How to be a smarter meat shopper this cookout season
Labels like ‘cage-free’ and ‘grass-fed’ aren’t always what they seem.
As July 4th approaches, people will be heading to the grocery store to buy hot dogs, hamburgers and everything else that tastes good on a grill.
Many of these shoppers will be looking for meat products that have a “humanely raised” label.
This concept has been adopted in the past few years by a number of big players and it’s relatively easy to find. First it was Tyson, then McDonalds, then Perdue, and so on, covering billions of dollars worth of market share.
These companies were responding to customers who were worried by how most livestock live: crammed together in poorly ventilated facilities where they develop a range of painful health problems and are forced to overeat.
Now, supermarkets across the country carry meat packaged with appealing buzzwords that seem to change the narrative: “humanely raised,” “cage-free,” “free-range,” “raised without antibiotics or growth hormones,” “grass-fed,” “fed all-vegetarian diet,” “raised by small, family farmers” and so on. Fast food chains tout similar words in commercials.
Seems like real progress, right?
Unfortunately, their actions are often lagging behind their good intentions. It turns out that moving to a more humane model of meat production is a lot harder than it seems.
The biggest problem is that these terms and phrases are often meaningless — no serious regulations are in place to make sure they are true.
The USDA does offer guidance around these labels, but it doesn’t have any legal authority to enforce them.
So to make sure you’re not misled this weekend, here are a few easy principles to live by:
Do a quick search on the company
Almost everyone has a smartphone and constant access to Google. Rather than just accepting a label at face value, quickly Google search a brand and try to verify what you see. Sometimes you’ll learn that a brand is in fact doing it’s best. Other times, you might find some complicating bits of information. Either way, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision.
Buy from a farmer’s market
Farmer’s markets have become really common over the past decade as more people ask for locally sourced food.
If you have a farmer’s market in your area, buy your burgers there! You’ll be able to talk with someone directly connected to the farm who can tell you how their animals are raised.
You’ll also be supporting local business and a vibrant community!
Buy directly from a farm
This is for the most serious shoppers. If you go directly to a farm, you can see first-hand how animals are raised and get the peace of mind you need to make a good decision.
Oftentimes, you can buy a share in an animal and then when it’s ready to be slaughtered you’ll be able to pick up meat that is super fresh.
Buy meat alternatives
A lot of people think veggie burgers are sad and flavorless. Some definitely are. But in the past several years, meat alternative brands have made great strides.
Now you can buy a veggie burger that is just as juicy and flavorful as actual beef. In fact, one of my favorite burgers is a vegan burger from By Chloe in New York.
Some companies are even engineering veggie patties that have the same texture and flavor of real meat.
And even if the veggie burger itself isn’t just like the real thing, once you slather on ketchup and mustard, put on some melted cheese, stack it high with crisp lettuce and tender tomatoes, you’ll (barely) notice a difference!
Buying alternatives to meat deals directly with the issue of humane animal treatment because no animals are involved. You can feel even better about yourself when you consider the health and environmental benefits of taking this route.
Grills can cook a lot more than burgers and hot dogs.
If you’re feeling adventurous this weekend, try to have a vegetarian barbecue.
Light up your grill and make some delicious veggies with onions, zucchini, squash, mushrooms, peppers, pineapple and whatever else you want.
If you want more inspiration check out this list of some of the best grilled veggies!
Whatever you decide to do this weekend, have a fun and safe time!