Dale Lasater and one of his grassfed Beefmaster cows, Lasater Ranch, Colorado during the Slow Meat ranch tour. Photo courtesy of Kendra Kimbirauskas.
A few weeks back I was invited to attend the Slow Meat event happening in Denver, Colorado. Since Slow Food does everything a little different, I was considered a 'delegate' supposedly representing my area of the country and the event itself was not really a conference, but a gathering of delegates to talk about issues in the meat supply chain. There was a mixture of workshops, tasting events, networking, and facilitated discussions on a range of topics. From overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture to bottlenecks in meat processing to lack of transparency in meat labels- there were a lot of 'meaty' discussions. Right up my alley.
I went wearing a few different hats and perspectives- first off I work as a Farm & Food Policy Analyst with The Cornucopia Institute, focusing primarily on livestock and poultry issues. Our organization has a lot of concerns over lack of transparency in the meat world, lying or obfuscations around production practices, and lack of clear policy direction from the USDA and FDA on meat, dairy, and egg production. For example, the USDA has yet to define the word "outdoors" when it comes to organic animal production and for the most part turns the cheek to large poultry producers who have no real outdoor access. A roofed, fenced in, concrete floored "porch" is not the outdoors, it is part of the building. This allows industrial organics to corner the marketplace with their 300,000-600,000 bird operations while organic family-farmers can't compete because they are actually raising their birds outdoors with lower stocking densities.
The other hats I wore were that of a meat blogger immersed in the nuances of animal agriculture and an author of a new meat production book called "The New Meat Market". I wanted to hear people's stories, best practices, challenges, and concerns. I spoke to and listened to as many people as I could, including a couple of my favorite farmers Greg Gunthorp and Will Harris, certifier staff from American Grassfed Association and Animal Welfare Approved, meat marketers Jennifer Curtis and Tom Lasater, butchers Francious Vecchio and Camas Davis, and folks working for non-profits such as Kendra Kimbirauskas and Laurie Bower. There were so many others too.
So the event was cool, inspiring, and dynamic. But the point of my post is not to rub in the fact that I got to attend- that's not important. My point is that this event brought together an important slice of the ethical meat world to begin to talk about our challenges and hopes for the future as a group. I can't think of another space where that has occured. For Slow Food USA to move beyond just being a bunch of foodie potluck gatherings into this space of the future of animal agriculture and the politics of meat is nothing less than amazing. I hope the energy continues and I will happily roll up my sleeves to help. I'm not sure if Slow Food USA is necessarily the best organization to move this forward because they don't like to engage directly in the political process, but I think it will take a multifaceted approach. Should that be a new non-profit that focuses soley on creating an ethical meat supply system or a partnership of NGOs and citizen groups such as Slow Food USA, Butchers Guild, Rural Coalition, Livestock Conservancy, American Grassfed Association, Quivera Coalition, Savory Institute, Holistic Management International, Chefs Collaborative, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Young Farmers Coalition, Cornucopia Institute, and hundreds of for-profit ethical meat producers from around the country. I, for one, am starting to think a new coalition might be in order.
What do you think we need to create the political and consumer will to transform our meat supply system into one that restores our natural resources, helps American family farmers thrive, humanely stewards our animals, and brings nutrient-dense, clean, quality animal products to consumers all over the country? Better marketing? More education? Policy change? Incubate new businesses? Reduce regulations? More communication and collaboration? You tell me!