How and Why to Choose High Quality Protein from Sustainable Sources
Choosing high quality protein from sustainable sources can be a bit overwhelming.
There are so many labels: “Grass-fed,” “100% Grass-Fed,” “100% All Natural,” “Organic,” “Free Range”… Which labels matter? Are they all the same? Maybe you’re not even convinced it’s worth the extra cost and hassle. Join me and we’ll discuss why it’s not only worth it, but critical that you put in the extra effort to find high quality protein from sustainable sources.
God’s Perfect Design for Food Production
God, in His wisdom, has already created perfect systems within nature for us to use in food production. Every living thing has been made not only to be nourished by the earth, but also to provide nourishment back to to the earth.
When animals are allowed to live within the conditions for which they were created, they give back to the earth by tilling and fertilizing the soil . They do this in a way that is profoundly more complete and efficient than any chemical fertilizer ever could.
God has even provided certain “weeds” that grow abundantly in pasture environments to allow the animals who graze there to self-medicate when needed. He’s thought of everything! You know, because He’s God.
Man’s Counterfeit Design for Food Production
Unfortunately, the vast majority of our agriculture today does not operate within the perfect systems designed by our Creator. Instead of providing these creatures with sunshine, fresh air, clean water, exercise, proper food, and shelter, we confine them to feed lots where they live their short lives on cement floors under crowded conditions and fluorescent lighting, never spending a day in the fresh air, let alone tasting a bite of pasture. They aren’t nourished by the earth at all and aren’t given the opportunity to provide nourishment back to the earth either.
Meanwhile, our soils are continually being depleted and contaminated by toxic pesticides and fertilizers (which by the way, undergo little to no safety testing and are being used in much greater amounts than ever before).
All of this just to make up for the absence of grazing animals on the land???
I feel like maybe someone’s not thinking this all the way through…
Do they not offer a class on God’s Perfect Design for Food Production at the local agriculture schools?
The Confinement Feed Lot Crazy Cycle
Raised in confinement, dairy cows are given hormones to increase their milk supply to unnatural levels and then antibiotics to treat the mastitis caused by the increased milk supply. Ummmm???
Anyway, on pasture a dairy cow will likely live about 12 years (or 10-12 lactations). However in confinement the average is just under 2 lactations. When milk production slows or the cows’ poor ankles can no longer hold up on the cement floors, they’re shipped off to the butcher. These “downer” cows account for about 25% of the meat consumed in America. (Source)
Other animals display quite bizarre behaviors in confinement situations. Chickens, kept in crowded indoor pens are treated heavily with antibiotics to reduce the salmonella caused by unsanitary conditions and “de-beaked” (have their beaks cut off) to keep from pecking each other to death. In the hog industry, pigs are routinely “docked” (have their tails cut off) to prevent the tail biting that occurs when these animals are crowded together in stressful conditions.
Conventional farming experts say that they “are unable to determine why” animals in confinement exhibit these behaviors, (source) but the answer is obvious to any backyard homesteader. Clearly, God made chickens to scratch and peck for bugs and grubs (a critical source of nutrients for their own health and ours!) while pigs are made to root up the ground looking for something good to eat. When these creatures are held in confinement they continue these innate behaviors, but without bugs and grubs and roots and shoots … well they’ll peck and root at their neighbors instead.
Note: We have pigs on our homestead. They have never bitten each other’s tails off.
Also Note: While our chickens do have hierarchies and quirky flock behavior, they’ve never even attempted to peck each other to death.
Acidity = Disease
In addition to receiving mistreatment, animals in confinement are usually given medicated feed made primarily from genetically modified soy and corn. This not only provides little nourishment, but also greatly increases the acidity (pH) of their bodies, contributing even further to their diseased states. This, by the way, is no different for humans. Too many grains/starches/sugars = acidic body chemistry (an environment where disease, cancer especially, flourishes).
Does it Really Matter?
I believe the way we treat these creatures matters greatly to God, even (especially) those animals we raise for our consumption.
But even if by chance God doesn’t care a bit how we treat them. You know, let’s say… He made animals for food. They are just food. Nothing more… not a crucial part of a beautiful natural ecosystem that shouts God’s glory on the earth…
The undeniable fact remains – the disease, nutritional deficiencies, hormones, steroids, and antibiotics from confinement feed lots are passed along to…
So What’s the Solution?
Should we all become vegetarians?
Sounds noble, but it’s really not a good idea.
Animal protein is a critical component to a healthy diet. The essential amino acids found in animal protein are complete, absorbable, and accompanied by many minerals and enzymes that contribute to human health. These amino acids are necessary for the:
- function and support of the immune system
- creation and repair of cell tissue
- transportation of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body
- production of hormones and enzymes
In fact nearly all people groups throughout all human history went to great lengths to obtain meat, especially organ meats and seafood.
And this modern experiment of vegetarianism is not producing desirable health effects. Without careful (and expensive) supplementation, vegetarians are likely to suffer from deficiencies in B12, calcium, iron, zinc, EPA & DHA, as well as fat-soluble vitamins A & D which are found almost exclusively in animal foods. These deficiencies can cause any number of problems including fatigue, lethargy, memory loss, anemia, infertility, immune disfunction, and tooth decay. (Source)
But shouldn’t we oppose factory farming?
But say instead of avoiding meat entirely (to the detriment of our own health) we instead choose to support those farmers who are working to raise animals in an honorable way. Sustainable farming systems mimic the efficient, grass-based, multi-species patterns of nature. The farmers who use these holistic methods find that they not only produce a higher quality product to bless the health of their customers, but also increase the fertility and yield of the land.
Watch this quick clip about the sustainable farming methods used by a local farm we love and trust here in NE Indiana.
“And I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied.” Deuteronomy 11:15
How to Choose High Quality Protein from Sustainable Sources
So what, specifically should we look for when sourcing quality protein?
Look for: Local, Grass-Fed, and Organic
Cattle should be grazed on pasture all year, except in the harshest weather. At that time they should be given hay (dried grass) or silage (fermented grass) and possibly a bit of molasses to keep up their calories and body temps in cold weather.
Keep in mind that if the beef is not labeled “100% Grass-Fed” then it has probably at least been grain-finished (fed grain just before butchering to increase the fat content and flavor in the meat). This is actually an acceptable practice, (because it mimics the natural tendency of cattle to eat the seed heads of wild grains in late summer) IF and ONLY IF the grain given for finishing is non-GMO. Certified organic beef cannot be given genetically modified feed. So either look for the “USDA Organic” label or get to know your farmer and make sure he or she is either using non-GMO feed for finishing – or – is raising 100% grass-fed cattle. An organic label will also ensure against antibiotics, hormones, and steroids.
Look for: Local, Pastured, Organic, and (if possible) Soy-Free
On a sustainable farm, laying hens freely roam around the barnyard happily feasting on bugs that hide in cow paddies and composted manure. Out in the pasture they find weeds, bits of fresh grass, snails and grubs to munch on. Contrary to what the grocery store’s “natural” egg selection would have you to believe, chickens are not vegetarians! When laying hens are raised on pasture they will provide you with the most gloriously ORANGE egg yolks absolutely packed with nutrition! Pastured eggs have vastly higher amounts of vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as sulfur and Omega 3s. Afraid of cholesterol? Don’t be! Cholesterol is needed to protect your body from disease!
Look for: Local, Pastured, Organic, and (if possible) Soy-Free
On sustainable farms, meat birds (or broilers) are often raised in mobile coops. In this way the birds are provided with fresh air, sunshine, and new grass each day, but are not given quite as much exercise as their egg-laying counterparts. This ingenious method gives the birds everything they need for good health, but with somewhat less opportunity to run off all their calories, meaning you’ll actually get a little meat on your meat birds.
Look for: Local, Pastured, Organic
Pigs have skin that is similar to ours and need both adequate sunlight (making them an excellent source of vitamin D) and access to shade. They enjoy fresh air, warm sunshine, and room to roam in outdoor pens. They’ll be extra happy (and nutritious) if they also have access to the shade of a woodland area to root up roots, acorns, and grubs. In days gone by, pigs were fattened on the skim milk left over from butter or ice cream making. Even with all that variety, foraging pigs do need a ration of grain. This makes it especially important that you find a farmer who does not use genetically modified grains to feed his pigs! Again, organic is a guarantee against GMOs, antibiotics, and growth hormones.
Look for: Wild-Caught, Sustainably-Harvested
Sourcing healthy seafood can be somewhat complicated. There is not doubt that seafood is one of the most nutrient dense foods available on the planet, full of protein, micro-nutrients, and fatty acids. However, between concerns about mercury, PCBs, and other toxins, as well as over-harvesting, each family will have to decide for themselves which seafood they feel most comfortable eating. Definitely avoid farm-raised fish that usually receive antibiotics and genetically modified soy-meal feed. If you’d like to dive more into the details of sourcing seafood this is a great article to get you started.
Wild game is definitely a great source of nutrition and variety, unless you live in a place like, oh let’s say… I don’t know… Indiana?
Around here “wild” game eats almost entirely off of the genetically modified corn and soy that is grown for miles around in every direction. So we personally choose to skip this frugal protein option. But if you’ve got access to wild game and you don’t happen to live in the middle of Big Ag country, then go for it!!
A Word of Caution Regarding Soy
For years soy has been advertised as a healthy, meat-alternative. It is consumed as tofu, edamame, or soy milk by vegetarians, added to nearly every single packaged food in America, and used as a cheap protein in most animal feed.
However, soy is.. get this, are you ready?
NOT A FOOD!
It is not, nor has it ever, ever been a food for any living creature in all of history ~ until very recent times.
There is one exception to this:
Fermented soy products like tempeh, natto, miso, and soy sauce have been enjoyed for quite some time and in very small amounts by Asian people groups. Keep in mind though, that even in Asian countries, soy is used as A CONDIMENT not a substitute for protein foods. It also undergoes a long fermentation process, which helps to neutralize the anti-nutrients it contains. There is also some speculation that the high intake of seaweed in Asian diets counteracts some of the negative effects of soy consumption.
Soy is problematic in so many ways.
Let me share just a few of those with you, just in case you need some convincing.
- Contains high levels of phytic acid, which reduces the assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. (Phytic acid can be neutralized by a long, slow fermentation.) High-phytate diets have caused growth problems in children.
- Interferes with protein digestion and may cause pancreatic disorders and stunted growth.
- Contain phytoestrogens, which disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women.
- Soy phytoestrogens are also potent anti-thyroid agents that cause hypothyroidism and may cause thyroid cancer. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease.
- Increases the body’s need for B12 and Vitamin D.
- When processed, contains toxic lysinoalanine, highly carcinogenic nitrosamines, and MSG a potent neurotoxin.
- Contains high levels of aluminum, which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.
- Is nearly always genetically modified and sprayed heavily with Glyphosate.
When Sourcing High Quality Protein from Sustainable Sources:
Look for labels like “USDA Certified Organic,” “100% Grass-Fed,” “Pastured,” and “Non-GMO Project Verified.”
Beware of labels like “All-Natural,” and “Free-Range,” which have no real significance and are not at all monitored.
If possible, find a local farmer that you can trust. Visit the farm! Check it out for yourself. Farmers who put their heart into using sustainable methods are more than happy to show off their hard work! And often these farmers actually produce a higher quality product whether or not they are certified organic.
Not sure where to find a farmer raising healthy, sustainable protein?
Here are a few online resources to get you started:
A Few More Resources for You:
Other Posts in This Series:
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And as always friends, please remember that I’ve got kids sledding down the stairs on Costco boxes as I write to you…
So, if you think I’ve forgotten something important, have any questions or comments, or simply a bit of encouragement to share, please use the comments below, send me an email, or find us on facebook.
I’d love to hear from you.