Whether you’ll be hosting a holiday dinner this December, or creating a special side dish to bring when you attend someone else’s holiday gathering, you’ll certainly want to be proud of the food you prepare. This means using the very best quality ingredients, getting creative with your recipe, and paying close attention to detail in the kitchen. And if it’s meat that will be at the center of your culinary creation, it can be your opportunity to demonstrate integrity by choosing cuts with humane and sustainable origins. It shows responsibility for the once thriving farm animal in question, as well as for the health of the hungry folks at your dinner table.
In an age when commercially raised meats are quickly degrading in quality and health benefits, and the welfare of livestock is plummeting due to factory farming, the progressively-minded consumer thankfully has other options in procuring their own various vittles. In fact, one of the only obstacles we’ll encounter in the meat marketplace is clever packaging and the precarious use of misleading, unregulated food marketing terms. Staying in the know about which meats are organic, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, GMO-free, sustainably-farmed, free-range, humanely raised, locally raised, or all of the above is simpler than you might think, particularly if you can trust your butcher and their sources. But an even more secure approach is to recognize and understand the practices and certification logos associated with meeting the legal requirements.
I have written in the past about the various reasons for being highly selective when it comes to the modern meats we feed our families and ourselves. Allow me to offer you a little supplement to those musings by helping you identify the most thorough and responsible organizations behind today’s humanely raised meats. This will be followed by a short directory of the local purveyors I’m particularly fond of.
I first became aware of the AWA label when dining at a progressive Hudson Valley restaurant in 2011. They source almost all of their animal proteins from their own AWA-approved farm, and proudly display the AWA brochure at each table. This certification requires the participating independent farms to employ the highest animal welfare standards. This includes providing a stress-free, pasture-based lifestyle for their livestock, and utilizing high-welfare slaughter practices. As a consumer of their certified products, you can rest assured that the animals were raised humanely, that the farming environments remain ecologically sustainable, and that the meat itself is antibiotic and hormone-free. Besides being of high moral standards, this project also translates into a tastier end-product for us, the consumers. The logo is uniquely recognizable, simplifying your shopping experience. Additionally, the AWA website features a searchable directory of participating retailers, farms and restaurants in your vicinity.
The Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) is an international non-profit certification organization that was established to improve the lives and lifestyles of livestock raised for food in a careful manner beginning at birth and maintained right through the moment of slaughter. Built into the program’s objective is the increasing of consumer demand for responsible farm animal practices. When you see a product with the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® label, you can be certain that the animal was raised cage and crate-free, allowing it to exhibit the natural behaviors instinctive in its species. Additionally, its feed was free of antibiotics, growth hormones and animal by-products. Particularly tough standards (created by a well-informed, international scientific committee) must be met by the participating farms, and periodic audits are performed. The products are widely available in the US, and the Certified Humane website also has a useful directory of purveyors searchable by zip code.
The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) was established to help New York State consumers identify and locate responsible local farms before spending their food dollars. The Farmers Pledge is signed and adhered to by participating farms, and demands of them sustainable practices and humane treatment of animals, in addition to fair working conditions and wages. 100 farms in greater New York have committed to these principles, earning them permission to display The Farmer’s Pledge logo on their products and websites. It’s good news for the livestock, for the local economies, and for deliciousness on our holiday plates! And surprise, surprise: they have a directory too!
Some Favorite Local Sources
As a resident of the middle Hudson Valley, many of my humanely-raised meat sources are about a 1-hour car ride away from NYC. If you find yourself venturing through the region, be sure to patronize any of the following. It will be well worth the time investment:
3091 Route 9, Cold Spring, NY
Independently-owned butcher shop featuring exceptional non-GMO, hormone and antibiotic-free meats sourced from small, humane, family-owned New York farms, including Glynwood in Cold Spring. Friendly service with expertise.
500 Croton Avenue, Cortlandt Manor, NY
Family-owned, Farmer’s Pledge-adhering farm established 70 years ago. Raises exceptional meats and produce, and has a charming retail outlet. The most flavorful turkey I’ve ever served was purchased right from them!
717 Warren Street, Hudson, NY
This is the progressive, AWA-involved restaurant I mentioned above. It’s a luncheonette-style burger joint that takes the concept of burgers to new heights. You have to experience it to believe it! And great news: as of 2015, there is a new location in Tribeca at 56 Reade Street.