Animal products can be a very healthy part of a healing diet if they are sourced from healthy animals, and they can have a much more positive impact on our individual and collective psyches and our planet if they are raised compassionately and ecologically.
Since the 50's small family farms are rapidly being replaced by 'mega-farms' and globalized food corporations. The result has been a steady decline in food quality and multiple negative consequences for human health, animal well being, the environment and local economies.
The poor diet and artificial animal 'care' methods used in industrial farming as well as the hardship experienced by the animals have resulted in a highly adulterated product.
Without high levels of antibiotics the infections caused by crowded, unhealthy conditions and an unhealthy diet, many animals would not live to slaughter. Residue of the drugs and hormones remain in the foods, especially concentrated in the fat in the milk and meat. Modern nutritional science tells us that there is not only truth to the old adage, "You are what you eat" could be expanded to "You are what your food eats."
Today's conventional livestock is fed unhealthy and genetically modified foods. In addition, their diet often includes substances that the animals do not naturally eat. For example grass is the only natural food for cattle and feeding them corn or soy or animal byproducts suppresses their health and reduces the healthy fats in the dairy and meat. The sad truth is that is the factory farming methods result in sick animals. Eating flesh, milk or eggs from unhealthy animals does not support the health of humans that consume the products.
Statistics link cancer and heart disease with meat and dairy products. However these disease conditions can be expected given the poor health of the animals. Studies show that, if animals are raised healthfully and humanely, their flesh, milk and eggs contain higher levels of fatty acids that are very healthy foods for omnivores. The way to raise healthier animals is to treat them humanely and feed them a biologically appropriate GMO free diet.
Science-informed agroecology, biodynamic and other increasingly popular whole systems approaches are raising the bar on what's possible with effective rotation grazing and closed loop systems that use waste as a resource and grow healthy grass in order to grow healthy animals. Chickens can raised in conjunction with large animal systems as well-again using the waste from one animal to convert to a resource to care for another.
These deep organic approaches prevent the toxic waste of industrial 'slurry' (manure) produced by factory farms. They prevent pesticide poisoning of the air, water and soil and promote the building of microbes and organic matter in the soils. Building healthy soil and grasses increases the carbon sequestration potential of the land as well as increased drought and flood resistance.
Closed loop, diverse food production systems also radically reduce the biocide and carbon emissions caused by mono cropping and the transport of animal food and bedding. Increasing local food sales further reduces transport effects by reducing the distance of distribution.
Here is some excellent information about the health, ethical and environmental reasons to seek the best source of meat possible.
As for the compassionate component of animal products, you may be interested in this post Top Ten Questions to Ask About your Food to help assess the 'happiness footprint.'
If you cannot access free range animal products from animals fed a GMO-free biologically appropriate diet and raised and killed in a low stress, compassionate way, you may wish to explore hunted animals raised in the wild (as opposed to wild species raised on farms). Wild meat killed swiftly by a skilled hunter is superior to industrial meats in many ways, both ethically and healthfully.
Hunted animals live a natural life up until their last moment (though some compassionately farmed animals may live a more comfortable life). Wild prey are spared the unnatural conditions of industrial factory farms. The health, environmental and ethical considerations regarding wild foods can be viewed as positive. Similar comparisons apply to wild fish vs farmed fish. The ideal wild fish is line caught and quickly killed rather than caught in a net with thousands of other fish and unintended by-catch to suffocate slowly. (See the sustainable fish section for more information).
For some intimate insight into a respectful approach to hunting and using the whole animal, this chef takes the brave step of joining the deer hunters who harvest the deer he cooks. The video is graphic so it's not for the faint of heart but it is very thought provoking. Hunting for supper
And, by taking responsibility for caring enough to ask questions about how the animals lived and died, in our role as discerning consumers, we can help to create a demand for more thoughtful ways of producing food in our society.
TL Cornish, CNP