Your meat and what to look for

More resources are available on the Products & Places page, but here’s a summary of what to look for (and where) when buying your humanely raised meats.

There may be others, but here’s a short list of local grocers that carry humanely raised products.

When shopping, look for these key words on your meats:

  • Beef: Look for “pastured”, “pastured-raised”, “non-confined”, “no added hormones” and “no antibiotics” labels.
  • Pork: Look for “pastured”, “pasture-raised”, “free-range”, “non-confined” or “raised in deep-bedded housing” labels.Under federal regulations hormones are not allowed in raising pigs.
  • Chicken: Look for “pastured”, “pastured-raised”, “non-confined” and “no hormones” labels. Beware of the “cage-free” and “range-free” labels because they don’t tell the whole story about whether chickens were treated humanely. Under federal regulations hormones are not allowed in raising chickens.
  • Eggs: Look for “pastured” or “pasture-raised” labels. Beware of the “cage-free” and “range-free” labels because they don’t tell the whole story about whether chickens were treated humanely.
  • Dairy: Look for “pastured”, “pasture-raised”, “no hormones” and “no antibiotics” labels.

Company Response – Steakhouses + Others

I finally got a hold of the folks at House of Prime Rib, Alexander’s Steakhouse and Boulevard today!

Bad news first.

HOPR responded that they “they do their best”  to buy humanely-raised meat(the general manager didn’t sound too convincing on the phone ) but that they do buy their meat from Cargill only.  After doing some research on the website, it loos like Cargill is considered to be one of the cleaner and better run slaughterhouses, but it is still just another CAFO.  So sad!

Good news.

Spoke to a very interested meat buyer at Alexander’s Steakhouse (the Cupertino location) who explained that some of the items on the menu are humanely-raised, while others are not.  Even though they don’t currently make buying decisions according to how the animals are raised, they are very open to it.  The gentleman I spoke with, C., asked me to send him an email summing up my questions and our conversation, and said that at Alexander’s they want to please the customer and are very open to carrying humanely-raised products if that is what the customers are asking for.  Yay!  Go Alexander’s!

More good news.

Had a great conversation with the manager at Boulevard who said that Nancy Oakes, chef at Boulevard, is extremely dedicated to buying humanely-raised meat and sustainably farmed seafood.  Their menu even has the following disclaimer “our menu is guided by the principles of sustainability.”  Yes!! Next time you’re at Boulevard, enjoy the delicious food and know you’re eating kind!

Still waiting to hear back from Forbes.

One week into it

After doing hours and hours of research (luckily work hasn’t been super busy, not that I’m using work time for anything not work-related….) I found out that there are some resources out there that help consumers figure out where to shop and eat.  I suppose it’s been easier than I expected to make this change, although I’ve been focused mostly on grocers, not restaurants.

Most restaurants I did ask (I won’t name names) had absolutely no idea what I was asking about.  A waiter at one restaurant thought I wanted free chicken when I asked if they offer free-range chicken.

A chef at a German restaurant downtown San Jose got very agitated when asked if the restaurant serves humanely-raised meat. He had asked me “if I was some kind of a vegetarian“, and without waiting for me to respond went into a tirade about how “there are six billion people on this planet and we rule the earth“, that if “the cows and pigs weren’t cheaply raised in feedlots, many would starve” and that “the little suckers are going to die anyway, so who cares.” His last comment about the “little suckers” was accompanied by a taser/electrocution noise. He must have added that for emphasis.

As annoyed as I was at his heartless words, it was a great learning experience and I walked away with two lessons. One, his statement about the cost-effectiveness of feedlots is a great one. Solution to the problem is not just about awareness and accessibility but also about affordability. While I don’t mind and can pay a few more dollars for free-range eggs and pastured beef, many others may not be as fortunate. It’s something I need to be more sensitive about and something I need to keep in mind as I talk to grocers, restaurants, and consumers.

Two, I’m starting to realize that animals who end up “food” after they die, are often thought of as “food” even while they live. Their ticket to the slaughterhouse defines them as beef and pork when they are still cow and and pig. Which makes it easy for us not to care, because they are just food, right? After all, I don’t care if my potatoes are thrown around carelessly or cringe at the image of my lettuce packed closely with a thousand of other lettuce heads. To the argument, “if they are going to die anyway, who cares how they live”, I have a very simple answer. Last time I checked we, as in human beings, will also one day die, and there are very few of us out there who don’t care how we live meanwhile. In fact, we spend an exorbitant amount of time, money, energy, you name it, to make sure that our lives before our final hour comes, are as good as they can possibly be. Our unavoidable death does not diminish the quality of our lives, and it shouldn’t for our hoofed friends either!

Companies’ Response – Chipotle


Yes, Chipotle is a little expensive but I think their food is extremely fresh and tasty.  And during my last visit to this gourmet burrito joint, I noticed that a portion of their menu describes how each of their meats (cows, pigs, chickens, even dairy cows) is treated, i.e. no antibiotics, no hormones.  Additional details are available on their website. I wrote to them to clarify whether the animals are also raised humanely.  Here’s their response (it’s a lengthy one, but worth the read):

Thanks for writing us. We serve naturally-raised meats in our restaurants and this means that our livestock meets our natural-raised standards. We define naturally-raised as meat that comes from animals that are raised in a humane way, never given antibiotics or added hormones, and fed a pure vegetarian diet. All of our animals have room to roam but not all of our farms meet the criteria for “cage-free/free-range” and therefore, we classify them as naturally-raised. 

Additionally, with regard to having “room to roam,” this all depends on size of the bird. For example, larger birds are going to have more square feet per bird. The general rule of thumb is that you can walk into the house and easily have at least three feet of space around you. The birds will scatter a little if there is room so having a 3-foot space all the way around you, easily, is actually a six-foot diameter circle. Rest assured, our chickens are raised in a large living space with plenty of room to move around and access to daylight. Unfortunately, chickens will consume anything they may find on the ground. Sometimes the things they find are good, but in other instances they do not have a discerning pallet and can consume things they shouldn’t.

This environment also allows us to control the chickens’ diet so that we can ensure that what they are eating is healthy and well-balanced, in addition to being 100-percent vegetarian and free of animal by-products. We have also worked with the leading humane treatment expert, Temple Grandin, who has approved our standards, which include diet/nutrition, space requirements for the animals, and very specific metrics regarding humane handling slaughter. Despite our efforts, we also know that there is a lot of room for improvement.

We have looked at free-range and we’ve even purchased from farmers who do this in the past. Unfortunately, demand far exceeds supply. We have made a lot of progress in selecting suppliers who practice techniques which vastly improve the quality of life for chickens, but we know we can do more. And we are definitely working on it. While we know there is more we can do, we’ve also come a long way so that is encouraging since we really believe it can be done and we’re committed to it.

They sound pretty genuine about their efforts and their concern about farm animal welfare.  Go Chipotle!