Finding Food Beyond Factory Farms

On The Huffington Post blog this past week, Nicolette Hahn Niman posted an eater’s guide to avoiding factory food. An attorney and livestock rancher, Niman spends much of her time speaking and writing about the problems resulting from industrialized livestock production. She even wrote a book about it called Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms. Interestingly, she is married to Bill Niman, founder of Niman Ranch, a natural meat company supplied by a network of over 600 traditional farmers and ranchers.

Here’s the first part of her eater’s guide, in a nutshell:

Be prepared to pay more.

Americans are used to shopping by price–even for something as important as food. What’s deceiving, however, is that you may pay less for food now but pay more for it later in terms of health and environmental issues. Good food could be one of the most important factors in staying healthy.  To paraphrase Michael Pollan, you pay your grocer now or pay your doctor later.

Plan on reducing consumption.

Meat and dairy consumption among Americans continues to rise, and many of these foods are processed. Since meat and dairy products from traditional farms currently cost more than factory farm products, cut back on the quantities you buy to accommodate your budget.

Seek food from a known source.

Avoid industrialized food by buying from places you can visit to see how animals and plants are raised. If you can’t get this basic information about your food, don’t buy it. Some of the places I’ve visited to see where my food comes from include: Lubbers Farm and Grassfield’s (as well as the-no-longer-operating Providence Farms). And check out the Ten Reasons to Buy Local from the West Michigan Guide to Local Food.

Ask questions (even if it sometimes seems futile).

“Where is this from? How was it raised?” These are good questions to ask at your local farmers’ market, butcher, community supported agriculture (CSA), and restaurants.

Yesterday I did that very thing at the Holland Farmers’ Market when I saw fresh raspberries for sale, which seemed out of place in November. So I asked the farmer if they were local. (Read more about Michigan raspberries in November for the rest of the story.)

David Becker of The Huffington Post offers a list of questions that might be helpful. Asking questions sends the message to producers, store owners, and restauranteurs that people care about what they eat. Together, we can change our food system.

Know your labels (and their shortcomings).

Food labels can be confusing. What’s the difference between a free range chicken and free range eggs? Niman suggests checking out the USDA as a source since they’re in charge of regulating labels.

Baby-steps are OK (as long as they’re in the right direction).

It’s very challenging to avoid factory farms when you’re used to buying food from a grocery store and eating out. Instead of attempting to quit eating factory food cold turkey, take baby steps–changing one thing at a time.

For example, I have a freezer full of grassfed meat, but I’m still in a quandary about chicken and fish. I’ve been spoiled by storing a case of frozen chicken breasts from Lambert’s Poultry & Seafood in my freezer. They’re so convenient when you need a quick and easy meal. Ever since Bill and I used the last piece of chicken, we haven’t replaced the case. Do you think we’ll give in and buy another? (Your guess is as good as mine!)

And fish? Read more about my fish dilemma.

Consider it an adventure.

While it’s convenient to get all your food at once from the grocery store, consider the challenge–and the fun–in figuring out what’s in season where you live. Ask your farmers for advice on cooking particular foods you are buying (or ask a fellow shopper at the farmer’s market who’s buying what you’re buying). Farmers’ markets, CSAs and local food cooperatives are all great sources for local food. (Here’s a co-op Bill and I are considering for meat to hold us over until our grassfed meat is ready next fall: West Michigan Cooperative.)

Need some resources for finding local foods in your area? Visit and to see what’s available in your region.


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