When the “Paleo diet” emerged, it sounded like another low-carb fad, conjuring memories of the Flinstones and mental images of raw meat on the bone. As it turns out, a true Paleo diet adheres to a comprehensive set of the most admirable, environmentally sustainable, humane, and socially responsible omnivorous eating tenants in existence.
The “Paleo Approved” certification requires the same criteria many small, independent farms across the country have long been committed to: the raising of animals in their natural environments and the feeding of biologically appropriate diets. This positive trend in farming and eating practices is slowly but surely insinuating itself into mainstream food culture. Thus an increasing number of farms and ranches are interested in meeting the standards to achieve Paleo Approved status.
The official guidelines of the Paleo Approved program include:
Beef, bison, lamb and goat that are never fed anything but grass and forage (post-weaning) for their whole lives.
Pastured pork and poultry must maintain “a varied diet of insects, rodents, fruits, nuts, and berries with minimal grains.”
Animals must have constant, continuous access to pasture on a range or in sub-pasture paddocks. Other than in the case of life-threatening emergencies, animals may never be confined to pens, feedlots, or any other form of confinement.
Beef, bison, lamb and goat may never been fed non-forage supplements after weaning. They cannot graze on cereal grain crops or ever receive milk replacers containing antibiotics and growth hormones, non-protein sources of nitrogen, antibiotics, or hormones.
There are a myriad of reasons to care about the welfare of the animals we consume.
Here is our case for the moral, environmental, health-related, and taste-related motivations.
There is a clear distinction between sustenance in accordance with the food chain and complacency in the neglect and cruel treatment of animals. It’s one thing to eat meat; it’s another to torture the animals first. And the conditions provided for livestock in industrial farming are, by any basic moral standards, torturous.
Though grass-fed beef has its own carbon footprint to be sure, the impact of fertilizers, pesticides, and fossil fuels required to produce grain for feedlot cows is far worse, especially compared to cattle that graze on natural pasture or graze rotationally.
Michael Pollan explains the health benefits of grass-fed over grain-fed beef:
“For most of our food animals, a diet of grass means much healthier fats (more omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA; fewer omega-6s and saturated fat) in their meat, milk, and eggs, as well as appreciably higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants. Sometimes you can actually see the difference, as when butter is yellow or egg yolks bright orange: What you’re seeing is beta-carotene from fresh green grass. It’s worth looking for pastured animal foods in the market and paying the premium they typically command. For though from the outside an industrial egg looks exactly like a pastured egg selling for several times as much, they are for all intents and purposes two completely different foods.”
Grass-fed meat tends to be gamier, richer in flavor, and more nuanced than the waxy, blander grain-fed meat. It stands to reason that meat produced on an industrial scale will taste mass-produced. There is no starker contrast in flavor than in the case of swine. Pork raised on grass is not “the other white meat” at all; grass-fed pork is a deep pinkish-red and appropriately bears greater resemblance to wild boar than to chicken.
Beyond a diet free of grain, sugars, and refined products, Paleo is a philosophy of eating with reverence for our food. It looks not just to what will make us thinner, or even to what will make us healthier, but most importantly to our accountability to our animal food sources. If we are what we eat, then it is worth eating as kindly, thoughtfully, and responsibly as possible.