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Six Steps to a More Sustainable Animal Diet

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Below is a segment of Mother Earth News review of the book, Animal Factory. In “Animal Factory,” investigative journalist David Kirby exposes the powerful business and political interests behind large-scale factory farms, and tracks the far-reaching fallout that contaminates our air, land, water and food.

Six Steps to a More Sustainable Animal Diet

  1. Be label conscious. You have rights as a consumer, but you also have responsibilities, in my opinion, and that includes self-education and being savvy about labeling. In Animal Factory, I describe some of the competing food labels (organic, humane, cage-free, etc.) and the different criteria they require to earn their endorsement. There’s a lot of crossover, and a lot of confusion. Some consumers are now looking for what is widely considered to be the most stringent label of all: “Animal Welfare Approved.” AWA requires all animals to have pasture-based certification, prohibits the use of liquefied manure, and only certifies farms “whose owners own the animals, are engaged in the day to day management of the farm, and derive a share of their livelihood from the farm.” You can search this database of farms and where to find AWA products.
  2. Pick a protein. Begin your path toward being a more sustainable epicure one food at a time. Pound-for-pound and dollar-for-dollar, eggs, cheese or butter are good starter products. For example, I only buy humanely raised, certified-organic eggs at my local supermarket. They cost $3.99 a dozen versus the $1.99 a dozen for factory farmed eggs — a difference of about 16.5 cents an egg. And while I have the admitted luxury of not having to support a family, I am more than happy to double my costs and expend an extra 33 cents in the morning for my omelet. Organic (pasture-fed) cheese and butter also have manageable price point ratios to their commercial counterparts, so you may want to pick one of those as one of your switchover foods as well.
  3. Become cooperative. A few national chain stores — and of course your local farmers market (the ones in New York are a marvel) — are usually excellent and reliable sources of sustainably raised protein. But the prices can sometimes make you laugh out of sheer exasperation. I have seen $27 chickens, which, for most families, is too extravagant. On the other hand, I have seen $2.70 chickens in my supermarket, which, to me, at least seems too cheap for the life of a bird. Another alternative is to seek out a food coop in your area that specializes in local, sustainable meat and produce. I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which is home to the nation’s oldest co-op, which offers deep discounts on delicious, fresh, local meat, dairy and eggs. Unfortunately for me, the place is so popular that I have not yet been able to get a slot in the mandatory orientation for new membership. But I keep trying.
  4. Go red-tag shopping. I have noticed that the meat department at my local place tends to get rid of its older stuff on Mondays and Tuesdays, slapping a bright red, easy-to-spot sticker with the words “Manager’s Special” onto the cellophane. I make it a point to shop on those days or, sometimes if I am just passing by, I might pop in and make a quick run down the aisle, eyes peeled for those exciting red tags as I scan the row. The discounts are usually about 30 percent off the normal price, and sometimes more. Whole organic chickens are often reduced from $3.99 to $1.99 a pound. If you don’t eat it that day, freeze it.
  5. Go online. Another great resource for finding local, sustainably and humanely raised animal products is Sustainable Table, and its Eat Well Guide — with a ZIP-code based searchable database for farms, markets and restaurants in your area that offer food that did not take a toll on humans, animals or the environment before landing in your mouth.
  6. Eat less meat. This is a suggestion, not an order, and it doesn’t come from me, it comes from the Meatless Monday campaign. Reducing your animal protein even a little bit each week will contribute to easing worldwide animal demand from any source. Check out the Meatless Monday virtual online support group for temporary withdrawals of the flesh.

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