The Food Your Food Eats Matters, for You and Them
by Evan DeMarco on Jun 28, 2022
In today’s health and wellness discourse, there’s a strong emphasis on the importance of eating certain kinds of foods and avoiding others. Fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and free-range, grass-fed protein sources are all acknowledged as healthy foods. But how were these animals fed? And in what conditions were the feed crops produced?
While eating these foods seems like a healthy and wholesome diet, it’s only a portion of the equation for optimizing your health. Because the foods your food eats plays a significant role in determining the nutrient levels you get when you eat them, not all foods are created equal. So how do you know which beef, chicken and pork to choose to get the most bang for your buck? We’ll cover everything you need to know to confidently select your food below.
No food worth eating is produced in a vacuum
We all require certain nutrients in order to be strong and healthy. We eat protein especially for this reason. But the food our food eats plays a significant role in optimizing the nutrient levels animal meat can deliver, as well as preventing potentially harmful chemicals from their food from making their way into our systems.
In North America and northern Europe, animal feed is generally comprised of cereal grains like barley, corn, oats and sorghum. But animal feed can also include antibiotics, metals, animal meat and digest from dead, dying, diseased or disabled animals.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials has developed guidelines on how to safely use these materials in animal feed with the intention of limiting the chances of contaminating feed with pathogenic microorganisms, pesticides or drug residue, which could harm livestock or even be transmitted in trace amounts to those who eat their meat. However, some feel that the guidelines are insufficiently enforced at both the state and federal levels.
Some studies suggest that the use in animal feed of harmful ingredients like the ones mentioned above could result in potentially unsafe levels of bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant strains, prions, arsenic and compounds similar to dioxin in animals. Since the levels found have been significant, there is concern that foods intended for human consumption derived from these animals would also be unsafe.
Despite these concerns, little testing has been done on complete animal feeds to determine the exact levels of potentially harmful ingredients. Additionally, while there is some data on human health effects that may be traced to harmful bacteria or toxin levels in food they eat, these effects have not been definitively linked.
Animal conditions matter, too
We also know that meat and other byproducts that come from animals who were treated well and lived happier lives taste better—and they’re healthier for you to eat, too. Animals that experience high levels of stress—like any animal in a cramped, dirty factory farm environment—would develop conditions resulting in pale, soft, exudative (PSE) meat. This accelerated breakdown of muscle glycogen that occurs in response to incredibly stressful circumstances causes meat to lose its color and flavor.
PSE meat is so common it’s discussed at length in the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s “Guidelines for Humane Handling, Transport and Slaughter of Livestock.” Not only does an animal’s stress response to the inhumane factory farming experience reduce the quality and taste of their meat, there is also concern that eating meat from an animal with high levels of adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones could potentially impact humans’ reproductive systems and other normal bodily functions.
How regenerative agriculture makes a difference
The bottom line? Treating livestock well and creating comfortable, healthy environments for them to graze and grow naturally is best for every part of the food system. Regenerative agricultural processes benefit soil nutrients, plant life, animals and the humans that eat their byproducts. Not only is this method of raising livestock kinder, but it also produces healthier, more flavorful meat, causes less harm to the earth and environment and is a more sustainable model for feeding populations moving forward. Since grazing animals require less feed, fields dedicated to growing cereal for livestock can instead be used to produce crops for humans.
The best way to ensure you’re eating healthy products from an animal that has been thoroughly cared for—meaning that it lived a good life and produced healthy, delicious byproducts—is to step away from the factory farming industry altogether. Rather than buying meat from a grocery store, where it’s harder to uncover the true means of production, you can choose to buy from regenerative ranchers online, shop at small, independent health food stores that carefully source their goods or buy directly from local farmers whose ethics align with your own.