I believe that meat and seafood are an important part of our diet. We humans are omnivores which means that our digestion is not designed to get optimum nutrition out of a completely vegetarian (or carnivorous!) diet. Our teeth and the length of our digestive tracts fall somewhere in between herbivores and carnivores, meaning that, if we choose, we can get the best of both worlds.
Many people choose not to eat meat, often because of one or more of the following beliefs:
1. Eating meat is unhealthy
2. Eating meat is unethical
3. Eating meat is bad for the environment
If these things are a concern for you, please consider this:
1. As long as it is part of a well balanced diet and you choose good quality products, meat and seafood is a healthy option for most people. Meat and seafood provide us with an easily assimilated source of protein, iron and vitamin B12, all of which are harder to get from plant sources. Other micro-nutrients such as co-enzyme Q-10, chondroitin and glucosamine are also much harder to come by in a vegetarian or vegan diet.
2. I wholeheartedly agree that eating factory-farmed meat is unethical. The fact that it is even legal riles me no end. With growing awareness, however, we now have more and more ethical options available to us in the form of free-range and organic meats from farmers who want to make a difference. By choosing these options when you go shopping, you’re casting your vote against factory farming and other unethical practices.
3. There is a huge carbon footprint associated with factory farming. This comes from the animals themselves, their waste products as well as the enormous amount of grain produced to sustain them. There is also the issue of deforestation, to provide more space for these intensive farming techniques. There is an excellent article over at The International, with more detailed information. As we have already seen, however, there are more and more local farmers committing to sustainable and ethical farming practices. Choosing these suppliers will reduce your impact on the environment while reducing demand for factory farmed products.
Ultimately it’s your right to choose whether or not to eat animal products, but if you do, take some time to consider where they came from and what’s in them.
Here are some guidelines. The more boxes you can tick, the better quality of food you’ll be getting.
Choose free-range. These animals are allowed to run around instead of being caged or penned up in cramped conditions. They also often have access to pastures which means they are able to eat food closer to their natural diet (although they may still be supplementally fed with grain). Generally free-range meat is also antibiotic and hormone free, but double check before you buy.
Choose organic. Organic animals are fed with organic food which means no nasty pesticides in their system. They will also be hormone and antibiotic free and allowed to roam freely. Yes, organic meat can be expensive, but by buying cheaper cuts of meat (such as my personal favourite – beef cheeks), you will save money as well as benefit from the delicious, slow-cooked nourishment that only cheap cuts can give you.
Choose pastured. This means that the animals are allowed to graze on open pastures instead of being fed grains. This is nutritionally better for the animals as it is closer to their natural diet. This translates to healthier meat for you. For example, beef from grain-fed cows can be twice as high in omega-6 fats as beef from grass-fed animals (remember you want to reduce your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio). You’ll also get a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids in eggs from pastured chickens compared to grain-fed chooks.
Choose local. The shorter the distance your food has to travel, the lower the carbon footprint. Contact local farms and enquire about buying directly from them.
Fish and seafood are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids – especially oily fish such as mackerel and herring. Omega 3 fatty acids are an important part of our diet, having an anti-inflammatory effect in our body, reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease and keeping our nervous system healthy. Most of us do not get enough of this type of fat in our diet so eating more seafood can address this imbalance.
Shellfish such as oysters are high in zinc, an essential mineral needed for production of hormones, enzymes and a healthy immune system. Iodine is another important mineral found in seafood which many people do not get enough of. Iodine is needed for healthy thyroid function and is particularly important for pregnant women to ensure proper development of their baby.
When you buy fish and seafood, there are a couple of things you need to consider to ensure you are making an ethical and sustainable choice:
Is the product farmed or wild-caught? There is no straight answer as to which of these methods is best because there are good and bad practices with both. Some intensive fish farms use astronomical amounts of fish pellets to feed their fish and pump the waste into nearby waterways.
There is also concern about invasive and non-native species escaping into nearby waterways. Other types of fish farms have a much lower environmental impact, in particular those farming oysters and mussels.
Wild-caught fishing methods also have different levels of impact on the environment. These methods can range from the traditional pole and line fishing, which is considered fairly non-threatening, right up to dredging and trawling which can destroy the sea floor and catch non-targeted forms of marine life such as dolphins, turtles and sea birds.
Good Fish Bad Fish has excellent and detailed information on all of these different techniques.
Levels of fish stocks. This applies to wild-caught fish. Many species have been over fished and are becoming endangered due to poor management practices. When choosing fish it is helpful to be aware of which fish are considered to be endangered and over fished and which have relatively healthy stocks.
Considering where the fish was caught is also important as some areas have been over-fished for a particular species while a different location may see that species still thriving.
Again, there is some very helpful information at Good Fish Bad Fish on how to make the right choices as well as how to find suitable substitutes to unsustainable options.
Identification. There has been some attention in the press lately about fish being incorrectly labelled. This is of concern when trying to make sustainable choices if what you think you’re buying is not what it actually is. Buying from a reputable fishmonger will reduce the chances of this happening.
Talk to your fishmonger about your concerns and get as much information from him or her as you can. A good fishmonger should know where their products come from and how to best use them. Build a relationship with your fisho, as with all your other suppliers, and you’ll find shopping becomes a much more personal and rewarding experience.