Tuesday, May 18, 2010

on "natural" meats and choosing local & organic

Guest post by Toxic Free NC volunteer Hayes Simpson.

I was forever changed a couple of weeks ago, and will henceforth always practice the “sniff test method” before I begin to cook any type of food with an expiration date!

Here's the story: I went food shopping on a Thursday, went out of town for the weekend, returned on a Sunday afternoon. Later in the afternoon, I chopped some onions, crushed some garlic cloves, and set out spices for the whole chicken that I intended to roast. I unwrapped the chicken, plopped it on a roasting pan while the oven preheated, and Whew! All of a sudden something was amiss; the air was thickening with a fetid odor that begged to be extinguished. First I ran to the bathroom, then to the shamed chicken, which I quickly double bagged and carried out to the garage. But, when I checked the slimy wrappings, the "sell by date" was for that very day!

For one thing, I probably should not have left uncooked chicken in the fridge for that long. Check out this Food Storage Guide. Fresh poultry is supposed to spend only one or two days in the fridge, oops! Us “master chefs” learn something new every day!

But here's a little more background on this chicken… I purchased it from a grocery store where I don't normally shop because they don't carry many organic products. But shop there I did, and seeing no great meat choices in the freezer section, I chose a whole chicken from behind the meat counter display case. It was labeled “natural” and had been produced on a “farm.” I think it was the word “natural” that sold me.

So, what does the label “natural” mean when it is applied to meat and poultry? The USDA says that meat and poultry labeled “natural” must not contain artificial flavoring, color ingredients, chemical preservatives, or artificial or synthetic ingredients, and can only be processed “minimally.” Really, the “natural” label refers to what happened to the animal product AFTER slaughter. This means that so-called "natural" products could contain pesticides, added hormones, or antibiotics! Pesticides and other pollutants build up in the fatty tissues of livestock that are exposed to them. When we consume animal products that have pesticides in them, those chemicals wind up in our own bodies. Unlike microbial contaminants, we can’t "kill" pesticides and other chemical pollutants by cooking them away. For more info on pesticides in food, go to: http://www.whatsonmyfood.org. It seems there could have been quite a few pesticides in that rotten chicken that I thankfully did not eat! (Maybe it was a blessing in disguise.) Too bad I can't "sniff test" for pesticides in my food!

We meat eaters do not have to abandon hope just yet, however! We have the option to shop for local, sustainably produced, pasture-raised animal products. Pasture-raised meat is leaner, higher in Omega-3s, has been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol levels, and is MUCH less likely to contain harmful bacteria and pesticides. This site provides a great summary of research on the health benefits of pasture-raised, "grass fed" meats.

Lucky for those of us in the Triangle area, we are surrounded by plenty of alternatives for purchasing healthy, sustainably-produced meat, poultry, and dairy products. A great resource is the Triangle Meat Buying Club. Members order their meats online from a local farm. Each month, participating farms are listed along with the products they offer. You place an order online, then simply pick up your order from the farmers at the designated pick-up site. This sounds sooo much more pleasant than scrutinizing labels in the meat department of a crowded grocery! And, you can’t beat getting to shake hands with the person who actually helped produce the meat that will soon be on your dinner plate. (The photo above is from one of the Triangle Meat Buying Club's suppliers, Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough.)

For more information on pasture-based local producers look at the NC Choices site. Another idea to consider is joining a CSA Farm that offers meat, poultry, and/or dairy products. If you feel that this is too big of an expense, consider splitting the cost of a CSA share with a friend or family member. Personally, that is my plan. I was fortunate enough to visit a great CSA farm that specializes in pasture raised chicken. Check out the farm blog at: http://castlemainefarm.blogspot.com.

I know that I will feel much more comfortable adding wholesome, fresh chicken to my meal plans, perhaps some beef tenderloins for special occasions, and I can’t forget the delight of Sunday morning bacon. Perhaps my nose can relax now too!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Fair Ground,

    I have a quick question for you but couldn't find an email address. Please email me back at barbaraobrien@maacenter.org when you get a moment.