Now, I am not an avid meat eater. In fact, if my body didn’t downright crave animal foods I would be a hardcore vegetarian. But it does so I thoughtfully nourish.
Three weeks ago while waiting for the bus to take me from New York City to home, I popped into a newly opened fast casual joint (it was super cold outside and I was craving French fries). Glancing at the menu, I noticed that “100% all natural Angus beef, no hormones and no antibiotics ever” was center stage.
Let’s get something super straight—there is no such thing as “all natural” animal foods. Research by Consumer Reports found that almost half of consumers mistakenly assume it means the animals live outdoors. Yet this claim has nothing to do with where animals are raised, how they were treated or what they were fed. It simply means the meat contains no artificial ingredients or added colors, and that it was minimally processed. So anyone who makes that claim really knows very little about the true story of livestock production—or most likely is trying to dupe you into believing that you’re eating something with health in mind. The reality is this joint’s beef patty came from cattle that almost certainly lived their last 3-6 months (1/3 of their life) confined to a dirt feedlot (not a pretty picture) with tens of thousands of other cattle and were fed a grain-based diet (likely containing GMO soy and corn). What’s more, although the suppliers may claim no hormones or antibiotics were used, without independent verification or auditing there is no way of knowing if this is even true.
And I might add that, given all of my research, I believe going “antibiotic-free” is the wrong approach. Yes, we need to stop the ongoing abuse of antibiotics on factory farms where these life-saving drugs are being used to stop animals from getting sick in the overly crowded and dirty conditions. But treating individual sick animals with antibiotics (in other words, using them responsibly and judiciously) is truly the right thing. Hey, animals get sick just as humans do and should not have to suffer. Would you raise your kids “antibiotic-free”? No, neither would I. Finally, as I’ve said before, just because you’re buying an “antibiotic-free” label doesn’t mean the animals lived outdoors on pasture—or even that they’re “antibiotic-free” at all.
Anyway, enough of the doom and gloom and let’s fast forward to the weekend of TEDx Manhattan (see my Talk). All I can say is… HOLY COW! I began my weekend at Grazin’ TriBeca, a new and affordable truly farm-to-table eatery in the lower Big Apple, where I enjoyed a Certified AWA burger—in other words, the highest-welfare animal foods you can get according to Consumers Reports. So when you see the AWA logo, what does that actually mean?
- You’re buying the highest quality food from truly independent family farms—the very backbone of America as we know it.
- AWA doesn’t charge farmers a single cent to join the program. In other words, they have no financial incentive to certify farms, resulting in an unrivalled level of integrity and trust behind the AWA logo.
- Animals on Certified AWA farms are always raised outdoors on well-managed pasture or range, with no confinement in cages, crates, or feedlots—ever. No other food label—not even organic—can offer you this assurance.
- Growth promoters or hormones are never used. Antibiotics are used sparingly and only on the rare occasions where an animal gets sick—and never sub-therapeutically to hide poor management conditions and prevent disease.
- There’s no teeth clipping and tail docking of piglets or dehorning of cattle on Certified AWA farms—all common practices in industrial farming. Plus AWA is the only food label to prohibit beak trimming of laying hens—another common practice even in organic egg systems!
- AWA only allows slow growing chicken breeds that do not have the inherent lameness, heart, and other health problems of the chicken breeds commonly raised on industrial farms.
- High-welfare slaughter practices are mandatory. In fact, AWA is one of only two farm certifications in the U.S. to insist on high-welfare management from birth right through to slaughter.
- Every farm in the AWA program is physically audited once a year to ensure they’re following the farm standards, which anyone can read on the AWA website. See if you can do the same for farms that supply McDonald’s—or any major food retailer, for that matter…
Stay with me now—on Sunday I boarded a bus to Hudson, New York with a large interested group and traveled to Grazin’ Diner where I ate another affordable burger and more fries (OMG), and learned that absolutely everything animal served at Grazin’ comes from Certified AWA Grazin’ Angus Acres farm (from the dairy to the meat), and that all things Grazin’ are thoughtfully sourced—the straws are made from recycled paper and they don’t serve Coke or Pepsi, rather make their own sodas. Consider me sold!!!
Interestingly, owner Dan Gibson, a former big business hospitality dude turned farmer/owner, was told that he would never be able to make this happen—a truly affordable farm to table dining experience (versus a Blue Hill type of experience). Well, guess what? He made the impossible possible—a man after my own heart.
So after we stuffed our faces, we took a quick ride to the actual farm where these animals live. Not much renders me speechless but this trip truly did. And if you scroll through the pictures below, you’ll see why.
If Dan Gibson can create such a thoughtful dining experience—literally from his farm to your table—and at a price point that won’t break the bank for most, why can’t more restaurants do this? Well, it boils down to taking the road less travelled and working hard to break through the many barriers that exist—in other words, a different kind of hard work. If you want a tour of the farm, Dan and his family are happy to oblige (feel free to e mail Dan at email@example.com).
So as you embark on your journey towards an edible education, please begin to understand that whether fine or casual dining, how your food is sourced is central to true nourishment.