How & Why To Source High Quality Eggs, Meat & Dairy

How & Why To Source High Quality Eggs, Meat & Dairy

Something I really, really care about is what food I put in my body. And course what others do as well. Even while plant-based, I was very passionate about spreading the message of sourcing local or regional animal products to anyone & everyone. I think for those who include animal products into their diet, it is especially important to eat grass-fed, free-range, organic and/or ethically raised {which I think they all go hand-in-hand but labeling standards think otherwise}. I would without a doubt eat conventional produce over conventionally raised animal product any day, no questions asked. I believe there are way worse repercussions from eating mainstream animal based foods than produce. For a multitude of reasons. As will be discussed below. 

The main purpose of this post is to hopefully inspire and shed some light on how to consciously consume animal product. I believe it is SO important. For you, the animals and the planet. And just because it says organic or free-range does not mean it is necessarily a better choice. There are so many labels and certifying parties; items can be labeled in a particular way for marketing purposes without holding true to their word. What it comes down to is you having to do your own research & not being afraid to ask questions. It may sound like a lot of work or time that you think you just don't have, but in all honesty it's not only WORTH IT {read: YOU ARE WORTH IT!} but in the grand scheme of things, it isn't time consuming at all. My intention with the information & resources I provide here, you'll have a jump start & can trust that included below are the best ways to access quality food.  

Eggs

Freshly laid eggs from free range ladies living the HI life on Maui :) 

Freshly laid eggs from free range ladies living the HI life on Maui :) 

The ideal source for any eggs, meat or dairy is from a local farmer. Purchasing from a farmers market, local food cooperative, through a CSA share {community shared agriculture}, or directly from on-farm purchases is truly the best route to go. Ask questions & get a feel for the farmer. Sometimes people are out there to just capitalize on the growing trend of organic or free-range. But 9 times out of 10, your local farmer isn't falsifying his claims. If you aren't sure what to ask about eggs in particular or what quantifies a healthy egg, below are a few key points you are looking for. 

  • Are the chickens free-range? This means they are granted ample space outdoors, all day long, to freely roam the grasses and forage at their leisure. There should not be any crowding of birds in any capacity with their outdoor access. 
  • What kind of diet are the chickens supplemented with? Is their feed soy and/or GMO free? Note: If their feed is organic, it is automatically GMO free. 
  • Are the chicken coops clean? Do the chickens have plenty of space within their coop to move at their leisure? 
  • And how are the hens treated? If you are sourcing from the farmer directly in some capacity, there will likely be 99.99% full transparency if you inquire about how they raise their girls.  

I know that not everyone has the means to access a quality farmers market, CSA or are within reasonable proximity to a farm. This is when you will need to pay extra attention to how your local market advertises their eggs & what brands they carry. When I am buying eggs from somewhere other than the farmer directly, I read, read and read some more. I make sure I'm choosing eggs that are meeting my {high} standards & what will provide me the healthiest, most sustainable egg for myself & the planet. When I'm not buying from the farmers market, direct from farmers, or gifted from a friend, the only other place I buy from is a food co-op/natural food store. The smaller or more independent the grocery store, the more likely they are sourcing the highest-quality foods. Even though larger stores like Whole Foods sell organic and pasture-raised eggs, I choose to not purchase them as they are sourced from larger companies. And I just cannot get on board with large scale organic.  

But don't be discouraged!... below are two easy resources to help you find your best egg.

  • Local Harvest is one of the best, all-inclusive sources on the web. Here you can find local CSAs, farmer markets, farms, and even events. It encompasses grains, produce, eggs, meat, dairy, value-added products & a whole lot more! Basically anything locally & regionally produced will be searchable through Local Harvest. Just type in your location & a whole new world will be at your fingertips. Just click on the 'shop' tab above and in the following screen 'eggs' on the left hand column. Then type in your zip code or location & voila.  
  • Cornucopia Institute is another great wealth of sustainable food knowledge. I trust everything they put out, and not just because they are based in Wisconsin ;) Cornucopia does their research. Period. Below is their most recent update of the Scrambled Eggs report which rates egg suppliers on the market, providing the reader a clear, easy to read visual of which eggs are best. Cornucopia rates their eggs on the following criteria:  

• ownership structure (family farm, corporation, etc) • average flock size • henhouse size • organic certifier • additional certifications (animal welfare approved, biodynamic, etc.) • indoor & outdoor space per bird • indoor & outdoor enrichments • cleanliness of facility • litter management • manure handling • forced molting • beak trimming • laying hen lifespan • use of spent hens • death rate loss • pullets & pullets access to outdoors • sourcing & quality of feed • synthetics present in feed • disclosure & transparency

Wisco chickys!

Wisco chickys!

Even if you aren't privy to understanding the process of raising chickens, you can see from the list above that a whole lot goes into eggs. And I didn't even include all the criteria! I like to reference their report because it entails more readily known brands, the ones in which the majority of the egg consuming population sources from. Which is exactly where we need to shed the light on what is really going on. For instance, if you take a look at the chart, you'll see that at the bottom are the lowest rated eggs. Under the rating of one, you will find the private label organic line of popular stores including Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Publix, CostCo, Wegman's, Tree of Life, Safeway, Roundy's & many more. As noted by Cornucopia, private label sources are anonymous and thus are not transparent in their farming practices. Research indicates that these eggs, even though labeled as "natural", "organic" or "pasture-raised" are raised at industrial scale, are overcrowded amongst thousands of other hens & have improper access to outdoors. That my friends, is a big two thumbs down. 

The idea is to source your eggs from chickens that are treated with the most compassion, who are provided clean, spacious living quarters, & have plenty of access to roam and peck around at their free will. They are healthy, they are happier & in turn you will be too. 

Meat

I'm sorry to burst your bubble but most meat this country is eating isn't a) real food i.e. McDonald's or is b) low quality product from a feedlot aka factory farm aka hell on earth. And that goes for so much of the meat on the market today. The industry is all about pumping out large amounts of meat, produced as cheaply as possible. They cut corners with cheap feed that aren't even part of the animals natural diet, are treated sooo poorly, and force them into living environments that you can barely even consider "living". They are literally just standing there, surviving.

On the brighter side of things, there are a great number of committed, loving farmers & ranchers who actually LOVE their animals and treat them as they are meant to treated. They provide pasture for them to graze on grasses, they supplement their diet with the right stuff when needed & just genuinely care about their animals, the people eating their animals & the environment. Hallelujahhhhh. I just want to go out and give all these folks a great BIG HUG. For no other reason than they are literally my (s)heroes.  

Here are some benefits of grass-fed animals versus their conventionally raised friends.

Benefits of Grass-Fed Animals

  • Grass-fed animals are free to graze on pasture, the natural way! Animals are meant to eat grasses and legumes in a field, not corn, soy & starchy grains that damage & upset their gut. Animals raised on CAFOs, Confined Animal Feeding Operations, (where all conventional meat comes from) are force fed grains, hormones, antibiotics & industry by-products to fatten them up quickly. By-products including non-edible leftovers from bakery, candy and other starch facilities - including their plastic wrappers!? No living being is meant to eat plastic. And think about it, what those animals are eating are what you are eating.
  • In addition to being fed an unnatural diet and being pumped with hormones and antibiotics, animals raised in a CAFO, experience animal stress & abuse, lack access to outdoors and are exposed to air, water & land pollution. Not to mention the physical abuse they endure from employees. If you haven't seen Earthlings or Cowspiracy, I urge you to watch these two in particular. Consuming meat unconsciously is contributing to the awful truths that these two docs showcase. 
  • Animals that are pasture-raised help fertilize the land naturally & given the proper space, the manure is dispersed in a healthy & manageable way. When animals are raised in such close proximity on CAFOs, manure collects in an unnatural way in a small area. Soils & waterways are thus overloaded with their nutrients and pollutes nearby land & water. 
  • From a health perspective, grass-fed meat is lower in overall fat and contains a higher percentage of healthy fats (including omega-3s, CLA & ALA) and are richer in antioxidants like vitamin E. 

So, how do you find yourself grass-fed meat? My top suggestions are just as I mentioned above: famers market, CSA (meat CSAs are definitely a thing!), direct from farmer, or your local food Co-op (note this link is not a full list of food coops, only those part of the NCG network - meaning they have a higher volume of sales). If you aren't finding anything, ask around! If I'm in a new space, I always ask people at the Co-ops, natural food stores, or farmers at the market where the best quality product is sold that I am looking for. And that goes for anything! I love asking locals about where the best food. Because truth be told, sometimes the best places are nowhere to be found on the web. 

But there also exists...

Eat Wild! I could spend hours on this site. I love reading up on all the farms that sell ethically raised animal products. Eat Wild is a huge wealth of information related to the environmental, animal & human benefits of 100% grass-fed animals & other non-ruminant animals fed their natural diet.

The ladies who graze on my family's land

The ladies who graze on my family's land

Dairy

I hold a pretty strong opinion when it comes to dairy. I learned awhile back that I cannot digest dairy products. Even fresh, raw milk that I milked myself, less than an hour before consuming, from the healthiest pasture-raised cows I've known. Milk & other dairy products just do not resonate with me & honestly, likely don't with you either. So many people I know feel immensely better upon removing dairy from their diet. Dairy greatly contributes to acne, bloating/gas, digestion complications, congestion & is overall mucous forming. However, I don't think it is realistic to think the whole population would ever be dairy free. And truth be told, even if I personally am better without it, who's to say that someone else isn't benefiting from dairy in some way. We're all different and I can't/won't/don't project my experience on millions of others. SO with that in mind, again, it's about choosing the best quality for if/when you do consume it. But before we plunge into resources, here's some insight to what most America is dining on.

OG vs Conventional

Growth hormones

Look for dairy items that are rGBH free. rGBH is a commonly administered genetically engineered variant of a growth hormone cows otherwise naturally produce. Conventional dairy cows are given rGBH (developed by Monstanto) to increase milk production but this also comes with a side of mastitis, reproductive complications, and lameness. In humans this has been linked to an increase the cancer-causing hormone IGF-1, contributing to the proliferation of human breast cancer cells. This growth hormone has been banned in over thirty countries including all of Europe, Canada, New Zealand, and Japan... come on America! Ingesting synthetic hormones, humans or animals, is NOT NATURAL. I think the phrase "every action has a reaction" fits perfectly here. And equally applies to all the mishaps in our broken food system. 

Thankfully there has been a huge push in the past few years to eliminate the use and sale of rGBH milk in major retailers and establishments like Starbucks. However, if you do go to Starbucks, I'd still ask what kind of milk they are using. With it being so large, it's harder to regulate. 

Thankfully certified organic milk is guaranteed rGBH free

Antibiotics

Did you know that nearly 80% of the countries use of antibiotics is for farm animals? And that isn't due to their being sick. It's merely because conventionally raised animals are on a constant, low dose to fatten up. The more antibiotics animals & humans are exposed to, the more resistant we all become. And by consuming the meat or dairy products from animals given these antibiotics, we are literally consuming everything they have been fed. I don't know about you, but I definitely wouldn't want to be consuming a side of antibiotics with my food. 

diet & health of cows

As I noted above under grass-fed benefits, the alternative has been to keep animals on corn/soy/grain diet that is essentially all GMOs. Feeding cattle a concoction of GMOs is linked to intestinal damage, peripheral immune damage, reproductive problems and tumors. And the more acidic the cattle's gut health from these diets, the more health complications they express, resulting in more antibiotics being administered to them. It's a repetitive, disastrous cycle.

Another lovely component of conventional dairy are herbicide and pesticide residues. These wind up in dairy products because of the GMO feed that is heavily sprayed. Those giant, never-ending fields of corn & soy that landscape so much of America, is more likely than not GMO... & those crops are sprayed with some seriously nasty CHEMICALS like glyphosate. Residues such as glyphosate have been linked to kidney disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, Alzheimer's, infertility, autism, depression, heart disease, and obesity. Wow, sounds so appetizing.  

Moving on!

I feel like a broken record at this point but meat, dairy & eggs should be sourced as local as possible. And yes, it's going to be more expensive than your conventionally-raised counterpart. And yes, YOU ARE WORTH IT. It may take some shifting around of how you spend your money or you it may need to scale back on the consumption of these items a bit. Treating dairy and meat as a supplemental component of your diet and loading your plates with more grains, veggies, greens, nuts/seeds and fruits isn't going to hurt anyone. For those who think they wouldn't get adequate protein from a vegetarian or vegan diet, this is straight up fear-based conditioning fed to us from the meat and dairy industries who work hand-in-hand with the USDA. It's all bull-you-know-what. 

Thankfully for dairy lovers there is an abundance of quality, readily-available product on the market. And thanks to Cornucopia, again, for providing a thorough report and chart on organic dairy products. Some good news here is nationally distributed lines such as Organic Valley & 365 (Whole Foods) are rated as excellent - with a score of 4 on a scale of 1-5. I recommend scrolling down to the bottom & checking in on the brands under ratings 1 & 0. If you purchase from those companies, do yourself a favor and ditch them now. And with yogurt being such a popular food, here is a scorecard specific to organic yogurt

Biodynamic cows from Whole Cirlce Farm ~ Acton, Ontario

Biodynamic cows from Whole Cirlce Farm ~ Acton, Ontario

To recap, here are nation-wide resources linked above for eggs, meat & dairy. 

  • Local Harvest - Meat, eggs, dairy, produce, CSAs, farmers markets, & value-added products in your area.
  • Cornucopia - scorecards rating organic eggs & dairyyogurt
  • Eat Wild - nationwide database of farms selling grass-fed meat, eggs & dairy.

I can't recommend enough to branch away from the habit of shopping at a large, impersonal grocery store - to develop a relationship with your local food scene, to know your farmer(s), and to tap into the incredible & enriching world of good food. People so often express they hate grocery shopping and I would too if it was a sterile box of aisles upon aisles of processed crap. For me grocery shopping is such a fun experience because it connects me to my community, it expands my knowledge of an area's culture, and it is seriously just fun to geek out on awesome food. It is so incredible how good food brings so many wonderful souls together. 

Remember every time we eat, we are casting a vote. I hope you make the choice to vote for a cleaner, healthier & more sustainable future starting with your fork.