The Meat of the Matter

At the end of 2008, I along with many other bloggers, posted a few resolutions for the 2009 year. Most of mine had to do with this website or food in general. I think that I’m doing really well on them for the most part. I’m on pace to hit 300 posts this year, I have a new camera that I’m wielding with decent proficiency, and I’m shopping for produce at local markets and researching CSAs to join this spring.

The one resolution I openly struggle with is the resolution to eat only organic meat or grass-fed beef. Sometimes I have the will power to not eat the item in question if I can’t confirm that it is from a source I trust, but sometimes I fail miserably. I could make a lot of excuses for why this is hard, but ultimately it’s my fault. I wanted to spend a post exploring this resolution: Why I made it, why I’m failing, and what I hope to do about it.

Meat is the Matter

I made this resolution because I think the United States is obsessed with meat. To take it a step further and differentiate Americans from some other countries like Argentina and Italy, Americans are obsessed with cheap meat. On a daily basis we say yes to quantity over quality. Most Americans are eating large quantities of meat injected with substances we wouldn’t want our children, pets, or baseball players to come in contact with.

Why is that? I’m not entirely sure and I think you will get a different answer depending on who you ask. The sociologist might tell you that it is because we have grown up as a culture with cheap meat at our fingertips and we expect it. The farmer might say that it is because we have lost touch with where are food comes from. The psychologist might say that it is because we can compartmentalize – AKA “There’s a problem, but I’m not a part of it.”

I’m really not sure if it is any of those things or a combination of all of them, but for some reason people like cheap meat. At the same time most people don’t like cheap cars, cheap TVs, or cheap dates.

Why I Tried a Change

For the last year or two I’ve been learning a lot about the food industry in our country and I decided to try not to participate in the parts I didn’t fully support. I wanted to be healthier and feel good about the foods I was eating. A part of me even wanted to know that the cow I was eating lived a reasonably happy life. So this was the resolution I embarked on.

I Love Meat

I’m having a really hard time with this resolution I think mainly for personal reasons: I just happen to absolutely love meat. I have a hard time not ordering a meatball sub on a cold day even though I’m positive that the cow in question had never set foot on grass. I have a hard time skipping the pepperoni on a slice of pizza after a night out. BACON is my utter downfall.

Any moderate Macheesmo reader can quickly confirm my love for meat. But that is not an excuse. If I really believe in these things, I should be an example. Note that all of the stuff you see on Macheesmo coincides with my resolution. Since January I’ve only used meat on the site that is organic, sustainable, free-range, etc. It’s what goes on behind the scenes that is the point of this post.

Am I failing?

I think the answer is sort of. I’ve had a few slip-ups. I’ll be the first to admit it. But in general I’m eating almost entirely organic, free range, or grass fed meat. I could probably count the mistakes on my fingers since I made the resolution. There are a few signs in my opinion that I’m at least on the right track:

  • I would estimate I eat 50-60% less meat now than I was eating a year ago. A general decrease in the amount of meat was a by-product of the resolution since it is way more expensive.
  • Everyday I get more and more knowledgeable about my food choices. Some days I mess up, but I’m learning as I go.
  • I’ve lost a few pounds and feel like I have more energy day to day. I’m not sure if this is directly related to consuming less, but healthier, meat, but it probably is.

What about now?

I’m definitely not giving up on this resolution. I want to keep working on this one and I will probably write a few more posts on it as well.

In fact, I’ve actually added one part to the resolution which helps keep me in line: I can only eat meat for one meal a day. There are no exceptions to this, organic or otherwise. If I’m planning on having chicken for dinner, then it is salad for lunch. Sushi for lunch? Pasta for dinner.

What do you guys think about this? Does anyone have an opinion one way or the other? Anybody else trying and/or succeeding at something similar?

Photo by splorp.

16 comments on “The Meat of the Matter

  1. We're having the same issue here! All the meat we buy that comes into our house is pasture-raised and organic, that part was the relatively, very easy part. Our dilemma comes when we go out to eat (which isn't that often). I'll fess up here, we've yet to say "no" to meat when we go out. We haven't eaten chicken at home in a long time, aside for a couple of our own that we killed, because we don't want to support industrial & factory farms. But, if we decide to go out, meat is more than likely on the menu.

    It is something that makes me feel like a complete hypocrite, but something I also try to be forgiving of. Trying to focus on the positive rather than obsess over anytime I "fail".

    Will admit this though: the more time that goes by, the less we go out, and when we do the less interested I am in the food I get. So, I would go with this: let yourself have moments where you slide, acknowledge them, remind yourself where the food came from, and honestly .. does it taste as good as pasture-raised, organic food (the answer is usually a huge no!), and I think you'll find yourself drifiting away from it over time.

    And, just to note – we love bacon as much as you do .. but I won't order it and will barely eat it (choke it down if I do) when it comes from a restaraunt. After having our bacon that is cured by hand on the farm, sliced by us, and so on .. the other stuff might as well be plastic food.

  2. I agree with your statement of quantity over quality with the US and meat. My wife and I have been buying free range, grass fed, and/or organic meats whenever we can. It is easy when you are buying for yourself at the grocery store. Going out to eat, like you said, is the tough part. You don't always know where the restaurant gets their meat from and if they are being truthful in their marketing.

    I think what you are doing is the right thing to do.

    As a side note, here is another interesting blog post on the same topic. This blog post by Tim Ferriss goes into what all of the labels really mean. There is also some really good discussion in the comments below the post.

  3. Agree completely. I'm trying a 3-fold solution: much less meat (though I adore bacon too), more fish (though it's harder to find good fish where we live in inland New Hampshire), and soon, buffalo. I haven't tried buffalo yet, for no good reason, but intend to get some next time I shop.

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone. An addition: One exception that I have to this rule is that when I can find local farm meats (usually from the farmer's market stands), I buy that without question. The small farms usually mean that the animals were treated well and the environmental benefits of eating local are good.

    @Jean, you should definitely try buffalo. It's very good.

    @Dan. A $37.50 for a chicken! I should go into the Bermuda chicken raising business. That's madness.

  5. I also subscribe to the once a day meat diet, but only weekdays. Sometimes I even go all veg on a few weekdays to make up for my gluttonous weekends. I don’t count fish as meat though. I only ever buy free range organic chicken and eggs, but as for beef products, it is way too expensive and hard to come by here in Bermuda! Have you ever seen a 30 dollar flank steak? I have. My little free range birdies are 37.50 for a 4 pounder. But to me the taste, texture and flavor is miles away when it comes to chicken, but the difference in beef is very subtle. I understand it is not solely a flavor decision, but to me flavor is most important. Good luck keeping up your resolutions! it’s tough from one meat eater to another.

  6. We are joining a CSA this year and I am probably more excited about it than I should be. We tossed around the idea of getting meat from farms/organic butchers, but it really comes down to a cost issue. I am not going to give up though and will continue reasearching places around town to go. Good luck in your resolution!

  7. I think this is great and that every little step matters. I'm a lot like you, I love meat but care too much about my health and the planet to ignore all the damage it can do. I think the best we can do is make smart decisions as often as we can, and know that we are doing our best when sometimes it doesn't work out.

    Keep it up!

  8. I'm glad this post is getting a lot of comments. I'm glad I'm not the only one thinking about this stuff. Thanks everyone for the tips and encouragement.

    -Nick

  9. I think that if I were living alone, or with someone who shared the desire, I would like to try the meat-at-only-one-meal-per-day plan. But I have a husband who wants his animal protein and doesn’t have any qualms about industrial farming. I have two young boys, one of whom, at least, seems to have inherited his father’s palate. And I have a not-huge food budget.

    So I buy organic meat when I can, if it’s on sale or a reasonably priced alternative. At my Costco, for example, they sell organic chicken parts, and though they are markedly more expensive than the Foster Farms, I buy the organic (although when my husband does the shopping he won’t). They also used to sell organic ground beef in one-pound vacuum-sealed packages, but I haven’t seen those lately.

    And the rest of the time we try to strike a balance. It’s frustrating, though, because when I make a meatless dinner (maybe once a week), I find the next morning that my husband has raided the refrigerator and eaten all the meat he can find between 9pm and 2am.

    I applaud all of your efforts and hope that gradually I can move my family’s diet in that direction.

  10. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I do not agree with the methods used in obtaining most meat available to me; however, I live on a limited budget, and, well, I like to eat what tastes good. Put those things together, and you have = buy the meat on sale and eat it. It’s frustrating that organic foods are so much more expensive. Yes, you’re doing something good/right, effectively making a statement that you will not support financially or gastronomically that which you do not agree with. But you’re also spending a lot more money, you know?

    This is a constant struggle in my mind and one that I have not resolved yet. Still thinking, I guess.

    As far as your resolutions: I admire ya, but for myself, the surest way to guarantee I’ll want to do something is to tell myself I can’t! If I say only one meat meal a day, I will go meat crazy, I just know myself. Some say that’s a lack of discipline. Maybe it is, and, if so, maybe that’s the very reason I should work on it. Sigh.

  11. We’re cutting back substantially on meat at our household, as well. Which would be so much easier if my husband and kid liked seafood, but oh well.

    I also made my first foray into our local Whole Foods, and they have quite the moral meat selection. Gonna try to get meat from there now.

  12. Hey Nick,
    I think you’re going a great thing for your body and being part of something meaningful. I feel bad when I think of animals being bred for food in tight quarters.
    I would love to eat organic meats if I could but a lot of the time I’m not cooking, so it’ll be difficult when I go out. Keep up the good work though!

  13. Great post Nick. I couldn’t agree more. Lately, I have been more and more disturbed when I think about where certain meats that I eat come from and what they have been fed that I in turn am putting in my body. I really try, especially when I am cooking and am in control of the ingredients, to buy all organic meats and grass fed high quality beef. It is definitely more expensive, but I find it to be totally worth it. We do meat purchasing whenever we can from a real butcher (wagshals if you live in DC). We also ordered a whole butchered lamb for the first time last year from a farm in PA, which we are doing again this year, and are also toying with the idea of buying part of a cow. It is nice to know that before I ate their succulent meat, the animal was happily prancing around on a farm, eating grass and what not that farm animals like to eat. This is a great thing to do if you have the freezer space because it is a more economical way to buy better quality meat. Keep up the good work on your resolutions!

  14. I feel you man- I struggle with this as well.

    I follow a few rules without fail though-

    Mainly, I only buy free range/cage free/organic, chicken AND eggs-

    I NEVER buy any meat from Wal-Mart- fresh meat that is- bacon and sausage occasionally though-

    I only cook beef/pork-heavy meals or with beef/pork 1-2 times a week. BF and I really like veggies and chicken, so it’s not really a sacrifice to us-

    I think my biggest dilemma is my own lazy-ness- I know there are local beef mongers somewhere here locally, but how do I find them, and am I going to make a special trip to get that beef, when I can just get the cheap stuff along with the rest of my groceries- I guess the amount of beef I eat contributes to my lazy-ness about it in general-

    That’s about it though- we don’t eat out much, and when we do we usually opt for salads, or chinese- we actually very rarely eat processed beef from restaurants/fast food. I guess my rationale is that we allready eat so little of this bad beef, that a bit here and there won’t hurt us. But really Nick- my biggest problem with meat is the treatment of the animals- I know how it’s overproduced and fed gross things are bad for the quality of meat in general- but to me it’s more damning to know that these animals live in horrible, unimaginable conditions and then die under heavy duress daily just so I can get a chuck roast for 2.99 a lb.

    It cheapens the deliciousness that is…beef, to me. I hate to sound like some peta activist- you know I’m really not- I eat meat.

    But the older I get, the less I desire it- period.

    I truly believe it’s harder for me to stomach the way that the animals are treated than the edibility of the matter- I hate to think about it really. But thanks for posting about it- and keep it up man- the more intelligent discussion we can have about these topics, the better. Get people involved, and maybe one day things could change for the better because of it.

  15. We eat our own grass fed beef and have chickens for eggs. The health benefits you've seen are outstanding and I will be following you on Twitter to keep in touch.

  16. We have many of the same issues here in the UK. We tend to eat meat only two or three times a week. The other thing to remember though is that there are many, many other parts to an animal than the cuts we all know and love.

    If more people were willing to embrace this then meat production would need to be less intensive and prices would fall. Embrace the forgotten cuts!

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