Wednesday, May 13, 2009

About Choosing Chicken, Beef and Poultry

When it comes to delivering the safest, cleanest, most chemical free meat from the market to your family’s dinner plates, the best choice is hormone free, grass-fed, humanely raised meat and poultry products. Because they contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, grass fed meats are more nutritious than the conventionally raised meats that you find in the grocery store, including those labeled, “organic” as these are not exclusively pasture fed. Remember that the more grain in a livestock’s diet, the less nutritious the meat; grass is best, and, at least in this case, greener on BOTH sides of the fence!

Grass fed cows produce the freshest most satisfying milk you’ve ever tasted and cuts of beef that are lower in fat and calories than conventional meats, higher in vitamins, and, as if this weren’t enough of a reason to buy pasture fed, clean living cows have more cancer-fighting fat (conjugated linoleic acid) than conventional meat products.

But better meat choices don’t stop there! Pigs and chickens cannot live on grass alone; so when you’re buying pork and poultry, look for the manufacturer’s promise that the animals, during their free-range life, fed on grains 100% free of pesticide and weed killers, and were never, I repeat NEVER, (mis!)treated with antibiotics and hormones. If you want your family eating clean, healthy sources of protein, you want grass-fed AND organic on your meat label! It’s the best of both worlds!

Industrially raised animals are often treated with hormones (also known as steroids) to fatten them faster. Synthetic hormones affect the animal’s natural hormone balance. Studies suggest that eating meat and poultry filled with superfluous estrogen, affects your body’s hormones. Could this be the reason why our sons and daughters are maturing much earlier than we did?

I feel very strongly that we must be aware of the links in our food chain in order to make the best choices. We are what we eat. Some scientists suggest that it may be more than coincidence that the rise of reproductive cancers (those influenced by estrogen) in Americans, like breast, prostate and testicular have increased in direct proportion with the use of hormones in industrially produced beef and poultry.

I urge you to shop for beef and poultry at your local butcher or at grocery stores that offer an organic alternative. The good news is, hormone free products are being welcomed into our supermarkets and showcased on the menus of more and more restaurants. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions that need asking like, “Where did this chicken come from and how was it raised?” Terms like “free range”, “all natural”, “choice”, “grade A” and “prime” are confusing and do not give you enough information. Here, is some information that may help you in determining which product you choose for your family.

Free range indicates that the animal was put outside or in a barnyard at some point in his life. This label does not mean that the animal was raised in a pasture and fed on grass, exclusively, only that they were given access; still, free-range makes a lot of healthy assurances you can feel good about. Food producers of free range livestock must adhere to strict standards and that’s something to applaud.

The Natural label, according to the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service, can be applied to any product that does not contain “artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives. This label can also be applied if the product “is not more than minimally processed”. In other words, the natural label can be applied to chicken and meats that are minimally processed, regardless of what they were fed and whether they were treated with steroids and hormones.

The organic label assures you that the animals were raised without the use of synthetic products and the livestock feeds were not sprayed with synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. It also means that the animals were not treated with unnecessary hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified organisms of any kind. Organic does not necessarily mean that the animals were pasture fed. You have to do further research to make this conclusion. Labels such as grass-fed, grass-raised, and range-fed will lead you in the right direction.

Luncheon meats sold in packages and even those sliced at the deli counter of your supermarket often contain hidden salt and are, most commonly, processed. (i.e. Does that rectangular slice of deli ham come from a square pig?) In place of a deli meat sandwich or a processed lunch pack, you might prefer to utilize last night’s left-overs for your child’s lunch box. Sliced chicken breast, sliced flank steak and even yesterday’s pulled pork make one heck of a sammich. Beware also of cooked-for-you food like a whole delicatessen chicken. In many cases these are injected with a solution of salt and fat before cooking. Read the label to see what other hidden ingredients are added to your deli meal before you purchase it.

One of my earliest experiences with locally raised, hormone free poultry was initiated by my brother, “Uncle Rich”. His pal owned a turkey farm, so, my brother volunteered to purchase the turkey for the family dinner. He selected our bird in the early fall and visited him when he was in the neighborhood. He took pictures and even named him. He delivered the freshly slaughtered bird to me the day before Thanksgiving. Henry weighed-in at twenty-six pounds and darn near exceeded the size of my largest roasting pan. We squished him in the pan, patted him down with real butter under and on top of the skin, filled the cavity with oranges and apples to keep him moist and put him in the oven. The results were amazing. He cooked in far less time than we expected. The meat was juicy and flavorful. We proclaimed our pasture-fed turkey the best turkey we ever had! Thus began my search for more farm-raised products… and farmers that are leveling the playing field.

I recently bumped into n acquaintance who reminds me of all of the hard work and dedication that is needed to bring healthy foods to our tables. Lee Rankin is the owner of Apple Hill Farm in Banner Elk, NC. Her passion is “Agricultural Tourism” which she says bridges the relationship between the consumer and the farm community by bringing tourism to the farm. Any activity that draws people to farms to learn, pick produce, and connect with the farming of crops or raising of animals is considered Agricultural Tourism or Agri-tourism. We live in a time where we can walk into a grocery store and buy meat, produce and already prepared food items without needing to know anything about where the food came from. But we also live in a time where more and more people desire to learn about the process of how the food is grown and how the animals are raised. Farming has become a fascinating topic.

1 comment:

Jen said...

I so agree with EVERYTHING in this
post - a lot of people will argue that they can't afford organic food, but I think it's far cheaper to buy USDA Organic, etc. than suffer from health problems caused by processed food overload.

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