Friday, July 2, 2010

Truly "Green" Eggs (and Meat)

First of all, I hope you all had a Happy Canada Day, whether you spent the day celebrating (as a Canadian) or toiling away and wishing that you were Canadian!

Now, let's get down to business. In my first post, I had mentioned that food is an area with almost limitless possibilities in terms of health and sustainability and that I think it's best to start with one step/initiative and build from there. A somewhat simple initiative to take on is improving your own diet. Although this is one of those quests that never really ends, it's one that provides immediate gratification and innumerable personal rewards, such as improved health and a clearer conscious.

Today, I'm going to discuss meat and eggs. This topic was motivated by a question from one of my faithful readers. The request was to compare the sustainability of eating eggs vs. eating meat. Here's my perspective on the topic:

I believe that the key to a more sustainable world is balance and moderation. Personally, I eat eggs, meat, cheese, etc. occasionally. Although there is plenty of data to indicate that eating a completely vegetarian diet is healthier for both people and the planet, I believe that the main problem with meat is that people eat it excessively (every day or even several times a day) and that much of it is raised in factory farms that create health problems for both humans and animals due to the ever-increasing usage of chemicals and strain on the environment with copious amounts of animal waste.

I strongly support family farms and many small farmers will tell you that a healthy farm operates in a cyclical fashion, utilizing animal waste to fertilize the soil as well as making use of the foraging of cows to manage natural grasses and the impact of their hooves to help cultivate and till the soil. So my personal strategy in relation to meat is ideally to eat it no more than a couple times a week, although lately it's been more like 3-4 times per week. When I do eat it, I try to ensure that it has been sustainably produced. And whenever I buy meat to eat at home, I always buy from small local farmers who raise their animals in ethically sound and environmentally friendly ways. In my perspective, this is not only healthier for myself, the animals and the environment, it's also a good way to support a strong local economy.

In terms of eggs, they are not as land or resource-intensive as beef can be. One chicken will generally lay one egg per day. (An interesting side note is that the eggs that we eat are usually unfertilized, meaning that there are no baby chickens inside.) Also, chickens are excellent composters of organic matter. You can feed them your fruit and vegetable scraps and they will love you for it. If you consider this unnatural, consider that in the “wild”, chickens would forage for whatever they could find. In general, for a chicken (just like us) variety is the spice of life! So, because you can get one egg per day from a chicken who will happily eat your organic scraps, eggs can be a sustainable food source for people worldwide (and are especially viable for rural people with limited resources who may own their own chicken).

So, my answer to the question of whether or not eggs and meat are sustainable, is potentially yes. However, in order to be “sustainable” for me, they should ideally be classified as organic. According to, organic is defined as “raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals.” I also seek out eggs that are free-range, which means that the animals are permitted to graze or forage outside rather than being confined to a feedlot. At the very least, eggs should be classified as free run, which means that the chickens are not kept in cages and are allowed to wander around inside an enclosed structure, such as a barn. Unlike free range animals, the chickens do not have access to the outside.

And finally, it is way less important to me that a farmer has professional organic certification because this can be quite costly for a small farm to attain. In my opinion, the best way to ensure that a farm is sustainable is by developing a relationship with the farmer, either by visiting the farm or buying your products from a friend or personal contact.

There's my two cents. I welcome (now and always) any ideas, links, different perspectives, questions and recipes about this topic and any others that I post. Thanks for reading! I look forward to your input and sharing ideas about ways to best move toward a healthier and more sustainable world!

No comments: