Responsible Eating: A #lovelansing Guide to Cruelty-free and Sustainable Consumption

I know what many of you are thinking after reading this title- “Here we go, Shannon is going to spread her opinion on a vegetarian lifestyle with her beloved city…”, however you, dear reader, would only be partially right.

While I choose to live a vegetarian lifestyle (and will share why), there are plenty of other ways to consume cruelty-free food, while supporting sustainability- particularly buying local, “Meatless Mondays” and becoming an “ethical omnivore”, not to mention vegetarianism/veganism.  In this post, I plan to take a few minutes to detail these options for you, and share ways to purchase local, cruelty-free products in Lansing, so I encourage you to take some time to read on!

Why go cruelty-free?

I came across this article approximately one month ago by Mark Bittman in the New York Times, and it really got me thinking: why do we treat animals raised as pets so differently than we treat animals raised as future food? In short, Mark examines the fine line between “companion” animals and those raised for food, questioning why a pig that is raised as a pet has protection against, say, a pet owner kicking it; whereas a pig raised to become someone’s breakfast bacon has no real regulated restrictions as to how they can be treated. Many people, including industry farmers, agree that “animals are sentient, thinking, feeling beings, often with complex emotions, abilities and relationships”, as expressed in this piece from Yes! Magazine. So why do we not recognize them as so? Perhaps we lose the connection of animals being sentient beings in the process from seeing them on a farm to seeing our pre-packaged hamburger in the grocery aisle at Meijer? Whatever the reason, it is important to recognize that the industry, rather than lawmakers, get to define what constitutes animal cruelty; which in turn leaves many animals on industry farms left to live a short life of torture before being processed for our consumption. (For more details on these practices, visit this PETA site. Warning: the images are graphic.)

How does industry farming affect MY health?

Besides the animal cruelty factor, eating meat from animals raised within industry farms can be dangerous to our health. According to the PETA website,

Animals on factory farms generate many times the amount of excrement produced by the entire U.S. population, and this waste pollutes the air we breathe and the water we drink. Every second, our nation’s factory farms create roughly 89,000 pounds of waste, which contains highly concentrated chemical and bacterial toxins—all without the benefit of waste-treatment systems.

Don’t buy the PETA statistics? Well let’s try this one from a 2009 report from Worldwatch Institute,

it is estimated that livestock production generates close to 51 percent of global greenhouse gasses.

These contaminants pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink; yet due to the dirty game of politics- and the industry big whig lobbyists, whom fight for no regulation of these pollutants- no such regulations for this are in place.

What can I do to practice a cruelty-free, responsibly minded eating practice?

1.) Well the first recommendation would be to go veg! This can mean going vegetarian- eliminating meat from your diet, or vegan- eliminating all animal product from your diet (including dairy). It is much simpler than one may think to eliminate meat from your diet. Replacing meat with protein-rich foods such as eggs (if non-vegan), beans and tofu can be a delicious and healthy way to fill up. Not to mention, buying whole grains (like quinoa or barley) and beans in bulk can add up to just pennies per meal, which is a bargain!

2.) If cutting meat (and potentially dairy!) out of your diet is just not a possibility for whatever reason, you can always limit the amount of meat that you consume by practicing “Meatless Mondays”.  A 2008 Carnegie Mellon University study showed that avoiding red meat and dairy one day a week achieves more greenhouse gas reductions than eating a week’s worth of local food. Experiment with your meals just one day a week by eliminating meat on Mondays and creating vegetarian meals for yourself, family and friends!

3.) Another option would be to become an “ethical omnivore”. While this may seem like an oxymoron to some, there is a movement that exists to buy one’s animal product from local, sustainable farms, that treat the animals humanely and process their product in conscious ways.

It is important to note that responsible consumption also inlcludes buying local!

Buying from and supporting local farmers is a very important element of responsible and sustainable eating practices. This site does a great job of breaking down the many reasons why buying local is pertinent, but I will highlight a few. First of all, in terms of creating a sustainable community, it is increasingly important not to rely on large corporation-run farms (agri-business) to genetically modify our produce, while using cheap labor to do the harvesting, then ship the product across the country (and sometimes world!) so that we can then make dinner. When we do this, not only does the majority of our money leave our local economy, but we lose many of the nutrients from those fruits and veggies in the shipping process. This is simply because in order to have an appealing, ripe product on the shelves of our grocery stores, those fruits and vegetables need to be picked up to a week prior! So why not put the majority of our dollars back into the Lansing economy by buying fresh produce from local farms? This way we know where our produce is coming from and can purchase organically grown vegetables while supporting local businesses!

So, where can I purchase my produce and cruelty-free meat around Lansing?

I took this question to the #lovelansing community and received many wonderful responses!

1.) I’d first like to share an amazing website my friend Ash turned me onto- Local Harvest. This website allows you to type in your city or zip code and then search for  farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other products. When I did a search for meat near Lansing, I got a result of over 500 options! While not all of these options are going to be the most “convenient”, since many of the farms are outside of the Greater Lansing area, it is a great way to find options and farmers markets around town!

2.) Another great way to get cruelty-free meat came from my question to ethical omnivores on twitter! I was told that Creswick Farms does drop offs in Lansing 10 Saturdays a year! If you are able to plan your meat purchases out and buy in bulk, I think this is a very convenient option!

3.) Then there are your local farmer’s markets throughout the summer, including the Old Town Farmer’s Market, MSU Student Organic Farm Stand and Meridian Township Farmer’s Market, among many others. And then, of course, there is the Lansing City Market for year-round local goods!

4.) Yet another great option for fresh, local produce year-round,or seasonal, is to become a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. Here is how it works: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. There are some great options for purchasing a CSA in Lansing on your own, or with others. The most highly recommended seem to be shares from Titus Farms and the MSU Student Organic Farm.

5.) Lastly, if you simply want to purchase cruelty-free products at your local grocery store, you can look for cage-free, vegetarian fed eggs, various brands of soy/rice/almond milk and vegan dairy in specialty sections. I’ve also learned that certain brands of chicken are for sale at Meijer that is certified humane. For meat to be truly certified humane, it must be labeled as so, and you can easily locate where certified humane meat is available here. While these items may be a bit more expensive than their less-humane competition, I happen to think the cost is worth it. ( Note: I understand that some may not be able to afford the privilege of purchasing specialty items, but I wanted to put all options on the table!)

Happy Eating, Lansing!

I hope that you will find this post to be helpful in preparation for the opening of many of Spring’s farmer’s markets and farm stands! And if it causes you to think about your consumption habits more than before, then I will consider my summary to be successful! Meals should be a time to enjoy the company of friends and family, fuel your body and/or create a sense of joy- and if we can do this all while being responsible for our planet, supporting our local farmers, respecting the animals that give their lives for our meals and helping to create a sustainable environment, then I think we will all be better off! So…happy eating, Lansing!