Cheap beef: it’s whats for dinner. Or chicken or pork for that matter. In this age of industrial agriculture, “cheap” meat actually comes at high costs to the animals we eat, to the land on which it is raised, and to our bodies.

As I was driving through Dodge City, Kansas, last week, I could smell the stench of cruel and inhumane animal farming practices well before I could see it. As I neared some hillsides I caught glimpses of endless seas of CAFOS around me. They were hidden from most lines of sight from the road I was driving on, kind of like landfills are hidden from all of us who use them. Out of site and out of mind.

For those of you who have never seen a CAFO or are not familiar with what they are: CAFO stands for “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation”. They are defined as farms that raise animals in confinement, with over 1000 animal units (“units” depending on animal type: 1,000 cattle, 82,000 chickens, etc.) being held for over 45 days per year.  There are so many costs that these operations do not have to pay for and we pay for indirectly over time. Environmental pollution is rampant: wastewater (urine and feces) from CAFOs goes directly into the waterways in those communities. Methane, one of the worst greenhouse gases that is causing climate chaos, is produced by the cubic tons. The incredibly inhumane lives of these animals is evident in just a glimpse. The animals, by definition of a CAFO, do not have space to move. They are not allowed to live full lives before being slaughtered. They are fed genetically-engineered feed and an incredible amount of antibiotics to keep them healthy in these dire conditions. The meat that eventually ends up in our digestive tracks floods our bodies directly with GMO/GE and antibiotic residues that over time, may very well make us sick.

As the demand for cheap meat by the market (us) continues to grow, and small-scale farming practices and farmland is gobbled up by an industrial drive to control food and make money off of it at any cost, we have to choose the higher road. In 1966, 1 million farms in the United States produced 57 million pigs. By 2001 (17 years ago), 80,000 farms raised the same number (Polly Walker’s “Public Health implications of meat production and consumption”). The concentration has increased since that time. We need to support small-scale, humane animal-raising farms through our purchase power by asking for high quality meat at groceries, delis, and restaurants. We must choose to avoid meat from farms that torture animals and pollute our land and bodies. w

For 2018, make a healthy and ethical decision for yourself and your family to decrease the amount of meat you eat in general and avoid buying cheap meat (fast food, super sales at box grocery stores, etc.) when you decide to eat it. While it seems cheap at the market, the animals that are tortured, the land that is wasted, and our bodies that are absorbing contaminated meat are paying the price. It is not worth it. Plus, homegrown small-scale meat is so delicious your mouth with thank you for the observant switch.

More on sources for local, small-scale meat farms coming soon. In the meantime, start asking questions and demanding better practices where you are.