The following is an excellent question and answer that came from our forums that I thought you all should see.
One thing that I keep bumping up against in the quest for Grass-fed meat is that question of Chicken and Pigs. I grew up on and around farms and I never recall seeing either one of these two animals graze on grass. In looking at chicken and pork in the grocery stores, even the organic type stores, I don’t see any reference on these items regarding grain/grass fed animals. Only Free Range Chicken Eggs. So my question is, do chicken and pigs eat grass or is this more of a cow thing? If it is more to cows, is it necessary to then buy organic chicken/pork or is it more important to make sure that they do not have hormones and antibiotics?
Well-raised pigs and chickens are called “Pasture Raised”.
The term grass-fed generally refers to cows because their natural diet is pretty much exclusively grass and other weeds. You can find grass-fed beef or buffalo at many health food stores now. Pigs and chickens are different. They eat some grass, and it’s becoming more popular again to feed them grass, but they’re both opportunistic and they’ll eat a lot of different foods: vegetables, bugs, weeds, fruit, corn, etc… So they’re not called “grass-fed” – they’re called “pasture-raised” when they’re allowed to roam around a pasture and eat their natural diet. For more info on their natural diets, here’s a great blog post on pigs and one on chickens here.
Finding pasture-raised meats in the store is rare
I have yet to see any pasture-raised chicken in my Whole Foods. That’s not to say it’s not at Vitamin Cottage or other health food stores around the country (probably not at Trader Joe’s, though). I have seen it at my farmer’s market in Boulder, Colorado, and I know it’s available from local farms around the country and world. You can find more info on your local sources of all pasture-raised/grass-fed meats at www.eatwild.com. I have found local, pasture raised pork chops at my Whole Foods (just recently added to their selection), but I’ve never found pasture-raised bacon or sausage. I bought half a pasture-raised pig from a local farm this year because there was no option for it at Whole Foods at the time, and I wanted to save money. I bought mine for about $4/lb (all cuts), whereas I think the pasture-raised pork chops at Whole Foods go for about $8/lb.
What you’re buying at the store when you buy “Free Range Chicken Eggs” is perhaps nothing more than eggs from chickens who were not confined to cages. They could still have been in an overcrowded barn with no natural light, very poor air quality, being overfed GMO corn with no access to the outdoors. Same with “free range chicken” breasts or other cuts. You’re looking for “pasture-raised” and it’s hard to come by.
Except maybe pasture-raised eggs.
It’s now becoming more common to find pasture-raised eggs in the supermarket. We have at least 2 different brands that are local at Whole Foods and they’re organic, too, meaning whatever food they were fed was organic and not GMO. Those eggs are much more expensive than conventional eggs, but you have to put it in perspective. Even if you’re paying $5 per dozen and eating 2 eggs per meal, that’s still only $.83 per meal.
Is antibiotic and hormone free enough?
As for your question about whether it’s more important to buy “antibiotic and hormone free” animal products or “organic”, I think if the option is there, buy organic. Organic implies that it’s antibiotic and hormone free, plus the animals were only fed organic feed. That means no antibiotics, no hormones, and no pesticides for you. If the option for organic is not there, then yes, antibiotic and hormone free are worth something.
Do your best.
What troubles me about this whole thing is that every Paleo promoter out there is encouraging you to eat pasture-raised this and grass-fed that, including myself. I’ve tried to tell people how to go about buying and storing bulk, pasture-raised and grass-fed meats here: http://www.paleoplan.com/2011/09-26/how-to-buy-and-store-local-bulk-meat/. But other than that, most of the meat you’re getting at the health food stores is corn and grain-fed. I don’t like it. Buying grain-fed sausage and bacon is a concession I make in my diet because I currently don’t have any of my local, pasture-raised bacon or sausage, and it’s not like I can just go to the farmer and ask for a pound of bacon. You have to order it in bulk and only at certain times of the year. I make that concession because I think sausage and bacon are delicious and I want to eat it. And I think that eating meat of any kind is better than eating cereal or bread or tofu. As for other meats, I choose to just not eat chicken because I can’t find any that’s pasture-raised right now. I eat only pasture-raised eggs and grass-fed beef (I have a quarter of a cow in my freezer), but sometimes I make even more concessions and eat organic Applegate turkey (grain-fed) or grain-fed turkey breast cutlets.
I live in an epicenter of health food, and I still have trouble finding certain species of properly raised animal products in my stores. I can only imagine it’s even more difficult for everyone else in the country to do the same. My advice is to do your best. Order as much local, pasture-raised meat in bulk as you can afford. Ask your butcher where their meat comes from, or look up the brand of meat yourself. They all have websites and you can always call to find out what their animals eat and where they live. I do it, and if more people did, more meat producers might feel pressure to raise their animals better.
Please let me know if you have any other questions about this. There’s a lot more to say on the topic, but I’d hate to ramble on and bore you. Thanks again for the question! Anyone else have any comments or questions about this?