I am not vegan. I am not vegetarian. Nor did I dabble in veganism or vegetarianism while I was in college. I did have a brief stint where I was too poor to afford meat except for special occasions but that was a purely economic situation.
I do, however, try to temper my meat eating for health and environmental reasons. You only need so much meat in your diet to be healthy. So I try to eat meat only 2-3 times a week and the rest of the time eat vegetables and pasta (I could become a pastarian if I needed to). In addition, if we all tried to cut back a bit on our carnivore impulses there would be less industrially raised animals and less environmental impact. I totally approve of things like Meatless Mondays or Vegan before Dinnertime. It helps both your health and the world without giving up delicious, succulent, medium rare filet mignon. Not all of us have enough heart to completely spare animals.
Today, I learned that some vegetarians are coming back into the omnivore fold due to changes in the way some farms are raising and slaughtering their livestock. I was at the meat counter at the Venice Whole Foods purchasing ground chicken and I noticed a sign that said “Step 3.” I asked the butcher about it and he informed me that Whole Foods, or at least the Venice Whole Foods is drawing attention to the way animals are raised. He indicated that Step 3 meant the chicken I was purchasing had been allowed out into a yard with brush and other things chickens apparently love and allowed to play (he really did say play) with other chickens. Much like the commercials that indicate happy cows make better cheese. According to the butcher, happy chickens taste better. It might sound like some serious hippie jive but it has some science behind it. If chickens are allowed to run around they have better muscle composition, which makes for yummier meat. Also, if they are pumped full of antibiotics and steroids, there is less chance of some strange allergic reaction. Further, if chickens are fed things chickens like instead of nasty animal by products they in turn taste better. Lastly, unhappy or stressed animals excrete hormones that foul the meat. Apparently, at Whole Foods if you see Step 5 meat, that is the best treated. I didn’t see what all the requirements for Step 5 but it probably means they stayed at the Four Seasons and got regular massages.
I was super impressed with the butcher too. You’d think a grocery store butcher would be more interested in the best way to break down steaks than how animals are treated prior to slaughter. But he seemed super serious about (particularly since he took 15 minutes out of his work day to explain all of this to me). In the end the information he gave me came down to one thing, if you care about quality food, you need to care about where it comes from. So if you want good meat, you should care more about how the meat was treated and not just how long it was dry aged.