If there is one thing that every American needs to know about our current food supply, it's what we've done to our animals and animal products. When clients ask us what the most important thing to buy organic/clean is, our answer is always animal products.

Simply put, you eat what the animal eats. The meat coming from a cow that ate corn (or often, in factory farms, much worse) is dramatically different than the meat from a cow that ate grass. Then we have chickens. Chickens should not be fed soy because that will negatively affect your hormonal balancing by increasing estrogen, lowering testosterone, and blocking your thyroid's ability to uptake iodine. Chickens are not vegetarians by nature so we should not pay more for vegetarian fed chickens/eggs. They should be eating flies and worms, increasing the fatty acid and protein content of their meat and eggs.

The hormones that our animals are injected with today are destroying our collective hormonal health, and the antibiotics in their feed kill the good flora in our guts, leading to a wide array of health issues, including a weak and broken immune system.

Then there is the issue of how that animal was raised and treated within a factory farm setting. Many of you have likely seen Food Inc, so we will not get into it, but let's just say that no sentient being should ever be treated that way. And it is true that you are eating the energy of the animal when you consume its meat, so the quality of life that animal experienced pays itself forward, good or bad.

We are so grateful that Whole Foods has implemented a 5-step Animal Welfare Rating Program to help consumers navigate this crazy food supply, to protect our choice for natural eating, and to lookout for animal welfare.  We love to share their rating program with our clients so that they can feel good about their consumption choices. We recommend only purchasing products that are step 3, 4 and 5 whenever possible. Here is a summary of the steps. Keep in mind that all build off of each other, so for example, everything in Step 1 is also a requirement for all the other steps as well.

STEP 1: No cages, no crates, no crowding, no hormones/antibiotics

Farmers and ranchers must focus on animal welfare and not include antibiotics, growth hormones or animal byproducts. Birds must have enough space to flap their wings without touching other birds. Independent third-party audits. For pigs, no crates, stalls or cages are allowed. Bedding is required in all housing, space is required for pigs to exercise and move freely without obstruction. No tail docking, tooth clipping, de-tusking or disk nose rings allowed. Maximum transport time is 14 hours. Electric prods prohibited, no growth hormones/antibiotics. For cattle, 2/3 of life on range/pasture, at least 50% vegetative cover on range/pasture, maximum castration age 6 months using approved method for Step 1. Dehorning and routine horn tipping prohibited. Minimum weaning age of 6 months, 25 hour max transport time, no auction barn purchases, bedding required in all housing, space to exercise and move freely without obstruction, no hormones/antibiotics, animals must be protected from heat or cold (extreme weather) and calves can only be moved to access range/pasture with mother.

STEP 2: Enriched environment

No physical alterations allowed including no beak trimming, de-spurring or dubbing. Animals have a maximum of 8-hours of transportation time. There must be at least one enrichment in housing and covers or blinds must be provided in housing so chickens can hide/isolate themselves from other birds. For pigs, everything from step 1 plus an enriched environment. For cattle, objects must be provided for grooming and scratching, which is part of their natural behavior (plus everything from step 1).

STEP 3: Enhanced outdoor access

In step 3, shad is required in all outdoor areas, continuous outdoor access required for all birds, two housing enrichments, no physical alterations allowed. Maximum 4-hour transportation time. For pigs, continuous, unobstructed outdoor access required as well as enrichments in housing to encourage foraging behavior. There is no Step 3 for cattle. Includes everything from step 1 and 2.

STEP 4: Pasture centered

Sufficient vegetative material in forage areas to encourage natural behavior. At least 50% vegetative cover on the pasture. Birds must live continuously on pasture foraging areas. For pigs, unrestricted access to wallows, at least 25% vegetative cover on pasture, sufficient vegetative material in forage areas to encourage natural behavior and continuous access to pasture or foraging areas required when seasonal conditions permit; outdoor access required at all times; duration of seasonal removal limited. For cattle, the pasture/range must provide an environment for expression of natural behavior. At least 50% vegetative cover must be provided on the range, at least 3/4 of the animal’s life must be on the pasture/range and there is a maximum castration age of 3 months using approved methods. Includes everything from step 1-3.

STEP 5: Animal centered; bred for the outdoors

Sufficient vegetative material in forage areas to encourage natural behavior. At least 50% vegetative cover on pasture. For pigs, on-farm or local slaughter, pigs remain with their litter for their whole lives. For cattle, branding and ear notching are prohibited, pasture/range must provide an environment for the expression of natural behavior, at least 75% vegetative cover on the pasture required, castration is prohibited and the animal must live their entire lives on the range/pasture. There is also a maximum transportation time of 8 hours. Includes every requirement from steps 1-4.

STEP 5+: Animal centered; entire life on the same farm 

Chicks must be bred, hatched and raised on an integrated farm. Group size is less than 500 birds. No more than 2 birds per hand during catching. Birds must be carried upright, one at a time. Birds must be able to perch. For cattle, the animal must have an on-farm or local slaughter and no transportation time is allowed.  Includes everything from steps 1-5.

Step 5+ is as close to the way nature intended and the way most animals were raised before we started dramatically over consuming meat and industrializing our food supply. Animals living the life they were intended to live, eating what they would naturally choose to eat. Simple, yet now there is an entire guidebook about the different phases and stages of our food supply. To us it makes no sense, and we often feel like more than half of our work is guiding people to just eat real food and navigate away from the land mine that our food supply has become.

Regardless of the politics, we are so grateful to Whole Foods for shining consciousness and awareness around this pressing issue. They are huge pioneers in imposing the standards we need to improve our food supply, decentralize farming, and get Americans back to a greater state of health and balance. Please eat meat responsibly and with reverence.