Updated: Apr 20, 2022
“I think the most important message that I have is to remember that you make a difference. You as an individual make a difference. What you do each day actually is affecting what is going on in the world each day. Your life matters. You matter. Use your life wisely.” -Jane Goodall, from the documentary H.O.P.E. What You Eat Matters
It may come as no surprise that animal exploitation for human consumption isn’t the most ethical of gigs. There are quite a few documentaries on meat production in America (start here: www.mercyforanimals.org) and many, many news stories reporting on animal cruelty and suffering on farms connected to popular meat and dairy brands. On these farms, the workers don’t care about the cows’ or the chickens' or the pigs' sufferings; they've become immune to it. The animals’ suffering does’t matter to the "bottom line." If a chicken company can make more money by packing more and more chickens into a coop (and limiting their freedom to roam), then what's the incentive to be humane?
That's where we (the consumers) come in, friends!
On the one hand, we could go vegan. From a sustainability perspective, the world would be a better place if we were all vegan. Personally, I would like to start working my way towards becoming vegan. The problem is, I feel good when I have a little animal protein in my belly (especially yogurt in my smoothies). Some people feel good on a low-carb, high-protein diet like paleo. When it comes to nutrition, I think you have to find the diet that works for you – a diet that makes you feel good and gives you energy. So, what do we do if that diet is a high-protein diet with an emphasis on animal products?
Well, good news! We don’t necessarily have to become vegan to stop animal suffering. If animal welfare is your concern (as opposed to a complete elimination of the exploitation of animals for food...something we should all probably strive for), it is possible to find farms where the animals are treated humanely, are not given antibiotics or hormones, eat grass and natural feed, roam free in the pastures, and are humanely processed. There are beef and chicken and pig companies where the employees conduct their business ethically, sustainably, and humanely. (Click here for a list!)
How do I find these farms and products? First answer: your local farmers market.
In many big cities, there are farmers markets on the weekends – simply google “[city name] farmers market” to start. If you happen to live in Southeast Texas, the Beaumont Farmer’s Market (Saturday mornings from 8am-11am) has Gentz Cattle Company, Wild Earth Texas, and Lone Star Sustainable Farm. If you are in the Phoenix area, I recommend the Gilbert Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings starting at 8am or the Ahwatukee Farmer’s Market on Sunday mornings starting at 8am.
If you don’t have access to a local farmers market, here is the second answer: start researching your meat sources. Take time to ask your favorite restaurant where the meat comes from. Research the meat labels at your favorite grocery store. Google the product name -- any recent news articles on animal cruelty? (see chicken suffering at Costco farms) Check the labels and understand what they mean. Just because it's organic doesn't necessarily mean it's humane. Here are 3 websites to get you started on your meat and dairy production edification:
1. https://www.aspca.org/shopwithyourheart/business-and-farmer-resources This ASPCA website is a MUST. Even if you skimmed everything in this article up to this point, VISIT THIS SITE! The ASPCA has created labels that companies can use if they are conducting business and production in a humane fashion. Look for these labels: welfare-certified company, welfare-certified farm, Whole30 Approved, certified humane, animal welfare certified, animal welfare approved.
2. www.mercyforanimals.org : On this site, volunteers have gone “under cover” or employed the use of drones to video the inside of farms that do not use sustainable or humane means of production. They have listed several major farms/brands that employ inhumane practices – I recommend reading. You might be surprised by the list.
2. www.usfarmdata.com : This website will give you all the data related to a meat or dairy company.
Additionally, the ASPCA has created a Shop With Your Heart list of brands/companies who are leading the way with welfare-certified supply chains (see photo for some brands on the list). These are farms across the U.S. that are certified by a meaningful animal welfare program (and have one of the labels listed above) in order to help consumers connect with more humane local farms. Click here for ASPCA article.
To reiterate the words of Jane Goodall, you matter. Your choices matter. Whenever possible, refrain from supporting big meat production companies that employ unethical and cruel means of production, and instead, look for the labels approved by the ASPCA listed above or shop your local farmer’s market. You can make a difference every single day. Both you and the world will be healthier. Shop with your heart!