Our vision is a world without factory farms, but we can't achieve this alone. You are the most important factor in making progress toward this ambitious vision. Coincidentally, we hear all the time from people who enjoy eating meat, but don't enjoy supporting factory farming. They want to know: how can they do better? That's where we come in. We've created some, simple actionable steps you can take toward a more humane and sustainable menu.
Step 1: Pay attention to what you eat.
You don't need to change what you're eating yet, just observe. Mindfulness is always the first step toward improvement. I'm not necessarily recommending that you keep a food diary, but do make a point to become familiar with label meanings and approach marketing terms (including label imagery) with a healthy skepticism. For example, you might be surprised how the USDA defines the term "free-range."
Step 2: Start small.
The point here is to set a new baseline for your own quality standards. Cage-free eggs and meat raised without hormones or antibiotics are some of the cheapest upgrades you can make. Remember: if it doesn't explicitly say on the package, "raised without antibiotics," "raised without hormones," or "organic," the animal was almost certainly treated with both. (The exceptions: hormones are illegal in the production of poultry and swine.)
Step 3: Make a meal with organic chicken.
If you want to experience the flavor difference between conventional and organic meat, chicken (whole, breast or thigh, preferably with the skin on) is the most affordable experiment. That is not to say that organic is best--if you happen across pastured chicken, that would be even better--but organic certification mandates that the animal have outdoor access, which gives birds an additional benefit: they get to eat bugs. This not only gives them a more nutritious and natural diet, it also makes their meat more flavorful and nutritious. Pastured meat is generally lower in fat and calories and higher in Omega-3s. (Eggs from pastured chickens boast even more health benefits.) Of course, you may not necessarily notice the flavor difference if the chicken is submerged in a sauce or stew, so we recommend roasting the chicken.
Fortunately, there are endless dairy options out there, including products made from cows raised without rBST/rBGH (the synthetic growth hormone used in cows) and without antibiotics. Apart from that, I would also look for humane certification logos (Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Humane, for example) and/or USDA Organic. If you're in the mood, splurge on some grass-fed, non-homogenized whole milk, and read our blog post Drink Up: The Case For Drinking Milkfor the health benefits and what else to look for when buying milk.
Step 5: Find some local farms.
You will eventually want to have a source for humane meat, eggs and dairy. Buying direct is often cheaper than getting the same quality from a supermarket and it's worth the extra effort. You can easily discover nearby farms online, like on social media. Many of these farms have online ordering systems with drop-off points near your home, which makes supporting them quite easy. If you're in Southwestern Pennsylvania, our Virtual Farm Tours would be a good place to start looking for a farm. Another good, national source is Local Harvest, a database of direct-marketing farms and artisans.
Meat-eating is a hard habit to break, but overall meat consumption in the US is decreasing and for good reason: factory farming is inhumane and environmentally dangerous. Don't worry, you don't have to give up meat for good, but it is important not to depend on it to feel satisfied after a meal.
Remember those farms you researched in Step 5? Pick your favorite and send them an email or sign up for their buying club (often this requires no money down). This could be the most daunting step--maybe you've never talked to a local farmer before. Guess what/ They're waiting for you! You don't necessarily have to become a regular customer at this point: perhaps you want to shop around to see which farm is the best fit. Have fun with it and take pride in knowing that you are supporting a real family farm in your local economy, aiding the environment with sustainable farming practices at a small scale, and ensuring that your food comes from animals that lived happy and healthy lives.
Step 8: Take the plunge!
It's time. Once you have a local source of humane animal products, you can be free from the industrial food system. Hopefully by this step you've been regularly purchasing humanely raised foods. If not, having connected with a local animal farmer will certainly persuade you to do so. If price is a big concern for you, we've outlined 3 Ways to Eat Good Meat On a Budget.