For those of us who love a crispy slice of bacon but also care about the impact of our food choices, eating meat can be a very complex issue. Just for starters, there’s the environmental aspects of meat production, the safety concerns with industrial processing (read this frightening article in the NYTimes about ‘anthrax sausages’) and the thorny ethical questions of animal welfare to consider. It’s a difficult question: how can we have our steak and eat it too?
My current solution? Buy locally and sustainably raised meat from farmers markets. I went to the bustling Union Square Greenmarket in New York City last weekend to explore my meat purchasing options and do some research. And by ‘research,’ I mean ‘eating.’ Here are photos and some reasons why farmers markets are a great place to get your meat fix.
Locally Raised Meat is Better for the Environment
You probably know that industrial meat production is bad for the planet. Many of the terrible environmental effects associated with meat production, such as deforestation/desertification and the energy usage and pollution caused by large slaughterhouses and processing plants, are simply not an issue on small family farms. A producer like 3-Corner Field Farm in Washington County, NY, can put the time and energy into the ‘thoughfulness, creativity, and old-fashioned labor’ required for sustainable farming that respects the environment.
Meat From Small Farms is Less Likely to Kill You
We already talked about ‘anthrax sausages.’ Simply put, industrial meat production is a dangerous and unsustainable equation. Take the sheer number of animals slaughtered for food on industrial farms. Add their disgustingly bacteria-ridden living conditions and the scary things put in their food. Multiply by the high speed of production to maximize profits (400 cattle per hour means little time to inspect for adherence to safety protocol) and you have a recipe for widespread disaster. Smaller farms, on the whole, are more careful with regard to the food and living conditions of their animals as well as safe slaughter methods, not only because it fits with their philosophy but because they have to be more transparent and accountable with their practices.
Local Farmers Care About Humane Treatment of Animals
As mentioned above, small-scale producers are much more likely to place importance on the welfare of their animals. It’s hard to have daily contact and interaction with a small herd of pigs or cows or goats and not pay attention to their quality of life. Flying Pigs Farm, a Greenmarket vendor, is a shining example of this respect for animals – they take steps to ensure their pigs have a wholesome diet, room to roam, a clean environment, and are treated with care.
Ethical and Sustainable Meat is More Delicious!
This is a good argument to convert your Uncle Joe who doesn’t care about polar bears or rainforests but loves a good prime rib. In my opinion, sustainably and ethically raised meat simply tastes better. Healthy, happy animals eating what they evolved to eat (i.e. grass, not other animal parts or ethanol waste) are pretty much guaranteed to be more delicious and flavorful than sad, confined, tortured animals pumped full of antibiotics. But don’t take my word for it. Experts say so, and they are wicked smart.
Farmers Market Meat Offerings are More Creative and Exciting
Big supermarket chains all have the same tired old frozen chicken drumsticks and plastic wrapped ground beef. But vendors at farmers markets have lamb bacon and marrow bones and beef heart and smoked ham steak!
Do some ogling of the lamb bacon from Catskill Merino Farm. Mmmm. Bacon…
One of my favorite parts about farmers markets is getting to chat with the vendors and producers and learn about their operations. Farming is a pretty tough business, so most people who do it for a living truly love what they do. There are lots of fascinating people and quirky personalities and interesting tidbits of life that you get from a farmers market that you would never get in the sterile environment of a flourescently lit big-box supermarket chain. When’s the last time you saw a picture glowing almost religiously with goat love at your local grocery store?
Or plywood boards with handwritten gems of foodie wisdom?
The best thing about markets: the food! Ready to be stabbed with a toothpick and placed directly in the mouth.