Saturday, April 3, 2021

What About the Meat?!

 "Sssssoooooooo you must be one of those vegetarians, eh?"

Aha!  I knew this question was going to pop-up at some point.  For some reason when you eat a lot of vegetables people automatically assume that you are vegetarian, or vegan, or pescatarian, or whatever the most recent food / diet craze is.  My hippy / hipster vibe that I tend to give off probably doesn't help either.  If you've been reading each of my posts (if you haven't then you should) and you have a keen eye then you may have noticed mentions of meat sprinkled here and there.  I am in-fact not vegetarian, which is usually quite a shock to people, which is actually a shock to me in return since a lot of people are so quick to judge and assume.  Don't judge a book by its cover people!

Leg of Lamb
Baked Leg of Lamb - It was very delicious

While I'm not vegetarian (nor do I follow any specific diet / craze) I have had extended periods of my life where I have not eaten meat.  This was normally due to the cost of meat combined with a low(ish) income and lots of other expenses.  Vegetables are just cheaper, plain and simple, so meat was usually one of the first things I'd cut out to save money.  The longest period that I didn't eat meat for was about two years.  I never even realized it until one day I decided that I was going to go get a burger, I had no idea when the last time I had a burger was and it sounded really, really, really good.  After eating this delicious burger, I felt absolutely awful and the biggest headache ever took over.  It was then that I realized it had been about two years since I had last eaten meat and my body was full on freaking out.  In addition to my random periods of not eating meat, if I'm traveling within a country that is largely vegetarian then I generally don't eat meat while I'm in that country, it's more respectful and it just plain seems like the safe way to go.  I've had a fair amount of other extended vacations from meat and they're rarely intentional, they just sort of happen and I rarely realize it.

I am however, generally quite picky over the meat that I do eat.  I love animals (which does seem odd to say when you're literally talking about eating animals) and I have quite a lot of problems with the meat industry as many of the ranchers that I've peppered with questions at the farmers market will surely tell you.  When I say I love animals, I truly do love them and I want them to be cared for, treated well, eat well, live a good life and to not suffer.  Animals are also a form of sustenance though and I follow a general Native American school of thought that each and every animal (as well as each and every plant) should be treated with complete and utter respect from the moment it is born until you are eating it.  If you are going to know a single thing about the general meat industry in the US then you should know that this is generally NOT the case at all.  Animals are normally raised in overcrowded feed lots, they are packed so close together that they can barely move which causes diseases to run rampant which means the animals are then given mass amounts of antibiotics.  Plus the natural process of animals growing isn't fast enough for the US meat industry so most ranchers choose to pump their animals full of hormones so they grow faster.  The faster the animals grow the quicker they can sell them and the less food the ranchers have to give these animals.  The almighty dollar rules over giving these animals a quality life, greed always seems to overcome general morality and common sense.  Then once these miserable and sick animals are sent to the massive slaughter houses they are slaughtered and processed as quickly as possible which results in hamburgers that can literally have the meat of hundreds of cows in one burger.  I don't know about you but eating 100 cows at the same time, all of which lived absolutely miserable and disease ridden lives, just sounds like a completely terrible and inhumane thing to do and an absolutely awful industry to support.  One of the nations largest meatpacking plants just so happens to be located in Greeley, Colorado, not far from where I live.

So the question then becomes, how in the world can you eat meat after knowing about these atrocious conditions?  Well the answer is so simple you won't even believe it:

You find and support local ranchers that don't follow the status quo and provide the animals they raise with a good and happy life all the way through the processing of the meat.

Boom, easy peasy, right?!  While that sounds simple and now-a-days there certainly isn't a shortage of ranchers doing right by the animals they raise as well as you as the consumer.  The big problem is finding a rancher that follows this mindset all the way through the slaughtering and processing of the animals they raise.  I can't tell you how many ranchers I've talked with that talk your ear off about how great they treat their animals, how they're pasture raised and grass fed, etc.  Then when you ask where the animals are slaughtered at, most will refuse to tell you, the noble few will admit that they just send them to the big meat packing plants and once in a blue moon you find a rancher that cares as much as you do and they have gone to painstaking efforts to find the best, USDA approved slaughter and processing house that they can take the animals to.

If a rancher is taking care of raising the animals but then they send them to the mass slaughterhouses this creates several problems:

1) The rancher has absolutely no idea if the meat they pickup is the meat of the same animals that they dropped off.  As a consumer, If I'm spending extra money for grass fed meat that listened to relaxing classical music for 5 hours each and every day, I want to be damn sure that the meat I'm buying is meat from the animals from that ranch.  When the ranchers take their animals to the mass slaughterhouses they have absolutely zero way of ensuring the meat they get back are the animals they took in.  In fact, if I were a betting man I would bet my life savings that they are not getting the same meat back, each and every time.  These giant meat plants process a whole lot of animals each and every day, they don't care.  Money rules the world over everything else.

2) The animals are not going to get a happy ending before and after their slaughtering since the mega slaughter houses are just trying to process the animals as fast as they can.  Each and every animal should be treated with the utmost respect up to the moment you are eating it. 

3) Once again, I don't want to be eating a burger that is made up of 100 different cows, none of which were grass fed nor played classical music despite that being what I'm paying for.

I've grown extremely weary of talking to ranchers so when I first meat a rancher (pun intended) that I may be interested in buying meat from I cut right to the chase by walking up to them and straight up asking, "Where are your animals slaughtered and processed at?"  It's very fun to see their reactions to this abrupt question that they likely aren't used to being asked at all and I can usually tell within about 2 seconds what their answer is going to be, much like asking a farmer what their growing practices are.  Quite a lot of ranchers usually straight up refuse to answer which results in me shaking my head and walking away.  The ranchers that do answer honestly and admit to taking their animals to the big slaughterhouses, I thank them for their time and honesty and I'll engage them about why they do this so I can attempt to fully understand what is going through their minds.  The reasons are normally because of the lack of USDA approved facilities around them, time to transport the animals to better facilities further away, and of course money.  The giant facilities don't charge as much, they are the Costco's of the meat world.

To this day I have found exactly one rancher in my area that has been more than happy to answer my questions, seems to love his animals as much (probably more) than I do, doesn't use the mega slaughter / meat packing houses and has invited me out to the ranch several times to see it for myself and so we can talk in person.  I actually have yet to take him up on visiting the ranch since I found out about them right as the great pandemic of 2020 started up but I plan to as soon as I'm able to and our schedules match up.  The one and only ranch* that I currently buy my meat from and I'm more than happy to support is Buckner Family Farm, located right here in Longmont, Colorado.

*There is a second person that I do buy pork products from occasionally, which is the Bacon Bandito who just happens to have the best tasting bacon in the world (all of his products are amazing).  He does the best he can with the resources he has and the genuine care that he has for his animals as well as you as a consumer is very evident.  I've had many many great conversations with him and I'm happy to support him.

Well what about the environment?  Giant ranches are destroying the land that they inhabit, right?

This actually couldn't be further from the truth, if done properly.  If a ranch is properly managed by constantly rotating the animals around with temporary fencing, which mimics natural grazing patterns, and if the animals are grazing on natural grasslands where natural and wild plants have been planted and those plants are not being treated with any chemicals then this has actually been shown to reverse climate change.  Don't believe me? I didn't believe it either until I started looking at the actual research myself, you should look into it too, this TED Talk is a great place to start and you should probably just watch Soil Carbon Cowboys while you're at it.  You know you want to with a cool name like that!

The problem is that probably 98% of ranchers don't do this.  Even the majority of the grass-fed animals are on lands that are improperly managed by overgrazing and by treating the grasses with chemicals, that most certainly destroys the land at a fast rate.  But if you work with and mimic nature then you can actually help to heal the environment and reverse climate change.  It's really quite simple when it comes down to it and it's mind boggling how this isn't the normal standard.

All of this really just boils down to one main factor that we really just need to face: meat tastes good, it tastes sssssooooo ridiculously good and I very much enjoy eating it.  Food companies wouldn't be finding ways to make bacon tasting vegetarian foods if it wasn't.  There are two main reasons why I'll likely never be vegetarian:  Marco's Hot Dogs and Tacos and Sushi.

Marco's is THE place to go and will damn well teach you to not judge a book by its cover as it is literally two food carts in what would be generous to be called a make-shift building.  It's basically delicious street food, which is something rarely found in the US, let alone in sleepy Longmont, Colorado.  However it currently has a 4.8 rating on Google with just over 1,100 reviews, I would give it 20 stars if I could.  Bacon wrapped hot dogs piled high with toppings along with very tasty tacos.  It is tasty comfort food and happiness all piled into one.  This is one of the few places that I will happily eat at knowing full well that the meat they use is likely nothing that I agree with but in this case my taste buds currently win that war; I don't ask, I just order my food, eat, and enjoy.  I currently choose to remain ignorant so I can enjoy this establishment once in a while.  

Sushi is very self explanatory, it's freaking good.  Boom, that's all there is to it.  I usually have one big sushi outing a year and I eat fish periodically throughout the year.  This is also a constant battle in my mind.  The oceans used to be pristine but now they're basically human caused trash piles sprinkled with radioactive waste.  I have no idea how much longer I'll be able to justify eating fish if the conditions of the oceans keep deteriorating along with being over fished.  This is also a constant battle in my mind and I currently justify it by limiting the amount that I eat.  This is likely false reasoning that I may look back on in the future with disbelief but hey, go to Sushi Den just outside of Denver and get whatever you want.  It will be the best sushi meal you've ever had outside of Japan!

Salmon Being Smoked
Salmon being smoked at home for a better than what you get at restaurants style meal.

It still seems weird to eat a prior living animal.

I 100% agree, in my mind we are animals too and carnivorous animals at that.  It's in our core to eat meat so by following my thought process above I'm able to support ranchers that raise animals with the utmost respect.  If I'm following that as much as I can then I don't have any moral problems with it.  Having said that, I'm not trying to sway you one way or the other here and you will find absolutely no judgements here.  If you don't want to eat meat or if you only want to eat fish or something else entirely then go for it, you do you.  Don't let me or anyone else sway you otherwise.  I'm merely explaining to you my current thought process behind the meat that I eat and where I get my meat from so that you can then examine your own thought process and see if it aligns with what you want to support.  The biggest take away here is to examine your current thinking, figure out what you agree with and want to support and then do that!

In the comments below:  Have you examined these aspects of the meat industry before in your mind?  Have you found a local ranch that you like to support?  What am I missing here?  What are your foodie indulgences that you know you shouldn't support but your tastebuds win the war (I know you have at least one, tell me so I can feel better about my own indulgences listed above)?

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