Healthy Diet, Healthy Planet: 5 Ways to Find Sustainable Beef in the Local Marketplace

The UN has reported widely on the high emissions of livestock, and people around the world are trying to make their protein intake more sustainable. While many turn to elimination, others are unlikely to swear off meat permanently for cultural or health reasons. Here are 5 ways to find more sustainable meat in the marketplace for those who enjoy their steak.

Check the Labels

Many people's busy schedules don't afford them time to browse farmer's markets or seek out local farms – they need to shop at a grocery store. Understanding labels is crucial here. These three are not the only ones that show your meat is more sustainable, but they are well respected in the industry.

USDA Certified Organic means that the animals ate 100% organic feed and received only vitamin supplements when necessary. Furthermore, they had year-round access to the outdoors.

The American Grassfed Association and other institutions provide 3rd party certification for claims the government does not regulate. They have high standards and manually inspect farms that apply. However, the process can be expensive for small farms, even if their cows are genuinely 100% grass-fed. 

Certified Humane certification ensures that the animals live comfortably, handled by farmers properly trained in animal welfare best practices. The certification forbids hormone use but does not investigate whether they are grass or grain-fed. 

Buy from a Local Butcher You Trust

The last decade has seen an increase in sustainable butcher shops in cities across the country. Many are small shops that have close partnerships with small local farmers. Unlike the meat from a local grocery chain, you may not see many "Certified Organic" or "100% Grass Fed" – these labels are costly for small farmers. Nevertheless, the butcher will know about and be willing to share all the info you want about their sources.

Ask at a Farmer’s Market

Farmer's markets are excellent places for nutritious, sustainable food of any kind. In addition to produce, you may see stands of local poultry, dairy, and beef farmers. Typically (but not always!), food at a farmer's market will have a shorter supply chain than anything from a grocery store. Just make sure to ask first – some farmers sell products at markets they have not grown themselves. Fortunately, most will love to share their passion for food with customers.

Get a Whole Cow (Half Will Do!)

Better, more sustainable meat will cost more – but buying in bulk is a great way to mitigate the damage. If you have a large freezer, consider buying an entire animal (or half!) from a nearby sustainable farm. Yes, it's a lot of meat, but they will butcher it for you into familiar – and not so familiar – cuts that you can freeze until you're ready for them. Many people opt to go in on a cow with family or friends nearby. Per pound, this is the most cost-effective way to get sustainable meat. 

Try at Dairy Farms

Although there may be no dedicated beef farms, many dairy farms raise a limited number of animals for meat alongside their milking cows. One of the advantages of getting meat from an organic dairy farm is that the meat cows will generally graze alongside the dairy cows, eating the same healthy forage. They are also less likely to be grain finished, which is usually one of the pitfalls of more extensive beef-dedicated operations.

Key Takeaways
  • Check Online – Many large grocery chains put sustainability information on their websites that is difficult to find in the store. If you've been unable to find answers by looking at labels and talking to the meat department, try the official website.
  • Try Organ Meat – Everyone has a weird relative who eats liver and onions, right? They may be on to something. Organ meats like liver and heart have tremendous nutritional value. Moreover, their unpopularity in the West means eating them reduces animal waste.
  • Check Social Media – There are many communities online filled with people ready to share information (and recipes!) about sustainable meat. Check these out on Instagram to get started.