Nicolette Niman has been leading the discussion on meat over the past two weeks, publishing an op-ed,  The Carnivore’s Dilemma, in the New York Times and following up with How Good Meat Makes a Difference on the Atlantic Food Channel. On Wednesday, she moved away from the debate on meat and the environment, to discuss how eaters can do the right thing by following her guide, Avoiding Factory Farmed Food: An Eater’s Guide.

Here are some highlights from the guide:

Be prepared to pay more. As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for.” Americans are used to the idea that a Cadillac is a better car than a Malibu and that you pay more for it. Yet somehow when it comes to food many of us look only at price. But getting good food could be one of the most important things we do to keep ourselves in good health. To paraphrase Michael Pollan, you pay your grocer now or pay your doctor later. And the methods for producing foods – especially animal based foods – vary radically, from farms that are excellent stewards of animals and the environment to the most industrialized, stinking, polluting facilities. Instead of just looking at price tags, think in terms of value.

Seek food from a known source. The best way to ensure you’re getting food from non-industrial farms is to buy from sources with full transparency, those where you can see how the animals are raised, and what they were fed, as well as learn from what farm or farms the food actually came.

Ask questions (even if it sometimes seems futile). There is real power in simply asking the questions: “Where is this from? How was it raised?

Consider it an adventure. Going to the supermarket to pick up all your food is convenient, true, but it’s also dreadfully boring. Following the pathways that lead you to good foods – farmstands, CSAs, farmers markets, co-ops – will take you to interesting places you’ve never been and to people you’ll enjoy meeting.

Frequent your local farmers markets. The popularity of farmers markets has exploded in recent past decades, going from about 350 in the late 1970s to more than 4,400 today. This is excellent news for those of us seeking non-factory farm foods.

Look for farms online. Many smaller farms and ranches sell directly to consumers with a website.

Domestic, please. Whether you’re worried about your food’s carbon footprint or how much you can verify about its source, there are lots of good reasons to support farms close to home.

Pasture is the gold standard. All animals, not just grazing animals, benefit tremendously from being outdoors daily on natural vegetation (such as grass and clover). They exercise, lie in the sun, breath fresh air, and generally live much happier, healthier, more natural lives.

Grass fed is very good (but the label is weak). Certain animals, including cattle, goats and sheep, have evolved as grazing or browsing animals. Their bodies are designed to spend their waking hours slowly foraging and walking to gather their food over many hours. However, the standard has lots of problems, not the least of which is that it doesn’t require animals to be on pasture and allows them to be fed lots of stuff that definitely ain’t grass. That’s why it’s preferable to buy grass fed meat directly from the farmer or rancher rather than relying on a label.

At Lava Lake, we’re doing our best to let our lambs live the opposite life of a factory farmed sheep. We’re domestic, transparent and 100% grassfed. Talk to us about how we raise our sheep – we’re ready to answer any questions you have.

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