Bet You Didn't Know This About Your Factory Farmed Meat!

My mind has been blown yet again by reading an article in WAP Foundation’s Wise Traditions written by a small meat processor, Bob Martin, who works for a small USDA processing plant.   Now, there is already a lot of information out there about how the factory farmed meat industry in this country is a pretty foul and scary operation.  Some great books out on the subject include Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Barbara Kingsolver’s, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.   They all do a great job explaining the conditions of CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and the ramifications of eating meat and dairy products tainted with antibiotics and rBGH.  rBGH, according to was manufactured by Monsanto, who sold it to Eli Lilly.  It forces cows to boost “milk production by 10%, while increasing the incidence of mastitis, lameness and reproductive complications.”

I make it a point to buy good quality meat, and even though it is more expensive, I feel that I’m doing a favor for my body and supporting ranchers and farmers who also put an emphasis on high quality care and feed.  And even though I feel pretty knowledgable about the conditions of factory farmed animals, I’m always amazed when I find out more unsettling facts.  Read on please.

1)  Large meat processing plants can process up to 2500 animals a day, with 20-30 USDA inspectors and each of them literally have 3-6 seconds to inspect each piece of beef!  The particular plant that Bob Martin works for processes 10 animals a day and inspectors take as long as they need to.

2) Many of the animals killed at slaughterhouses have a dark red color to their meat, meaning that the animals are stressed before they are killed.  The stress releases a rush of adrenaline into their muscles which affects the tenderness of the meat.

3)  The contents of the stomachs must be removed, and for those animals being fed grain, the contents of their stomachs smell putrid and repulsive, while those being fed grass have virtually no smell.

4)  Livers are heralded as being extremely nutrient dense, but the livers of grain fed cows are often abscessed and instead of being firm to the touch you can poke your finger all the way through!  Ew!  Cows are not supposed to eat grain, so it can be very hard on their livers, making them abnormally large and filled with fatty deposits.  The liver of a healthy cow fed only on grass are firm to the touch and a normal size.

I don’t necessarily need MORE reasons not to buy meat from factory farmed conditions, but it never fails to surprise me to learn of all the different ways the health of the animal is severely compromised simply to make meat cheaper for the producer and for the public to buy.

At the very least, buy your meat organic which will ensure that your meat has not been fed GMO feed, and that your farmer has not used antibiotics or growth hormones.  Look for meat that has been grass finished, not just grass fed, because most animals are on pasture for the first 3 months of their lives.  And better yet, have a conversation with a person who sells meat at your farmers market and ask them to describe the way in which they raise their animals.

And if expense is a real issue, don’t forget about using the bones for bone broth!  Which is the best way to get nutrients and a little more protein into our diets.

Happy Nourishing….


Can the Family Farm Survive?

Everyone should farm once in their lives. Experience what it’s like to wake up when the sun peaks through the clouds, get your hands in the dirt, and take care of crops that will one day be someone’s dinner. It takes a lot of energy, both harnessed and put out by the farmer, to grow beautiful, nutritious food. Most of us have no idea where our food comes from, and the thought and care that goes into feeding the world. Farming is a jack of all trades profession, and many love it for the diversity that it brings to your daily life. There, however, are very few people choosing it as a permanent lifestyle. In recent years, with the help of Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin, and the food movement, there is definitely been a migration to go back to small family farming, but it is not yet a profession that can provide financial security, which is something that we as the consumer have the power to change. Last week I had the privilege of picking raspberries with a friend of mine on a family farm in beautiful Marin. It was fun putting back on my wide-brimmed hat and my arm sleeves (raspberry bushes are thorny!) and working in the fields. It was fun knowing that the raspberries I picked were going to be on someone’s plate that night.raspberry

Before picking, we washed our hands and were told to rub, rub, rub. We let our hands air dry, and were told that we could eat as many as we’d like, but to throw the raspberry in our mouth so as not to contaminate our hands. We were to pick only the best of the best, the reddest ones that came off easily with a tug.

Picking raspberries is much like treasure hunting. You are pulling back thorny branches to get a look inside the bushes. (I had to keep reminding myself not to use my bare palm…ouch!). You give a quick scan looking for the deep red color and give a tug to ones that you see. Often you tug and meet with resistance, so you leave that raspberry for another day. After looking from the top down, you squat to get a better view from the underside. During my many squats, I was feeling thankful that I had my ACL repaired a few years ago. I definitely got my leg workout in.

It was a fun-filled morning, with the novelty of it being a big factor in the amount of my enjoyment. I’m not sure if I could harvest raspberries every day. And of course, family farm life is filled with a million different tasks every day, but there is something daunting about a crop that is in full production and knowing how time-consuming it is to harvest. I filled a half pint basket about every 10-15 minutes. In my mind I was wondering what people usually pay for a half pint of raspberries….. $3.50? $4? In peak season maybe $2.50? And that’s retail. So, I would MAYBE be making $10 an hour? $8 an hour? And that’s not including the time it takes to take care of these plants throughout the year. And that weather and harvest amounts vary from year to year. It just didn’t add up.

I’m sure there are some small family farms that are successful, but I think that it is much more the norm that people who choose farming also enjoy very simple living and don’t work in farming to expect to make or even save any money. The farm manager reminded me of the saying, “to make a small fortune in farming you have to start with a large fortune.” I chuckled when I heard this, but in hindsight, I’m not laughing.

I read this in a Department of Agriculture’s article about median farm income (which means half of farms fall below the median and half fall above):

“Given the broad USDA definition of a farm, many farms are not profitable even in the best farm income years. Despite high prices for many crops, 2012 was no exception, with median farm income projected to be -$2,799. Most farm households earn all of their income from off-farm sources--median off-farm income is projected to increase by 3.4 percent in 2012, to $55,229 and by 3.9 percent in 2013, to $57,378.”

What really sticks out in this quote is the fact that most income for a family farm comes from OFF farm sources. That means a family member has another job in the community to make ends meet. This next paragraph is from the (EWG) Environmental Working Group’s article about farm subsidies:

“The ERS [Economic Research Service] data clearly show that smaller family farms depend on off-farm income to keep going. As anyone from farm country knows, family farms often rely on one member to work a different job in the community, whether for extra income, to obtain health insurance, or both. This pattern has become the norm in rural America and, unlike federal farm subsidies, it has allowed small farms to stay in business.”

So…….. bummer. EWG’s article talks more about farm subsidies and how they go mainly to corn, wheat, and soy crops AND that the majority of farm subsidies go towards large commercial farms. This, however, is another issue and another way that our government does not support small family farms.

Well, what can we do? Part of what we can do is to support our farmers markets! And support small grocery stores and companies that do their best to buy from local producers. The most important shift we can do for ourselves is to realize that good food is a good investment. It will take a larger part of your budget, but you are investing in something that you will put INSIDE your body, AND you’ll be supporting someone in the community to be making enough money to take care of their family. Pretty noble causes in my opinion.

Check out these local Bay Area markets and companies that support local food

Farmer’s Markets:

Online Grocery Companies: Both of these companies work directly with farmers and local food producers and deliver to your door!


5/12/2010. Farm Income Data Debunks Subsidy Myths. Retrieved 6/19/2013.

n.d. Farm Family Income. Retrieved 6/19/2013.

n.d. Median Farm Income up from 2012 to 2013. Retrieved 6/19/2013.