for those who believe meat-eating can be ethical: in praise of beretta farms

I've mentioned Beretta Farms in many different posts over the years, but I've never specifically blogged about them. With grilling season underway, it's time to give Beretta a shout-out.

When I learned about the horrors of factory farming, first from reading Michael Pollan, and later through other sources, I knew I needed to change my eating habits. I needed to translate my knowledge into action, but I was at a loss for what to do.

In the 1990s, I had eaten a vegetarian (almost vegan) diet for more than two years, but it didn't work for me, and I gave it up. I certainly don't eat meat with every meal, but I learned that I do need animal protein for optimal function. But once the curtain had been lifted on the horrors of factory farming, I could no longer stand the thought of contributing to the industrial food chain, especially as it relates to animal abuse.

The first step was releasing myself from all-or-nothing thinking about food. We're not going to buy only ethically-raised meat or chicken. We can't afford it, and when we go out to eat, we (usually) can't choose the origin of our food. Despite this, we decided that we would try to replace conventional meat with ethically-raised meat to the extent possible.

Researching online, I found Beretta Farms. Beretta Farms is a real farms, run by the Beretta Family, who raise animals by traditional methods and sell meat locally, on a small scale. But Beretta Farms is also a network. For many family-owned, non-industrial farms, the greatest challenge to reaching consumers is distribution. By definition, non-factory farms cannot produce food in sufficient quantities to get their products stocked in major supermarket chains. And in most of North America, if your product does not appear in a chain supermarket, it's very difficult to scratch out a living. From a consumer point of view, you barely exist.

To resolve this issue, a "middle man" (is there no gender-neutral substitute for that word?) is needed, but that link must have equally high standards. For many small farms in this part of Southern Ontario, Beretta Farms is that middle man. [Update from comments: go-between or intermediary might do the job.]

Meat purchased from Beretta comes from animals who live like animals - cows that eat grass, on open pastures, chickens that walk around pecking the ground, pigs whose tails and teeth were not docked (a hideous practice), who were allowed to root around in the earth, and who lived decent pig lives. (We don't eat a lot of pork, by ohmygod you should taste Beretta's sausages!)

Some of the meat is certified organic, but even without the certification (which is out of reach of many small operations), the animals are raised by traditional methods. No feedlots, no antibiotics, no hormones. No cages, no inhumane crowding, no forcing bovines to eat corn. If these issues are not familiar to you, spend some time with Google. Information about Beretta's animal practices is here.

When we first found Beretta in 2008, buying their products was a bit of a production. They were only sold in two or three small stores in our area. The selection was minimal and sometimes, even though the meat was frozen, it was old. We used their delivery service, but the minimum order was very high, the prices were higher, and the delivery was a bit unreliable. On the other hand, their customer service was superb, and the meat was so good. And guilt-free.

Now, only a few years later, we see a wide range of Beretta products at our Whole Foods and a small selection at Loblaws. The prices have come down considerably; the meat is still more expensive than crappy industrial meat, but the price difference is less. And Beretta has a new, user-friendly website which makes ordering a snap. We like to place an order online then pick it up from their butcher shop in Etobicoke (near the airport).

By buying and enjoying Beretta Farm products we support small-scale, local agriculture, we eat healthier, more flavourful food, we contribute less to animal suffering, and we contribute less to environmental destruction.

I once overheard someone say she would only buy her meat from Highland Farms, a local food chain that boasts a huge meat case and butchers who will cut and trim meat to order. She said, "I have to know where my meat comes from!" I thought, how sad, and I wondered how many other consumers are fooled this way. Meat doesn't come from a supermarket. Just because meat is displayed without plastic wrap in the store, doesn't mean it is any safer than meat a rival chain displays in plastic. "100% Canadian" doesn't mean it doesn't come from a factory farm. And "corn fed" or "vegetarian fed" is deceptive advertising. When you see "corn fed," think feed lot.

To find the equivalent of Beretta Farms where you live, try the Eat Wild website, an excellent resource for anyone trying to reduce the level of industrial food in their lives.

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