Monday, April 14, 2014

Ask a farmer! aka "How to Locavore"

Ok, let's talk meat. Yes, I know, a little change of pace considering this is a blog usually devoted to Meatless Monday, but hear me out first. We've always encourage others to consider consuming meat in moderation. But, that doesn't mean that it isn't important to carefully consider the impact of meat consumption during the rest of the week. It's just as important to choose the right types of meat during the week, as it is to refrain from eating it on Monday.

Now, there's no denying the environmental impact that meat has on the environment.  Traditionally sourced, or what is referred to as "factory farmed meat" is the mass production of meat processing which is how the majority of consumers get their meat. The current way we produce meat is very inefficient. It takes many resources, just to grow food, to then feed to the animals that will become our future meaty meals. It takes 16 pounds of grain (to be fed to livestock) to produce one pound of meat. In addition, when analyzing the other resources needed to sustain this type of food system, the numbers are staggering. Nearly half of all the water in the United States goes towards raising animals for food. It also takes much more water to produce meat, than it does other plant-based agriculture. For example, it takes 2400 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat, compared to the 25 gallons of water it takes to produce one pound of wheat.

And with a steady increase in meat eating, one has to ask, is there a more efficient way to produce meat, if we should continue to keep consuming it? As we continue to become more educated consumers, more options have become available for meat-eaters who want to lessen their environmental impact. Looking for labels such as organic, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, and free range, all communicate that these types of animals have been raised in a more ethical and sustainable manner. And while this is certainly a better option, because these terms are loosely defined and reinforced by the USDA, sometimes these labels can be misleading, or not properly executed. In addition, it still creates a disconnect between the source of the food, and the consumer, making it difficult to really know where and how your meat is processed.

So, is there truly a better solution? Is there a way to really consume meat in a sustainable way? Like most complicated questions, it also involves a complicated answer. While no answer is absolutely perfect, one of the most effective ways to ensure that your meat is being produced in the most sustainable is to do your research! The more you know about where your meats comes, and how many resources go into producing your food, the more educated and informed decision you can make. And therefore, you can more easily lessen the extent of your impact.

One of the best things you can do when choosing to eat meat is to continually ask questions. How was this animal raised, like was it raised in a cage? Does the farmer use hormones or antibiotics? What kind of food is fed to this animal? How much emissions is this specific type of animal responsible for? And most importantly, can I find supporting evidence to verify this? For example, are some meats, or other animal products more sustainable than others? The answer is yes, depending on how you measure. If you calculating sustainability according to co2 emissions, there are definitely better choices than others. Topping the list with the greatest co2 contributor is lamb and beef. So, when you go to select a type of meat, having this information might persuade you to turkey or chicken over beef.

What's tricky about trying to be mindful and conscientious about your meat choices is, its hard to answer some, or even all of the questions. Searching for transparency in a complicated system, such as food system is both time consuming on the behalf of the consumer, but also relies on the producer being forthcoming and honest as well. Fortunately, we can play an active roll in making this quest for information easier. The more we demand information, and more sustainable practices when it comes to meat production, the more producers will be encouraged to abide by these demands.

The movement around what is known as the "farm to fork" method encourages others to get to know the farmers that produces their meat. What better why to know where your meat is coming from, then to ask the source itself? The best way to do this is by supporting local farmers. Because they live and work in the same community as you, you have the ability to ask questions about the type of products they produce in a way that wouldn't be possible with "traditionally manufactured" products.

But, how do you find and support local farmers and locally sourced meat? Look for resources! Besides attending local farmer's markets there are other great resources available that makes supporting local farmers. One resource developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension is a site called Meat Suite. It is a resource site that compiles all of the local farmers and farmer's of a particular reason. The site is organized by the type of animals that are raised, and the type of raising technique they utilize. It's a great a resource  because it takes all of the hard work involved in the research process, and compiles it into one convenient location! Check it out here: http://meatsuite.com/

Want to find out more about local ranchers and the farm to fork process without leaving campus! You're luck! In honor of Earth Week, on April 22nd we will be holding an event called Meet Your Meat! Come hear Purdy and Sons, one of our local vendors, talk about their farm to fork process, and how their product gets to your local dining hall! A presentation and Q&A session followed by an opportunity to sample one of our signature dishes, the porchetta sandwich made from their local pork!

So remember next time you choose to eat meat, do your research, and if possible ask your local farmer! It's possible we can lessen your impact,. if we are conscientious about our choices.

-Kat


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