Sunday, January 13, 2008

Still seeking happy food.

An update on our search for happy food...

I've had a few setbacks but also a victory or two in my search for happy food. First of all, one of the stores that I thought was a shoe-in for happy food turned out not to be so happy. It's a little co-op started by a mom looking for all-natural chicken to feed her family. For ten years she sold natural chicken out of her garage to neighbors and friends because it was the least expensive way for her to get good quality chicken for her family - she had to buy it in bulk direct from the distributor. Now she and her family have a great little store where they sell their famous chicken in addition to pork, beef, dairy, organic produce, and lots of GREAT prepared foods. Upon further probing, though, only the pork appears to be humanely raised. The chicken, although naturally raised, comes from all over the country from a large producer and is, therefore, not likely to be humanely raised. The eggs come from one of the biggest egg producers in the country, one who is making changes to become more humane to its laying hens but is not up to my standards. The milk is similar, although it is at least from Colorado. The pork, on the other hand, comes from a little local family farm, which is great. It's especially great because they use the ground pork in their homemade Italian sausage which is in their homemade lasagna which is terrific. And affordable. I plan on buying more of that.

The victories I've had have been encouraging, but I've still got a ways to go. The butcher at Whole Foods has me semi-convinced that their meat is humanely raised, although I'm not confident enough to be happy buying all of my meat there. Their intent is great, but with the size of their operation, it's nearly impossible for them to be sure that their meat is humanely raised. Contrary to popular belief, I don't think the meat (or anything else, really) at Whole Foods is too expensive. It is more than at a conventional supermarket, but the quality is much better than what we can get elsewhere. For happy meat, a better option than Whole Foods is The Colorado Steak Company, which is located close to Brynn's school in Briargate. The first page of their website notes that they seek out ranches that raise and slaughter their animals humanely. One ranch that they buy from supplies meat to the Olympic Training Centers (no, they don't eat McDonalds at the training centers, despite being sponsored by them). Unfortunately, The Colorado Steak Company doesn't stock chicken thighs any time but summer. We eat a lot of chicken thighs. When cooked without the skin, chicken thighs have only slightly more fat and calories than their much drier and blander relative, the breast. Additionally, they have much more iron, niacin, zinc, and thiamine. So, clearly The Colorado Steak Company isn't going to work for me on a regular basis, since chicken thighs are on my grocery list about every other week. They do have a great fennel salami, though...I'll be going back just for that.

Here are my other options...tomorrow I'm going to Vitamin Cottage to check out their selection and prices. They apparently carry meat with the "Certified Humane" label. It's an organization to which ranchers can pay a fee to have a "Certified Humane" inspection on a regular basis. Those who pass are given this special certification. The requirements are pretty strict - even stricter than Whole Foods. I think the only places in the Springs where I can get their meat is at Vitamin Cottage and The Colorado Steak Company.

My second option, and the one we'll probably end up taking, is to buy a quarter cow, half pig, and some chicken from a local rancher. One that I've found and communicated with is the "Damn Near Anything Swine Ranch." The name caught my eye when I was searching through a list of "Colorado Proud" ranches and stores - people who grow/produce products or food in and of Colorado. It fits my desire to buy local (the ranch is in Rush, Colorado which is out east - the part of town we lovingly call "Kansas") plus the beef, pork, and chicken is all naturally raised with no additional hormones and no antibiotics. The beef is, of course, grass-raised. Since you are reading my blog, you are probably a very sophisticated consumer and, therefore, already know the benefits of grass fed beef. Just in case you missed it, I'll review. It's lower in fat and much higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, and vitamin E than grain raised or grain finished beef. It can taste more "metallic" according to some people, but that is because there is not as much fat covering up the flavor of the meat, which contains high amounts of iron.

There are several ranches around us that sell quarters and sides of beef as well as lamb, pork and buffalo, so once I get a deep freezer (probably this summer), getting humane meat shouldn't be too big an issue. I'm still having a hard time finding eggs from humanely handled hens, although Cyd's Nest Fresh Eggs appear to be a good option. A dozen of her natural (not organic or omega-3) eggs runs around $2.70, as opposed to the $0.89 that you pay for a dozen eggs from caged, inhumanely treated hens. But, since we only buy about two dozen eggs a month, I think I can afford a few extra bucks. One thing I like about Cyd's eggs is that, despite treating their hens the way a small local operation would, I think their eggs are available nationally. You can even get them at Costco. Cyd's eggs carry the "Certified Humane" label and it seems like they are the only eggs that are readily available locally which I can trust to come from humanely treated hens.

Along the way I've found some fun new links. In case you're interested, I've included a few of them below:

Eat Wild
100 Pounds of Leftovers
The Omnivore's Dilemma
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Chico Basin Ranch
Isle Farms
Lettuce Patch Gardens
Black Forest Bison


carrie said...

it's really interesting that you're into free range / organic meats. i didn't think (at least with my experience with kroger) that this was even touching the u.s. just yet. kroger started caring about organic veg but is still light years behind in meats.

the british generally do not believe in adding growth hormones to livestock but at the same time 95% of chickens raised in the uk are done so through intensive farming. its amazing the amount that the press, supermarkets and celebrities are touting the importance of free range meats, diary and eggs. jamie oliver and some other celebrity chef just had a 4-night special about free range chickens which helped to spread the word on intensive farming and why it's so horrible (and it is horrible). all of the major supermarkets here are starting to switch to free range and some have even promised to completely change their assortment over to free range within the next 2-3 years.

its very interesting to see the difference in u.s. vs uk practices. the longer i'm here, the more i think the uk is years ahead of the u.s. in terms of public awareness and motivation to change.

3boys247 said...

Hi Hillary, I just picked up a book from the library titled, Shopping with a Conscience. It covers not only food but energy, clothes, travel, etc. It brings up several interesting points. I will let you know when I return it.
Chat soon, Laura

nick said...

Can you raise chickens in your backyard? I mean for eggs? A little hen house...give the fam a little farm's the next step after the dog. If I was allowed to have some chickens for eggs, I would.

I can get you some chicks, and...more or less a starter kit from my family's hatchery...let me could spoil those Chickens until their lean little thighs fell off.


court said...

How I missed this rant and NB read it I will never know. But I have to say all the food at the Training Center was top notch. Too bad I was a gymnast and only got to eat the jello! :)