Modern wisdom might lead you to believe that animal-product-free living is the only way to eat with your conscience intact. Sure, you’re eschewing meat, cheese and other products produced at the expense of a living creature — but it might not be the best diet for you and your health.
Fortunately, there are ways to rectify an omnivorous diet in your mind and in your heart. The following four tips will help you become an ethical meat eater, which means you can feel good about what you eat, animal product or not.
1. Make Fruits and Veggies Your Base
There’s a reason people can be healthy on a vegetarian or vegan diet: Fruits and vegetables contain so many of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need. That’s why your body still needs nourishment from fresh produce, even if you’re eating meat or adding it back into your diet.
Start your foray into life as an ethical omnivore by making fresh produce the basis of all your meals. You might go for a grilled chicken breast served over a bed of lettuce, a handful of meatballs over a bed of zucchini noodles or even a green smoothie for breakfast — it doesn’t matter.
Adding a healthy serving of vegetables and fruits into every meal will make your diet more varied and, therefore, healthier. And, it’ll make you feel good about your omnivorous food choices if the base of your diet is fresh produce instead of animal products.
2. Know Your Labels
Food companies know how many of us are into feel-good, delicious foods. As such, they plaster labels on their products that make them seem as though they’re earth- and body-friendly. It’s up to you to know which of these are worth your attention.
Let’s start with the “all-natural” stickers, because these are potentially the most problematic. Though it may seem official, no overarching body regulates this phrase, which means it’s up to the manufacturer to decide whether they want to label their products all-natural. And, considering how many of us prefer to put non-processed products into our bodies, food brands use this label generously to market their products. In other words, take this one with a grain of salt.
Organic products have more stringent guidelines to meet to earn the sticker. Animals must get time outdoors so they can experience a more traditional life. To that end, organic farmers also can’t use hormone or antibiotic treatments other producers may use to boost the animals’ growth rate. In other words, this meat and dairy is better for the livestock and, therefore, better in your ethical quest.
You should add another must-have when you’re buying beef, milk or other cow-centric products: the grass-fed label. This designation signifies the cattle grazed on grass, which is more sustainable than factory farming. Plus, the animals get to stick to their natural diet, which results in healthier cuts of meat down the line.
3. Think About the Animals
In your attempt to become an ethical omnivore, the animals are likely at the forefront of your mind. It’s no secret some companies pay little attention to how well they treat their livestock, so long as they can make the biggest profit from their products. You’ll obviously want to steer clear of brands known to act like this.
The only problem is, how can you tell just from looking at a carton of eggs, a bag of shredded cheese or a wall of pre-packed cuts of meat? It’s up to you to do your research and find brands whose ethics match yours. There are plenty of cage-free operations, which allow animals free rein of farmland so they live less stressful lives. Other farmers ensure the food they feed their livestock is plant-based, so they grow naturally healthy without the aid of hormones.
As we mentioned before, you can use labels to help you find the food that fits with your moral mindset. For example, the United Egg Producers have a certification label that’s as good as a promise your eggs have come from humanely treated chickens. Not only do these birds live in comfortable, non-crowded shelters, but the farmers also handle them gently to cause them less stress throughout their egg-laying process.
Knowing this information should put your mind at ease as you make a shift into omnivore territory. And, by supporting producers who put these practices at the forefront, you’re inspiring other farmers to do the same to attract more business from like-minded customers.
4. Eat Seasonally
Once upon a time, you couldn’t find whatever produce you wanted at any time of year. Instead, you had to wait until the particular fruit or vegetable came into season — the growing conditions had to be just right to cultivate juicy summer peaches or funky fall gourds.
Now, though, with the advent of improved farming technology and the expansion of international trade and commerce, you can get anything any time of year. This convenience may seem great, but it comes with a few caveats: For starters, shipping products across borders means your out-of-season produce requires quite a bit of extra fuel to get it to you. Plus, it’s better to listen to Mother Nature and eat what she provides at the right time of year.
So, in your quest to eat more ethically, you’ll want to learn how to eat seasonally. Most importantly, you’ll have to learn what to eat, when. It might get a bit monotonous in winter, when fewer products are available for you to eat. But you can mix things up by learning different preparation methods so your meals taste different, despite being the same base fruit or veggie.
These are four pillars of ethical eating, but they’re also just a jumping-off point into your more earth-conscious diet plan. As you get deeper and deeper into it, you’re sure to find one thing to be true: You’ll feel better all around if you feel good about what you’re eating. Now, dig in.