Yes, that’s right. I’m taking you down a rabbit hole here. We’re all familiar with the adage “You Are What You Eat,” which relates to Hippocrates’ belief that “Food is Medicine.” Every single bite we take (or sip we drink!) causes a positive or negative hormonal reaction within the body; cumulatively, those bites and sips add up. We are essentially the sum of all of our food and drink choices, so food is either medicinal or detrimental to our health. Food is powerful.
Now, consider the aforementioned rabbit hole: You are not only what you eat, but you are what you eat…ate! For animal protein, that means you are the corn, antibiotics, hormones, or grass an animal consumed prior to its demise. For produce, that means you are the pesticides or manure that nourished it. If we are the sum of all of our food and drink choices, we are also the sum of all of the nourishment our meat protein and produce received.
CAFO vs. Grass-fed, Grass-finished Meat
The cow raised in the Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) is the sum of its diet of grains, hormones, antibiotics, and sometimes even candy. CAFO farmers will feed the animals whatever is most convenient, which often translates to “cheapest” and “most fattening.” Thus, grains and candy win!
Meat is often demonized because, when we imagine the root of grocery store meat, we picture the above. CAFO farming is neither healthy nor sustainable. Therefore, if you make a habit of eating CAFO meat, you’re negatively impacting your own health and the health of the environment.
Grass-fed, grass-finished meat, however, is an entirely different story. The cows raised on regenerative farms roam freely on acres of organic grass, breathe fresh air, and bask in sunlight. If you make a habit of eating grass-fed, grass finished meat, you’re positively impacting your own health and also the health of the environment. The process of regenerative farming actually improves the essence of the soil.
Farmer’s markets and high-end grocery stores like Whole Foods generally have excellent grass-fed, grass-finished meat options. Also, high-quality meat delivery services like Butcher Box support regenerative farms and take the guess work out of shopping.
What about pork, chicken, and fish?
Same story, different animal!
Commercial, factory-farmed pigs and “broiler” chickens (chickens raised just for their meat) are inhumanely raised and nutrient-depleted; heritage-breed and pasture-raised pigs and chickens are nutrient-dense and part of a sustainable agricultural system.
Some fish farming practices are better than others, but wild is usually the safest bet. However, you want to be sure the wild fish was bred in a sustainable manner. To find seafood guides by state, visit Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch site.
Again, you can buy pasture-raised pork; free-range, organic chicken; and wild fish at farmer’s markets and high-end grocery stores. Or, you can subscribe to a monthly delivery service like Butcher Box (for pork and chicken) or Vital Choice (for fish).
Okay, so what about produce?
If you’re eating non-organic produce, you’re likely ingesting a boatload of pesticides. However, farmers can use certain types of pesticides on organic produce, as well. Thus, produce is a tricky one. Read my prior post–“Avoid the Most Pesticide-prone Produce”–to shop smart!
Fortunately, there’s been a 300% increase in the availability of organic produce since 2002, so you can often find organic fruits and vegetables at your local grocery store. Still, visiting your local farmer’s market is probably the best option because you can actually chat with the farmer about their pesticide use. Other options would be signing up for a monthly produce delivery service like Farmbox Direct or joining your local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
Aren’t high-quality animal proteins, fruits, and vegetables more expensive?
However, I would argue that paying more is worth it when it comes to 1) your health and 2) doing what’s best for the environment. Also, as Mark Hyman, M.D., points out, “…use meat as a condiment or as I like to say a ‘condi-meat.‘” Prioritize vegetables at every meal, and feel free to buy them frozen if they’re more cost-efficient!
- Never forget that you are what you eat ate. Cheaper animal protein and produce translates to poorer health.
- Embrace your local farmer’s market or a monthly subscription service to buy the highest-quality meat, poultry, pork, fish, and produce.
- Patronize restaurants that support local farmers and use only the highest-quality ingredients in their foods. With just a little research, you may find a local resource listing the most healthful restaurants in your area. I found this one for New York City.
- Ask questions to shop and eat smart. Utilize the knowledge of your local butcher, and don’t be afraid to ask your server if the fish on the menu is farmed or wild!
As always, I love to read your comments!
In each blog post, I aim to bring you food for thought (pun intended. Note: my day job is teaching English), but don’t take my word for it! Click on and read all of the links above to become your own expert on this topic; knowledge is power. The more you know and understand the “why” behind each biohack, the easier it will be to stick to it and realize you can’t live without it!