mind that all cattle are fed grass until they get to the feedlot; “grass finished” or “100% grass fed” is what you want. For more on the nutritional benefits of pastured food and where to find it go to eatwild.com.

Where can I buy grass fed meat?
Lucky for all of us, grass fed meat is getting easier to find; many health food stores and farmers markets now sell pastured eggs and chicken and grass fed beef. Don’t be fooled by meat advertised as “natural”— natural does not mean grass beefed; in fact it means almost nothing. For more on the nutritional benefits of pastured food and where to find it go to eatwild.com. To find farmers near you raising pastured animals and selling grass fed meat put your zip code into the map tool on the Local Harvest website and type “grass fed” into the keywords box.


Useful Links

Animal Welfare Institute audits and certifies family farms.

Temple Grandin a designer of livestock handling facilities and a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University.

Farm Sanctuary works to end cruelty to farm animals.

People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals the largest animal rights organization in the world.

Certified Humane Raised & Handled a food labeling program dedicated to improving the welfare of farm animals.