How much of your food do you purchase from local suppliers? Lots of us get fruits and vegetables, from the farmer’s market or from that coworker who always plants enough zucchini to sink a barge. But what about animal products? Ever considered buying those locally?
Like many people, for most of my adult life I’ve taken a safe and reliable food supply for granted. Furthermore, until recently, I had never been particularly concerned about farm animal welfare. Farmers would not abuse their animals, I reasoned, because their animals are their livelihood.
I had heard the term “factory farming” for several years, but never paid much attention to it. Most of the people trying to get my attention about it seemed to have views considerably different from my own when it comes to how we treat animals, so it was easy to tune out.
The truth is that there are several unpleasant things going on to bring animal products to your grocery store. For example, in industrial egg production, male chicks have no value. Obviously they can’t lay eggs, and raising them for meat isn’t profitable. So they are systematically killed shortly after birth. They have their necks broken, or they are asphyxiated. Many are even dropped alive into a grinder.
Though I have never been an “animal rights” person in the way you probably envisioned when I used that term, that’s not something I want to support.
So my first tiptoe into finding animal products locally was with eggs. We get ours from a former colleague of mine who keeps free-ranging chickens in her backyard. She does not go to the trouble or expense of certifying her eggs as organic, but they meet any reasonable definition of such.
There are a few things to realize about local free range eggs.* For one thing, you can expect a different appearance, both outside and inside. On the outside, you’ll find less uniformity in shell color and size. On the inside, you’ll find yolks that are deep yellow to orange. This more intense color is primarily from animal material, like insects and worms, in the chickens’ diets. So it’s a natural result of the birds foraging.
You may also encounter an occasional blood spot. This has no effect on the egg’s palatability or safety, but you can remove it if you find it unsightly.
Speaking of palatability, the most amazing difference is in the taste. If you’ve only ever had eggs from the grocery store, your first fresh, local egg is likely to startle you. It’s a robust pop for your taste buds that would make the effort worth it all by itself. So it’s an excellent bonus, on top of addressing animal welfare concerns.
So that’s my successful initial foray into locally sourced animal foods. We are working on meat at my house now, which presents its own problems, like needing freezer room and a few butchery skills.
Another area we’ve begun exploring is processed foods. You can bet that most of these being sold at the grocery store use factory farming products. Purchase animal-friendly alternatives? Learn to do without? I don’t know. It’s daunting.
However, major lifestyle changes don’t happen overnight, and in the meantime every positive step counts. If you can’t get there all at once, do what you can do today, and add something else tomorrow.
Eggs are a great place to start.