8095767088?profile=originalWe've advocated on many occasions for reducing the amount of meat in our diets, especially red meat, which generally has the highest carbon footprint of available meat products. But if you are not a committed vegan or vegetarian, you may be working on your "conscious omnivore" skills, choosing everything you eat with care and understanding, including animal products.

We will leave to each individual and family the ethical argument about whether it is acceptable to consume animal products at all. But if you have decided to include some meat in your diet, can you do it in a way that takes the environment and the animal's welfare into account? It's not a simple question, and requires some care in learning about the source of your meat, eggs & dairy. But ultimately you may come home with more nutritious, tastier, and fresher food.

If you're shopping at a major grocery store, your choices will be expanded, but much of the meat will likely come from large, "factory farming" operations. While allowing for more inexpensive cuts of meat, these are not typically healthy places for animals, or the environment around them. Animals are raised or finished in severely cramped quarters, often where they cannot even turn around. Their treatment can be stressful and inhumane. Often fed an unnatural diet of animal"byproducts" such as chicken dung, fast-food refuse and corn -- sometimes along with plastic pellets for "roughage" -- they need drugs to stay alive. Their highly concentrated wastes become sources of pollution that blight rivers, seas and whole areas of land.8095768078?profile=original

To meet consumer's concerns about animal welfare, a number of certifications, or "seals" have been created to give some sense of how the animal was raised. Unfortunately these seals, and terms like "free-range," "cage-free" and "humane," are not regulated, and there is no universal standard for animal welfare, like there is for organic food. However, doing a little research into what these labels actually mean will at least give you a basic idea of what conditions were like on the farm or in the field.

But to really understand where your meat comes from, the best choice is to find a provider you can talk to. The simplest way to do that is to visit a farmer's market where they sell their products. A number of local markets feature at least one meat provider, and they are always happy to talk about their animals. For example, Hanson Family Farms visits the Concord, Livermore and Clayton markets regularly. There are also CSA programs that include meat, which can be delivered or picked up. You might find that you need a larger freezer if you subscribe to one of those programs. When you talk to your provider about their practices, you may find that they are working toward some form of regenerative agriculture, which seeks to restore pastureland and offset the carbon emissions from raising the animals. That practice, along with a reduction in overall meat consumption, can have a profound effect on the carbon footprint of livestock operations. And as with many things, the smaller the better. Yes, you may pay a little more, but in terms of planetary "costs," we will all pay a lot less.

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