Once upon a time I lived in a world ideal for any paleo being. The small Southern German town I called my home consisted of 800 people, young and old, two farms, a butcher, a baker, and a cemetery. Every other evening my brother and I were sent to the farm to buy raw milk fresh from the grass-fed cow and eggs from happy pastured chickens. Frequently the butcher drove up to one of the farms, picked up a cow or other livestock, killed it right behind his shop, and sold the fresh meat to us. We grew our own vegetables, and whatever we couldn't grow on our own, we bought at the farmers market or directly at the farm.
Really only one thing was wrong with this idyllic picture. We ate bread for almost every meal, pasta, rice, and potatoes the rest of the time. Growing up and moving to Arizona, had me stray far from the beautiful world I grew up in, and only when I moved to Oregon, did I return to the roots (sans grains and sugar) and learned just how important these things I used to take for granted really are for my own family and for so many people around us.
Our local farmers' market starts in May and goes on all summer until early November. Every week, Oregon farmers sell their delicious produce and grass-fed meat to eager consumers. Sure, your lettuce may cost a tad more than the one you buy at the store. But not only is it larger (and organic!), it is also the product of hard labor. During an enlightening conversation with one such farmer, who I'm also proud to call my friend, I learned just how many hoops a farmer has to jump through in order to sell produce and other products at the farmers' market. From a number of certifications (such as egg handlers license and meat handlers license among others) to proving that your scale is accurate, farmers have to provide all of this information prior to applying for a stand at the farmers' market. In addition, most farmers' market managers will ask for a sample of the produce to be sold at the market, before they give their approval. Of course none of this is free to the farmer. How much does the average farmer make during the summer season at the market? Not as much as you might think. According to my friend a better year will bring in around $5,000. Not enough to make a living and feed a family, and often a small farmer has a regular day job in addition to the work on the farm. So why do they do it? “Because it's the right thing,” says my friend who believes with all of her heart, that the farmers' market is so much more than just a way to purchase food. It brings together a community. It's a social event inviting locals to hang out, listen to the bands, eat lunch, and truly appreciate the good things in their lives.
My children love our farmers' market and are always impressed by how much better the fruits and vegetables taste, compared to what we are forced to buy from the large grocery stores in the winter. We happily spend a few bucks more, if it means we can offer a little bit of support to those local farmers, who work hard all year to bring us nature's gifts.
Two years ago a new vendor set up stand at our farmers' market. He sells fresh, organic meat from pastured animals only. Of course the benefits of eating grass-fed meat are too many to count. Grass-fed meat looks and tastes better than grain-fed meat. But what's more important, cows for instance, were not intended to eat corn or other grains such as soy. The meat from grain-fed cows is much higher in omega-6 fats, and this imbalance ultimately poses a health risk for the human consumer. In grass-fed cows the omega-6 to omega-3 fats ratio is the recommended 3:1. Additionally grass-fed beef is a rich resource of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which, evidence suggests, can reduce the risk of cancer in humans. Add to that a number of other vitamins and minerals contained in grass-fed meat of any kind, and you have enough reason right there to buy grass-fed meat only.
These are all benefits to the modern hunter/gatherer. But what about the cows, chickens, pigs, and other animals? They still get killed, right? Well, yes, it's a world of eat and be eaten. Watched a lion take down an antelope lately? Were he a human, we'd be raising our torches and pitchforks and screaming at the inhumane and brutal killer.
Pastured animals live a rather happy life. They get to see the light of day, eat grass, and develop normal animal behavior as opposed to their feedlot counterparts. A feedlot cow for instance spends a good six months locked in a feedlot with approximately 100,000 other cows. They stand around in their own manure day and night, barely able to move, and they eat. Their diet consists of 95% grains and plenty of antibiotics to kill the dangerous e-coli bacteria, a bacteria most would not develop in the first place, were they actually raised on pasture. Unfortunately the conditions those cows are forced to live in make the use of a variety of antibiotics absolutely necessary for their survival (before we kill them), but at the same time humans' resistance to antibiotics is on the rise as a result to consuming this meat.
The average feedlot cow dies at 14 months of age in a slaughterhouse set up to kill 250 cows per hour.
So why is it, that most of the American population still walks into a grocery store and picks up whatever is on sale? You might call them ignorant or lazy. Maybe they are, but maybe a lifetime of hearing “that's just how it is” has shaped them into who they are today. I will not be the judge of that. The fact is, we are seeing an overwhelming amount of overweight and obese people all around us. Conventional wisdom has not served us well, and it is time for us to open our eyes to this truth and learn to think and act on our behalf and that of future generations.
Wouldn't you love to send your child to buy eggs from happy chickens and buy your meat from the local butcher who bought the cow from the local farmer? Of course, the majority of us will never have the opportunity to do so, and quite possibly some of us don't want to either. But the benefits of living intentionally and buying locally are obvious to all of us. So what can you do?
Find a farmers' market near you. You can start here: http://www.localharvest.org/.
Eat organic, grass-fed meat. If you don't have a health food grocery store nearby, check out http://www.marksdailyapple.com for a listing of states, where cowpooling (you and a number of other people buy a whole cow and share) is available. Another great source is http://www.americangrassfedbeef.com, offering a wealth of information, store locations, and the opportunity to order online if you just can't find a good supply nearby.
Think you can't afford to live like this? Think again! Chances are, as a paleo person you are already spending less on grains, sugars, and alcohol. The cost of those foods does add up quickly. If you create a meal plan once a week and shop for food with “portion sizes” in mind, you are much less likely to over-buy. Learn to cook smaller meals, or have the delicious leftovers for breakfast. Don't care for leftovers? Freeze a full meal for another day. Many other food items, such as coconut oil, can be bought at a discount if you buy in bulk. It will reduce your cost in the longterm.
When it comes down to it there is only thing left to say, and I'll say it with the words of my farmer friend, “It's the right thing.”