Values of Farm Fresh Food

Written by Stacey London-Oshkello, MS, RD, CD for the Brattleboro Reformer November 28, 2014.

Consider the source of your protein

At Sojourns Community Health Clinic, we often recommend a diet that is based in lots of non-starchy vegetables, healthy proteins, and healthy fat sources. After recently watching the film, Food Inc., with my family, I am reminded how important it is to consider the source of your protein choices. Meats, poultry, and eggs can be a healthy source of protein--and it is very important to consider the living conditions and diets of the animals we are consuming. Supporting local, organic, grass-fed agricultural systems is often the best choice for our personal health and the health of the environment.

Factory farming and antibiotics

What is wrong with factory farming and why is it worth paying more to avoid this type of food? Factory farming comes with many hidden costs to society and the earth; you may not want to contribute to these costs. In factory farming, animals live in close quarters in houses that do not allow in sunlight. The companies that raise these animals often put pictures of green fields with trees and sunshine on their product packaging, but factory farmed animals do not live in these picturesque environments. Having animals live in very close quarters encourages diseases, so most of these animals are fed antibiotics regularly in hopes of preventing illness.

Factory fed animal diets

In addition to the overuse of antibiotics, the basic diet of factory-farmed animals is often not healthy. Many conventional beef companies raise their cows on corn instead of grass because corn makes the cows fatter faster. Some studies have revealed that cows have an increased risk of harboring E-coli when fed a corn-based diet. These cows are raised in feed lots, where they tend to sit in their manure most of the day--not an ideal environment for healthy animal food products.

Factory farming and employees

Not only are the animals suffering from factory farming, but so are the employees. Employees of these factories often work in poor conditions, processing outrageous numbers of livestock every day. Many of these employees are underpaid, overworked, and exposed to many toxins daily. One chicken farmer in the film, Food Inc. admits that she is now resistant to most antibiotics, most likely a result of her constant exposure on the farm.

The local, organic farming difference

Look at the alternative: a local, organic, grass-fed agricultural system. Eggs from chickens that have been eating grass and foraging under the sun tend to have darker yolks than factory farmed eggs. Grass provides vitamin A for the hens; the vitamin A adds color and nutrition to the eggs they lay.

Cows are ruminants and their digestive systems do well when grass is the primary food. Interestingly, beef that is from grass-fed cows tends to be leaner, and has a more ideal ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids. When cows are raised and rotated on pastures, their manure can add nutrition to the grass thus over time, adding nutrition to the food they are eating and creating a symbiotic relationship. It is easy to deduce that the nutrient density of animals raised on grass and under the sun is superior.

Tips for choosing a healthy diet

Choosing a healthy diet can be confusing, expensive, and overwhelming. As a dietitian, I recommend that we mostly eat foods that come in their whole form.

When picking healthy protein sources, I suggest buying products from animals that were raised in idyllic situations. Pick the farms that actually have the animals living the life that is so beautifully depicted on the container.

Making a difference with our purchasing power

We can vote everyday with our purchasing power. Pay a little more today for your food and vote for animal rights, healthy work conditions for our fellow citizens, and an overall healthier planet and self. Luckily, living in this area means we have available to us many sources for high quality local food. If we buy in bulk, we can often find things to be reasonably priced. Buying directly from the farm can help our local economy, and support both a sustainable food system and a more holistic approach to food production.

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