How the Paleo Diet Helped Me Become a More Ethical Meat Eater

In September 2013, I made a big lifestyle change: I went paleo. It started as a personal 30 day experiment motivated by the desire to conquer some lingering health issues. I was so impressed with how I looked and felt at month’s end, I stuck with it. I’m no paleo perfectionist, but here we are eight months later, and still going strong.

In some circles, paleo is a controversial diet. Personally I hate the name and the ‘caveman’ references it conjures up. Despite what you may have heard, paleo eaters are not obsessed with meat. In fact, vegetables make up a bigger portion of my diet than ever before. Still, animal protein is a central tenant (though it is possible to be a vegetarian paleo), which, in today’s food system, means making some tough choices.

(At this point let me clarify that the purpose of this post isn’t to convince anyone to be paleo or even to eat meat. I believe that we are each different, with different nutritional needs that guide our dietary choices. I have nothing but respect for vegetarians and vegans. I understand the ethical and environmental arguments made by both camps. At the same time, I acknowledge that some of us will never shake our omnivorous nature. And some just don’t want to. This post is for those who eat meat, but would like to do so in an ethical manner.)

One thing that many people (myself included) don’t realize is the importance modern paleo eating places on sourcing high quality animal products. A major part of the diet is giving up foods full of additives, artificial/refined ingredients, and chemicals, which also means giving up animals who are fed these things.

Ask any paleo expert and they’ll tell you that a huge portion of the “conventional” meat in grocery stores is off limits. Even though I was an omnivore before going paleo, the diet has helped me to drastically re-evaluate my animal protein choices. I’m much more selective about the brands and labels I trust, which pushes me toward the most ethical choices in any situation.

My 3 Questions: Where was it raised/kept? What was it fed? How was it slaughtered?

Led by those questions, I’ve created a type of hierarchy when shopping. Here it is along with some ideas for those who want to buy high-quality meat from companies with ethical standards that actually mean something.

1. Local and Pastured/Pasture-Raised

Knowing the farm (and the farmer) is always best. When your meat is local, there’s no guess work. You see where the animals are kept, what they’re fed, and where they’re slaughtered for yourself. Supporting local farmers is good for the environment and the economy, not to mention that it’s often cheaper because you can buy in bulk directly from the producer. Not sure if there’s a local option near you? Search for information about pasture-based farming and a state-by-state directory of local farmers who sell directly to consumers.

2. Online and Pastured/Pasture-Raised

Unlike the term “free-range” which rarely means what you think it does, pastured or pasture-raised is meat that has been raised outdoors on actively managed pasture (grass) using the techniques of rotational grazing on nutrient dense forage crops. This means concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) and gestational crates are out of the question. Since this type of meat is hard to come by in conventional grocery stores, retailers willing to ship pastured products have become popular. See US Wellness Meats, Grow and Behold, Burgundy Pasture Beef, Good Earth Farms and many more.

3. Organic

These animals eat only organic feed (by definition, organic feed, even when mostly grain, is non-GMO and not sprayed with chemical pesticides or herbicides unless they are on the OMRI ‘acceptable substance’ list). Organic animals are not given hormones or antibiotics for any purpose. These animals must also have “access to the outdoors, including access to pasture for ruminants.” However this doesn’t always mean green fields in which to romp and forage. “More often than not it means a door on the side of a barn. While it may be open, animals may never be encouraged to use it,” explains Grow and Behold. Also keep in mind that some organic meat is finished in feedlots. Again local is best so start with your farmers market or food co-op. After that, consider Applegate Farms, Organic Prairie, or other brands with well-documented ethical standards.

4. Grass-fed

This label is regulated by the USDA and means animals eat only forage grasses after they are weaned. Ideally it’s also combined with an organic label, but not always. Grass-fed animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. However, as we’ve seen with the term free-range, “access to pasture” can be a subjective term. In some cases, grass-fed animals can still have precious little exposure to fresh air or room to roam, especially when they’re “finished” on grain in feedlots.

Are you a meat eater? What criteria do you use to make healthy, ethical choices? Share your thoughts and ideas in a comment.

Image via booleansplit

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Gerald L.
Gerald L.11 days ago

Marie B; In defence of Jacquelin E'. I also am not climbing unto your turnip cart of "animal sentience" attempting to criminalize meat eating. Are you not a pet owner, are they vegan?

Ref: Marie B. @ 6:01pm PDT on Oct 6, 2015
'Jacquelin E', you find it "funny" to hear that someone saying "meat is murder"?? Where do you even compare 'anti-biotic' to living sentient beings that breathe, have hearts beating, have brains, feel, have relationships, ect..?? What does a tiger or cat or any sentient beings have to do with this?? The topic is about HUMANS, and as long people kill animals, there is no 'ethical' way to eat animals.
No chicken is "proud" because you choose her to be murdered so you can eat her. You've got to be kidding.

Marie B.
Marie B.1 months ago

'Jacquelin E', you find it "funny" to hear that someone saying "meat is murder"?? Where do you even compare 'anti-biotic' to living sentient beings that breathe, have hearts beating, have brains, feel, have relationships, ect..?? What does a tiger or cat or any sentient beings have to do with this?? The topic is about HUMANS, and as long people kill animals, there is no 'ethical' way to eat animals.
No chicken is "proud" because you choose her to be murdered so you can eat her. You've got to be kidding.

Jacquelin E.
Jacquelin E.3 months ago

I find it's funny to hear that someone saying 'meat is murder', how about anti-biotic is murder? cell in our body is it consider innocent life too? every plant that grow also with cell and life. It's just a life cycle of a nature, tiger eat deer, deer eat grass, human eat both but some don't. Dog eat meat, so it is also murderer? Cat eat meat, oh no my little kitten ate fish yesterday, so she became a murderer. I hope I didn't offended someone here that is vegetarian or vegan, as you have your choices not to eat meat than stop offend me as a meat eater and I believe the chicken be so proud that I chose to eat her so can take part to give protein to my body. Unlike the grain and bean causes me pain and disease.

Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne Brown7 months ago

thanks for sharing

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompsonabout a year ago

I could live with this diet.

Tim L.
Tim L.about a year ago

Meat is murder! How can anyone even begin to believe that murdering an innocent living being is ethical. If an animal is sick and suffering, it is ethical to end its misery, but to kill an animal because you crave that bit of flesh is in no way ethical. You don't need meat. You want meat because you grew up eating meat. Evolution is still going on. Some people haven't yet evolved to a higher level of compassion. They are still like their cave ancestors.

Gerald L.
Gerald L.1 years ago

Yesterday May 22, 2014 on Cbc Radio's Ontario Today which has a phone in component and online interaction after 1pm. interviewed author Mike Sheridan a personal trainer who through observation has negative opinions about the vegan diet. The Interview was titled; Are You Exercising Too Much?

His book is titled "Eat Meat and Stop Jogging, Common Advice on How to Get Fit, Is Keeping You Fat and Making You Sick" argues you can do more for yourself by doing this. The Paleo diet is promoted. He recommends Vegans and Vegetarians read his book, because of observations over the years he has witnessed the negative long term aspects of the anti-animal protein centric diet.

Lynda H.
Lynda H.1 years ago

When you’re “chowing down” on your grain products, (using negative word association is an unethical tactic you know) remember that it costs 55 sentient lives for every 100 kg of grain protein.

2.2 cattle are killed for 100 kg of useable beef protein. That would take me personally well over 10 years to consume.

Your annual consumption (assuming US average) of wheat is 81.6 kilos, which is between 10.2 and 10.7 kilos of protein. That’s 5 mice - PLUS snakes, lizards, birds, rabbits, moles, voles, frogs, not to mention spiders and insects - per year. In 10 years, that would be 55: that’s 25 times more animals killed per 100 kg of protein. And they die in agony; poisoned, slashed by harvest blades, mangled by tilling machinery.

If you eat wheat, rice, oats, barley, corn, soy, and various vegetable oils, (I do not) you could be unintentionally causing the deaths of 30 or more sentient beings. I don’t just eat beef, of course: adding up a rough tally for one year I estimate a maximum of 10 animals (including calf and male chick) plus numerous sardines. You may be indirectly causing many more animal deaths than me, so be careful when you sling the word ‘hypocrite’.

Lynda H.
Lynda H.1 years ago

Tim, I said “If you hate all these people…you are on the wrong path”: if you do not then that’s good, but I’ll need a little more convincing.

An ethical meat eater is one who never buys or eats meat or animal products unless they have made enquiries and are satisfied that it was produced humanely and sustainably. There is no hypocrisy. Your decisions are based on ethical considerations and so are mine: we just have different perspectives.

Tim L.
Tim L.1 years ago

Lynda, Lynda, Lynda What about your statement about The Vegan New World Order. Your hatred is aimed at the groups who are against those who harm animals and since most of these people are vegans you come up with The Vegan New World Order. You said, "“Whoopee!” say some of the vegans: “I’ll vote for that!” - but they don’t realise that the “Vegan New World Order” will make it illegal for them to keep a cat, dog, horse, bird - or any animal as a pet/companion. That’s collateral damage. An unavoidable necessity in the obsessive campaign to end all animal agriculture and force the vegan diet on all people against their will."
That is the same BS that is being spewd out by the NAIA and the CCF, and both organizations pretend to care about animals.
And again you make up something and claim that I said it. Maybe someone can explain this to Lynda: I do not hate anyone simply because they eat meat. Most of the people I know are meat eaters, but they don't pretend that they are "Ethical Meat Eaters." I do hate Hypocrits. When you're chowing down on that piece of meat, don't try to pretend that you give a damn about the horror and suffering that animal went through on the way to your plate, because you don't.