As a chef, Matt Kern prefers to purchase meat that comes from humanely raised animals because it tastes better. The avid outdoorsman also appreciates farmers and fishermen who want to protect the environment. But there is another reason why the owner of One Coastal in Fenwick Island chooses sustainable products.
“I didn’t want to question my conscience,” says Kern, whose daughter is studying to be a veterinarian. “I love the planet, and chefs have an opportunity to save the planet. It’s up to us to eliminate food waste and make responsible decisions when it comes to food for human consumption.”
Consumers can also do their part, and in the Delaware and Delmarva regions, it’s easy to do with minimum effort.
What’s in a Name?
Sustainable meat and seafood are from animals raised according to environmental best practices. The need is pressing. Raising animals for meat produces more greenhouse gases than transportation, and half of methane and two-thirds of nitrous oxide comes from crop and livestock production, according to the Land Health Institute.
Many sustainable farms take a “no waste” stance. Consider Enoch Farms in Denton, Maryland, which specializes in heritage pork with no genetic modifications and a lamb valued for meat, not wool. The farm sells the meat at the Historic Lewes Farmers Market.
“We use the entire animal, including organ meats,” says Hannah Combs, who co-owns the farm with her husband, Randy Combs. Along with the expected cuts of meat, customers can buy sausages, scrapple, pig feet and neck bones. It’s consistent with the nose-to-tail approach to eating our ancestors took, which meant more nourishment and no waste.
Humane growing practices are another aspect of sustainable meat production. For instance, animals move freely between shelters and pasture. “It’s a more natural growing process,” Combs says.
In Felton, Jenny and Zach Dittmar grow produce and raise cattle, sheep, chickens, turkeys, goats and rabbits. Each cow has about 2 acres for roaming, and the herd moves to a different area for about 30 days to let the previous section regenerate.
Beachdog Farm in Georgetown specializes in heritage animals, including KuneKune pigs, a small New Zealand breed; White Holland turkeys; Sussex chicken from Sussex, England, not Sussex County; Champagne d’Argent rabbits; and Welsh Harlequin ducks. Owner Lisa Clow lets the birds sit on their eggs to hatch them.
Good for Animals and Humans
Pasture-raised animals have a more natural existence. “The farm has a peaceful disposition,” says Clow, who has a doctorate in public health. She notes that some large-scale farms with crowded pens debeak the poultry to prevent injuries.
In theory, a low stress level positively affects the quality of the meat. Jenny Dittmar has witnessed the benefits. She became a farmer partly to address multiple food allergies. “I could not eat beef. I could not eat chicken, and I could not even handle dairy,” she explains. “I do think it has a lot to do with the processing of the animals. It might also have to do with the animal diets.”
The couple started with a half-acre and now have 38. “I have not struggled with allergies since we started raising animals,” says Dittmar, who uses goat milk to drink and to make soap.
Because the animals are outside, they absorb sunlight, Combs adds, which means the meat has vitamin D. According to the Mayo Clinic, grass-fed beef may have a lower total fat content. Dittmar Farms’ meat is grass-fed and grass-finished, which results in leaner meat. Some grass-fed cows are given grain toward the end of their lives to create the marbling that many consumers prize. However, several breeds that eat grass naturally produce marbled beef.
Grass-fed beef may also offer more heart-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and antioxidant vitamins, including vitamin E, than meat from grain-fed cows.
Dealing directly with a grower also reduces the risk of spoilage or contamination. The animals are on the farm until they go to the butcher.
“You’re getting quality control—there is no third party,” Combs says. The meat hasn’t traveled long distances on a truck or in a grocery store. “We deliver to the butcher on a Wednesday, and the customer has it by Saturday. You can’t get any fresher than that.”
On Land and Sea
Eating consciously isn’t limited to livestock. You can select seafood with sustainability in mind. For instance, Kern looks for invasive species harming local waterways. Take, for example, the wild blue catfish, which was introduced to the Chesapeake Bay in the 1970s for anglers.
The fish has few predators and a voracious appetite for just about anything on the bay’s bottom. “You couldn’t find a more pristine, beautiful fish that lives in a beautiful watershed, and it’s wreaking havoc,” Kern says. “It’s not supposed to be there, and it goes unchecked. The more we eat, the better the health of the bay.”
The equally invasive northern snakefish—native to China, Russia and Korea—is now known as Chesapeake dragonfish to encourage consumption. (People liked the flavor but not the off-putting name.)
Kern won’t buy farm-raised Atlantic salmon. “It is incredibly unhealthy for the planet, the species and us,” he says. Farmed salmon has a higher risk for disease and contaminants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and persistent organic pollutants, according to American Oceans, a campaign to restore and protect waterways.
Avoid purchasing overfished or protected species. Greenpeace (greenpeace.org) has a list of species whose low stock destabilizes the food chain. The list also includes species that are fished irresponsibly.
Admittedly, pasture-raised, grass-fed meat and sustainable seafood will cost more. Partly, that’s because it requires more effort on the farmer or fisherman’s part, and certain heritage breeds take longer to mature than conventional ones. Many farms are small, and the price reflects their expenses.
To find local purveyors, check out farmers market vendor lists. Many also sell direct to consumers from the farm, or they deliver. Sea Grant of Delaware has a list of seafood suppliers at deseagrant.org/de-seafood-suppliers.
If you visit the supermarket, look for one or more of the following on the label:
- Global Animal Partnership or Animal Welfare Approved
- Grass-Fed and Grass-Finished
- Certified Humane
- USDA Organic
And, like Kern, let your conscience be your guide.