Maybe I need to get out more, but I’ll admit that I get genuinely excited when I find some hidden gem tucked away in the clearance section of a store. I never know what I will find. Some days I don’t find anything that piques my interest. Other days, it’s like winning the jackpot. I often get things from clearance sections for more than 50% off or even for free when I have a coupon for a marked down item. I recently went grocery shopping with a fellow penny-pinching enthusiast. My friend discovered a bunch of meat marked way down, whole pounds of veal for only a dollar.
Veal isn’t something I generally purchase, not just because it tends to be pricey, but also because I find that the way in which veal is obtained is inhumane. For those of you that don’t know, veal is the meat harvested from a baby calf that has been chained to a short leash for its entire existence. The inability to move around prevents the calf from developing muscles so that the meat harvested is extremely tender.
Despite my reservations about veal, I almost decided to load my cart with the meat. It’s hard to say no to a $1 a pound and I reasoned that if someone didn’t buy the meat that the calf would have died for nothing. Just as I was about to start grabbing packages I remembered hearing about a recent meat recall. I couldn’t remember the name of the company involved so I looked up the producer listed on the meat packages using my smartphone. The company wasn’t the same one I had heard about on the news, but this company had also been shut down recently by the FDA for tainted meat and unnecessary animal cruelty. I decided that big savings weren’t motivating enough to compromise the health of my family or support a business that mistreats its animals. I think that if you’re going to rob an animal of a long life, the least you can do is give it a short happy one.
Population increases and competition between meat producers have driven companies to produce larger quantities of meat for less, but these savings come with a hidden cost. That cost has increasingly been seen in the mistreatment of animals raised for meat and a decrease in the quality of that meat. Animals are often packed into living quarters that are so tight that animals can’t move. In many cases their cages cut into their skin, and because they spend most of the time lying in their own feces, open sores quickly become infected. The tight living quarters of animals also increases the risk for the spread of illnesses among the animals. These unsanitary conditions often lead to food borne illness caused by the processing of infected meat. Sars, mad cow disease, and H1N1 have two things in common. They were all responsible for numerous deaths and both were the result of eating tainted meat or from living in close proximity with animals intended for meat production. Take five minutes to Google ‘tainted meat’ or ‘commercial meat practices’ and what you’ll find will likely make you sick to your stomach and forever change the way you look at meat.
I’m not saying that everyone should quit meat cold turkey (pun intended) but there are a lot of ways that quality, humanely-raised meat can be obtained for less. Clearanced meat found at your local grocery store may be safe, but you will want to look up the name of the farm that produces the meat to see if they have had any health violations in the past. You could also ask your butcher about the origin of the meat they sell, but many large-chain grocers may not be able to give you any straight answers. On a recent trip to my local grocery store I asked the store butcher if they could recommend a brand of meat that was free-range and organic. None of the five butchers working that day, nor the store manager, could tell me anything about where the meat came from or how it was raised. The idea behind buying meat that is humanely raised is that it’s often produced by smaller farms that follow more sanitary procedures. When shopping for meat you should know the difference between the following terms:
- Organic meat– meat harvested from animals that were fed only certified organic feed, which is grown without artificial fertilizers or pesticides. These animals may not receive hormones or antibiotics at any time, though they often receive vaccinations to prevent common diseases.
- Free Range Meat– Meat harvested from animals that were allowed access to the outdoors for more than half of their lives. This is in stark contrast to traditional commercial farms which generally keep animals indoors in cages for their entire lives.
- Cage-free– Animals are not confined to pens, they are able to move around, but still live indoors their entire lives. Their feed may be filled with ground up chicken and animal parts. If the label does not say “vegetarian diet.” or “certified organic” then it’s not.
- Pasture raised-The animals spent their whole life outside and ate a natural diet provided by mother nature.
- All Natural– If anything is injected into the meat at the processing plant it must be natural, like salt, and not something like sodium phosphate. However, “all natural” does not cover a chicken’s diet or living conditions.
To get the best meat for your family at the best price you can raise your own animals for consumption. If you don’t have the land to raise animals or the stomach to process your own meat, you can purchase meat from local farms. You might also be able to find an individual family that raises their own livestock and whom is willing to sell some of their surplus meat at harvest time.
Another option for meat lovers is to hunt wild game. Growing up my father brought home all manner of critters for nothing more than the cost of fishing bait or a few bullets. I’ve eaten rabbit, deer, wild turkey, many types of fish, and even alligator tale. There is some risk involved in consuming wild game, but unlike the meat that you buy at the store, you get the chance to inspect your meat before processing. This can give you some clues about the animals’ state of health and thus the safety of the meat. Some rules to follow to ensure the meat obtained from wild game is safe:
- If an animal acts abnormally leave them alone. Rabid deer often lose their normal fear of humans, appear to have injured hind legs, salivate excessively, or may be found lying on the ground struggling. Nocturnal animals wandering around in the daytime would be another indication of disease.
- If an animal shows signs of disease leave them aloneor discard meat if signs of disease are discovered during butchering. One sign might be abscesses found in the lungs, rib cage, intestines, liver or stomach.
- Always wear latex gloveswhen butchering meat. This prevents bacteria and viruses from potentially entering the body through cuts or cracks in the hands.
- Always thoroughly cook meat to kill germs
- Never eat the brainsof an animal as they can carry viruses that cannot be killed by simply cooking the meat.
- Use lead-free bullets or hunt with a bow to prevent lead contamination of the meat
- Make sure to clean the butchering area before and after processing meat. This will prevent contamination of the meat as well as contamination of other foods prepared in the same area. Clean the prep area with bleach or antibacterial spray.
If you’re not up to the challenge of hunting or raising your own meat and you have a difficult time find quality meat that fits your budget you can cut back on the amount of meat you consume and replace it with more vegetarian substitutions or meals. Beans, legumes, and peanut butter are all great sources of protein. Some of my favorite meatless meals are eggplant lasagna, bean & cheese burritos, and vegetarian chili. Aside from eating more humanely and reducing the risk of consuming tainted food, swapping meat in favor of more vegetables is generally healthier. People who consume more vegetables tend to live longer and have a reduced risk for heart disease and cancer. It’s also much easier and cheaper to grow your own veggies than it is to raise livestock.
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / marischka