The ethical line used to be pretty damn clear: either you abstained from eating meat and animal products thus honoring all living creatures, or you were an unabashed omnivore willing to cattle-prod your way to a delicious burger at any cost. Meat was indisputably murder, as it essentially still is, but now with more awareness, and a measure of humanity, being utilized and practiced by certain small-scale purveyors, the act of eating meat still implicates the consumer in the life taken, but just not the presumed cruelty. At any given moment there are about a dozen types of brands and certifications that inform the consumer that their meat is either sustainably harvested, organically raised, grass-fed, or humanely treated – all indicators that a burger is no longer simply a burger. Sure, some of it is just inflated marketing speak, but much of it does indicate that the wind has shifted and feedlot beef, while still the vast majority of what is available to consumers, is very slowly being challenged by meat raised with a higher sense of scruples.
Take Grazin’ for instance. About 2 hours north of New York City, in the long up-and-coming town of Hudson, is the newly opened hamburger haven of Grazin’. Grazin’ looks, acts, and seems like a conventional upstate 50s-styled diner, but is exceptional in at least one regard – it is the first Animal Welfare Approved restaurant in the United States. What this means is that all meat, eggs, and dairy consumed will be from animals that were locally, sustainably, and humanely raised, as certified from Animal Welfare Approved (AWA). The AWA is a non-profit organization founded it 2006 and is dedicated solely to certifying and promoting family farms that raise their animals with the highest welfare standards. Grazin’ boasts that nearly everything served in the restaurant originates from local, family farms within a few miles, and everything was raised strictly in accordance to AWA standards. This means no battery cages, no hormones or antibiotics, and no animal cruelty are at all acceptable. The cows, chickens and pigs roaming the farm graze on a natural pasture diet, and the slaughtering is done, not by a big industrialized slaughterhouse, but by local, and humane, butchers. The meat used to make the signature burgers at Grazin’ comes from the neighboring town of Ghent, where Grazin’ Angus Acres (also owned by the same people behind the Grazin’ diner). As Grazin’ owner Dan Gibson told MeatPoultry.com, “For some time now, I have dreamed about opening a truly sustainable restaurant which serves tasty, nutritious meals using only high-welfare, sustainably produced meat and other ingredients,” Gibson said. “Grazin’ is that restaurant.”
Sure just about any major city, or semi-enlightened town, has a few restaurants, which feature humanely, and sustainably raised beef, pork, what have you, but usually that makes up just a small portion of what the restaurant serves. This unassuming diner is asserting an idea that promises a certain totality and absolutism concerning the issue of animal welfare. Sure dedicated vegans and vegetarians will be left relatively unimpressed by the offerings, as meat is still…well you know. However, should omnivores, animal rights activists, vegans and vegetarians alike take notice when something like Grazin’ opens doors in their town. Does such an entity shift the goal post and render the act of eating meat not so much of a taboo as it once was? Or is eating meat, no matter how local, how sustainably raised, and how grass-fed, still just a dead cow on a bun?