"Ethical" Meat & Local Produce
As a stereotypical Midwesterner, I’ve never felt compelled to give up meat (though I understand why many people feel differently). I have, however, felt compelled this year to start putting my money where my heart is when it comes to supporting a baseline quality of life for the animals I consume (though I understand why many people view this as a luxury – indeed, it is). In the process of educating myself on “ethical” meat options, I also found out more about factory farms in general. Before long, I was adding produce to my list for more thoughtful sourcing. Following through on these intentions has taken a lot of research, trial, and error over the past few months, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned, hopefully saving time for people who are in a similar spot.
Many of you are probably already aware of the complexities that made this project so time-consuming, but it was news to me when I discovered that terms like “free range” and “organic” don’t actually tell you anything meaningful about how your food is raised. For example, a “free range” chicken might spend all day peacefully roaming around a shady lawn, but it might just as easily spend all day in a dark cage, with a 30 minute “break” in a tiny outdoor pen where it can’t even move because it’s crammed in with so many other chickens.
Although my my neighborhood big-box grocery store carries Vital Eggs, (widely recognized by random podcast hosts and food experts alike as a good, truly pasture-raised option), it does not provide any sourcing details beyond buzz words for meat. And so, fairly early on in my research, I reluctantly acknowledged that I would need to explore other grocery stores.
Enter Whole Foods. The most expensive meat from Whole Foods - Steps 4 and 5 on their internal rating system - met my criteria. But the price point wasn’t ideal. And, while I don’t doubt that Whole Foods does their best to conform to the posted standards, I didn’t like the lack of transprency into their source farms. Another reason I didn’t settle on Whole Foods as a catch-all solution was that I didn’t feel it fully addressed my desire to purchase fruit and vegetables from small farms. That said, if you can afford it, Whole Foods does present the best grocery store meat option I was able to find.
Next to enter the ring were services like Imperfect Produce and Hungry Harvest. I liked the idea of helping small farmers by purchasing produce with small abnormalities that they couldn’t sell to big grocery stores. But, the more I researched, the more I began to question their business model as potentially counter-productive. I ultimately decided that I preferred to purchase from local farms if possible.
From there, I turned to local CSA (Community Support Agriculture) subscriptions. Unfortunately, for me, they weren’t a feasible option. Most required that I drive a ways to pick up my groceries and few provided any control over the produce I received. Also, much as I want to support local farmers, I wasn’t willing to take the risk of paying upfront for vegetables that might never actually materialize. Additionally, the CSAs I looked at only provided boxes during growing season (understandably), which isn’t year-round in my neck of the woods. I wanted to find an option that would offer all-season access to small farm produce.
After these dead ends, I finally found a couple of options that I think are worth sharing in more detail.
Top Meat Recommendation - Moink
I was drawn to Moink (of Shark Tank fame) because I like their approach as “tender-hearted carnivores” who work exclusively with small family farmers, adhering to high standards of transparency and humane practices. This approach means that, occasionally, demand exceeds the supply of happy chickens and I go without drumsticks for awhile. I’m fine with this. In fact, I take it as evidence that they’re following their stated policies.
I’ve found the quality and variety of meat from Moink to be excellent. It’s not cheap, but I can typically stretch my subscription box to last about 8 weeks before ordering another one (especially if I incorporate a few vegetarian meals into my cooking plans). If you have a bigger family or plan to cook every single meal at home, it’s probably more realistic to expect the box to last for about a month.
I won’t pretend I’ve shunned Shake Shake or stopped ordering kung pao chicken from dubious sources when eating out. And I still occasionally buy fish from my local grocery store (because fish don’t have feelings, says me). But I’ve found that Moink is more than able to cover all of my day-to-day, at-home cooking. At this point, almost all my pork, beef, chicken, and salmon comes from Moink.
Top Produce Recomendation - Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks
Irv & Shelly’s is local to Chicago, but I found them after stumbling across several similar services in other cities, so it’s likely you can find counterparts in your area. I like Irv & Shelly’s because it provides all of the benefits of a CSA subscription with none of the risk or other limitations. They are, essentially, an aggregator and distributor, offering produce from hundreds of small local farms. They provide quality control and also the flexibility to supplement your order with off-season produce sourced from farms around the country. They deliver to your doorstep, either on-demand or on a weekly subscription basis. You can fill your own box online with exactly the produce you want or select their “fresh picks” box, containing their best, in-season options for the week. The latter option is preferable (and more fun!) in my experience.
Living in a high-rise with strict delivery rules, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get away with their default delivery method of leaving an unmarked plastic bin in my lobby. But Irv & Shelly’s, very accommodatingly, agreed to deliver all of my orders in labelled, disposable (recyclable) cartons. Full disclosure, the note on my account with these instructions has been missed twice, raising the ire of my doorman. But Irv & Shelly’s was very apologetic and quickly arranged to return and remove the bin. I’ve found their customer service to be excellent.
With the exception of a couple of moldy peaches (which I accept as an inherent risk of ordering peaches), my six orders to date have all been filled with absolutely beautiful produce that tastes markedly better than any produce I’ve ever purchased at a grocery store. I haven’t tasted blueberries as good as the ones they sent this summer since I was kid, picking them off bushes in Indiana blueberry patches with my Grandpa.
I hope this information is helpful! I’m still exploring additional options and would love to hear recommendations or answer any questions if you’re considering these services.
(Given my utter lack of fame, this probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: this post is entirely unsponsored.)