Nearly every grocery store has a well-established organic produce section. Whether at Whole Foods or Market Basket we’re given the choice between the “regular” tomato and the “better” tomato—the child labor banana or the Fair Trade banana funding a community in South America. The choice between these options often carries considerable social and environmental weight; yet, the nutritional difference can be quite minimal (see here).

When it comes to meat, however, the difference between the “regular” product and a sustainable, pasture-raised alternative is much more significant.  Not only are there greater environmental consequences of industrial meat production than, say, carrot production, but the positive benefits of the alternative are becoming increasingly clear.

Growing conventional produce uses a significant amount of chemicals. Although GMOs themselves have not been found to affect human health, over 99% of these crops are created by chemical companies to endure higher quantities of herbicides and pesticides. These substances can cling to the final products and be an unwanted byproduct in your salad. Using these substances takes an even bigger toll on the environment—depleting soil nutrients and disrupting our natural ecosystems. Organic produce mitigates these environmental consequences while delivering more or less the same nutritional product. If we stop seeing conventional agriculture as the “conventional” option, your supermarket choice is actually between the “worse” tomato and the “regular” tomato.

Conventional meat takes this scale to the extreme. In addition to relying on crops (mostly corn) saturated with herbicides and pesticides, the meat industry uses over 80% of the antibiotics produced annually in the US—4 times the amount used on human health. In order to support the intense, cramped, and toxic conditions of confined animal feed lots (CAFOs), livestock are given antibiotics and hormones to survive until maturity. The animals are fed corn and, in some cases, even waste to keep costs low. This yields meat with unhealthy fats, high cholesterol, and other bacterial residue. Organic meat producers eliminate the presence of the chemicals, but still raise animals in very similar conditions. Even a diet of organic grain produces meat lacking positive nutrients.

Cattle were meant to have a 100% grass-fed and finished diet. When they’re healthy, they yield a healthy, positive product. Instead of just a “least-bad” alternative, responsibly raised meat is protein rich with 2 to 6 times the Omega-3 fats and good Cholesterol of corn-fed animals. These compounds are demonstrably better for you from a nutritional perspective: Did you know 100% grass-fed beef has 75% less fat than corn-fed? It’s actually leaner than a typical skinless chicken thigh—without losing flavor. When choosing meat, you not only choose between something “worse” and “regular,” you can choose something truly “better” – for your health, for the environment, and for our community.

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