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There are a lot of reasons to be a vegetarian. You love animals. You believe that  raising animals for food is bad for the environment.  You worry about saturated fats and high cholesterol.  These are all reasons I used to cite when asked by friends and family why I don’t eat meat.

Now, I eat meat, and I feel as if I’m choosing sides–my carnivorous friends are giddy with excitement watching me eat meat. My vegetarian friends seem to think that I’m no longer interested in a veggie burger or lunch at Cafe Gratitude.  I haven’t been eating veggie burgers and avocado sandwiches the last five years because I had to. I like them. I really do.

On my first drive up I-5, I decided to stop eating beef.

So, why did I start eating meat again?  First off, there’s bad meat and there’s good meat.  Bad meat is raised in a factory, treated inhumanely, fed food that is not part of the animal’s natural diet, and treated with antibiotics.  Bad meat is shipped to your grocery store from thousands of miles away. (Talk about a carbon foot print!) The worst of all bad meats is ground beef that comes from multiples sources across state and country lines.  Beef from various sources is mixed together and treated with chemicals and, ultimately, cannot even be traced to its original source. I don’t know about you, but I like to know where my food comes from as well as what’s in it!

Good meat is treated humanely, fed food that it part of it’s natural diet, and not treated with antibiotics and hormones.  Good meat doesn’t have to travel far to reach your plate.  Good meat is available at your farmers’ market and local natural foods store.

Happy cows at Gleason Ranch

The debate between what’s better: cheap mass-produced meat or humanly-treated and locally-raised meats is a non-issue for me, but not for everyone. The real reason I am no longer a vegetarian is because, rather than removing myself from the debate entirely, I am actively supporting humane food production practices that I can stand behind and feel good about. People are not going to stop eating meat. Meat tastes good and can be part of a healthy diet. The more people who support local farmers and butchers that treat their animals humanely, the more momentum the movement will gain.

I know it’s expensive to buy meat from local farmers, so here are some considerations:

Buy meat on the bone.  It’s less processed, and you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint as a result. And, you can use the bones to make delicious stocks that add a plethora of nutrients to your soups, risotto, and other grains.

Buy local first, then organic.  Local producers tend to be smaller businesses that are less likely than mass producers to be able to afford organic certification.  Support them. They need it.

Eat less meat! Meat doesn’t have to be the focal point of every meal.

I’d love to hear you thoughts on other ways to eat meat responsibly.