alliums ameraucana Anthony Bourdain aphids Appleseed Permaculture aquaponics arthritis artichokes Asian Vegetables aussie basil baby chicks baby turnips bearss lime bee keeping beet greens beneficial insects benner tree farm Biochar Bitter Melon blight blooming hill farm boothby blonde cucumber brix broccoli brussels sprouts cabbage cabbage hill farm camp hill farm cancer caraflex celeriac chicken coop chickens children chinese tamale chives cilantro cilantro root coconut cold frames collard greens Compost coriander corn crop rotation cruciferous crucifers cucumber Dan Barber dan kittredge Dave Llewellyn detox dirty dozen dragon fruit Dutch white clover dwarf citrus eggplant Elderberries factory farms farm to table farmer's market farmers markets Fava beans ffarm to table fish oil flea beetle flowers food allergies food combining food miles founding farmers four wind growers Fred Kirschenmann french bulldog G6pd deficiency garlic garlic festival garlic scapes geese Glynwood grass-fed beef Great Outdoors Listening Tour green tomatoes greenhouse growing indoors Hanalei Hemlock Hill Farm heritage turkey heritage USA hudson valley farms hurricane Irene hyssop iced tea infections influenza Insect control isothiocyanates joan gussow jolie lampkin joong kaffir lime kale Kauai kohlrabi korean licorice mint Ladybugs late blight leeks lettuces local food locust tree maine avenue fish market menhaden meyer lemon mycelia mycorrhizal natural fertilizers nectary nightshades No Reservations Nurse cropping nutrient density okra organic Baby food organic christmas tree Organic Pest Control Parsley Paul tappenden peas Permaculture pesticides pesto petite watermelon plant sap pH plymouth barred rock pole beans potatoes preserving food purple basil qunice Radish Greens rainbeau ridge farm raised beds rampicante raw food real food campaign red hook Rockland Farm Alliance ronnybrook farm row covers salt-preserved duck eggs sambucus nigra seed saving seedlings Sheet mulching small space soil analysis soil blocks soil conductivity sorrel Squash Vine Borer star fruit sugar snap peas sustainability sustainable fishing Swiss Chard tabbouleh TEDx Manhattan terracing three sisters tomato sauce tomatoes trellis trovita orange turkana farms Tuttle Farm urban zen volt white clover winter harvest Winter Squash Young Farmers Conference
Indispensable Books and Resources
  • Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
    Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)
    by Dave Jacke, Eric Toensmeier
  • The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
    The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
    by Eliot Coleman
  • The Biological Farmer: A Complete Guide to the Sustainable & Profitable Biological System of Farming
    The Biological Farmer: A Complete Guide to the Sustainable & Profitable Biological System of Farming
    by Gary F. Zimmer
  • The Garden Primer: Second Edition
    The Garden Primer: Second Edition
    by Barbara Damrosch
  • 1500 Live LadyBugs - A GOOD BUG! - Lady Bug
    1500 Live LadyBugs - A GOOD BUG! - Lady Bug
    Organic Insect Control
  • Acres U.S.A.
    Acres U.S.A.
    Acres U.S.A.

    The best farming and growing magazine money can buy!

  • Seed Starter Soil Block Maker Makes 4 Medium Blocks
    Seed Starter Soil Block Maker Makes 4 Medium Blocks

    2" Soil Blocker

  • Mini Soil Blocker
    Mini Soil Blocker
  • New York City Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty
    New York City Farmer & Feast: Harvesting Local Bounty
    by Emily Brooks
  • What Doctors Eat: Tips, Recipes, and the Ultimate Eating Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Perfect Health
    What Doctors Eat: Tips, Recipes, and the Ultimate Eating Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Perfect Health
    by Tasneem Bhatia, Editors of Prevention





« The Celebrity Carnivore "Meats" Hook Mountain Growers in the Hudson Valley | Main | End of the Summer Nightshade Fest »

Meat in a Petri Dish: The Next Logical Step to the Factory Farm?

Grazing Cattle in Field. Photo from Hemlock Hill FarmSince the 1960’s, our penchant for consuming animal meats has risen 50%.  With this demand, factory farms have become the standard for producing large quantities of cheap meat, but at what cost?  There is a human health cost, an unsustainable environmental burden, and an ethical cost to the animal itself.  For humans, there are clear associations between diets heavily laden with animal meats and fat and the presence of chronic disease.  Additionally, with farm animals consuming over 70% of the antibiotics used in this country, antibiotic resistance has been developing rapidly and is a major concern for the treatment of infections in humans. Furthermore, the tremendous amounts of waste products from factory farms affects ecosystems downstream, creates contaminated bacteria-laden drinking water, destroys aquatic life and affects nearby air quality.  As an environmental burden, factory farms are an outright disaster generating enormous amounts of greenhouse gases to the tune of 18% of total emissions.  Paul Hawken, environmentalist and social activist, estimates that we need to decrease the population of the 3.5 billion farm animals we eat and milk for the health of our planet.  And as for the issue of animal cruelty, if we care to look at the journey that a piece of animal meat has made from factory farm to table, I’d bet most of us would drop our meat consumption dramatically.  (Easier to read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2001), than to gain access to a factory farm).  One of my favorite animated commentaries on factory farms, now certainly a classic, is The Meatrix (2003) .  Moopheus, a trench coat-wearing cow, instructs Leo, a factory pig, on the true realities and illusions of the seemingly picture-perfect farm.   Though small family farms are beginning to gain consciousness in the public, thanks to the local food movement and the slew of food contamination stories and food recalls that continue to persist in the news, factory farms have held on.  What’s an ethical omnivore to do?  Most recently, New Scientist (Sept 5-11, 2009) reported on the very real possibility that animals can be genetically engineered not to feel pain, making it a guilt-free experience for us; the factory farm can then become morally acceptable for some.   “If factory farming must exist, then surely we have a moral duty to limit the distress it inflicts.” And this makes moral sense, the author argues,  “only in a world that has already devalued animal lives to the point where factory farming is acceptable.”  What’s even more disturbing is that research is being done on producing meat in a petri dish (gasp!).  Animal muscle cells are grown in vitro and live off chemical nutrients, growth factors, proteins and hormones.  There is even an organization called the "In Vitro Meat Consortium" to promote this new science!  Hopefully, as awareness takes hold of all of us, will we find factory farming no longer acceptable.  Perhaps it’s a pipe dream especially since the world population is increasing at the rate of 74 million people per year.  Feeding new arrivals will become more and more difficult.  I suppose this is the modern day equivalent to Soylent Green, Charleton Heston’s futurist sci-fi cult flick about over-population and the problem of how to feed them.   

Personally, I am not a vegetarian though I do eat meat sparingly and try to comprise most of my diet from vegetables, grains and fish and I do advocate this diet for others as well.  However, our country’s attachment to low cost meat will only continue to sustain the factory farm.  Only when we treat meat as a condiment and luxury, will we become free, not only from these unsustainable and inhumane practices, but from the chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease that are so often linked to diets largely comprised of meat.   I first became aware of this situation when I read Michael Pollan’s pivotal piece in the NYT “Power Steer” (2002) about the meat industry.  It made me start thinking about how food, any type of food, gets on my plate.  It will take a similar consciousness, I think, for others to start making global, ethical and health-related decisions with what they decide to eat.

What am I advocating exactly?

1. Reduced consumption of meat and an increase in vegetables, fruits and whole grains.  This is a no brainer reinforced by observations made in other cultures who consume less meat and who not only live longer but have less cancer and heart disease  -- the 2 biggest killers in our country.

2. When eating meat, buy meat from a family farm where cows are pasture-raised (grassfed).  This changes the actual quality of the meat: there’s more omega 3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid compared to their conventional grain-fed animals (see documentary film King Corn) and there is an ethical satisfaction knowing that these animals led a life with much less suffering.

3. Eating meat this way is expensive.  Eat less of it and increase your vegetable intake.

Hemlock Hill Farm

Finding local grassfed meat was difficult, until recently.  My local butcher store in Rockland County, NY raised their eyebrows when I asked for it, Whole Foods only had it periodically and it was rarely local leaving me to buy it on occasion in Manhattan usually at the Union Square Green Market.  Then I found Hemlock Hill Farm in Westchester county less than an hour from Manhattan.  This family farm has 120 acres and has been in the De Maria family for 70 years.  In addition to Black Angus cattle, which they raise grass-fed but grain-finished, they also offer lamb, pig, goat, chicken, rabbit, geese, duck, and turkey.  German Shepard, Honey, fierce hunter of woodchucksWhat is most astonishing about this place is that you can just walk around and visit the grounds freely.  There is nothing to hide.  Animals are treated well and it’s all there for you to inspect yourself.  More importantly, Hemlock Hill Farm slaughters its own animals.  This is a crucial difference from other small farms which often lack the capability and space to slaughter their own animals. John De Maria Oftentimes when small farms bring their animals to large scale slaughterhouses, they can’t always be sure that they are getting back the same animal that they so lovingly raised and cared for.  When we attended the Young Farmers’ Conference at Stone Barns Center for Agriculture in December 2008,  we heard stories from some farmers who would bring a cattle to a slaughter facility and got back a cattle slaughtered and containing five legs!   Hemlock Hill Farms has always slaughtered their own meat. John De Maria, a soft-spoken affable farmer and military veteran, brought us into the slaughter area where a large pig was being processed and a showed us a freshly skinned venison in the freezer. I buy much of my meat and poultry here and stock it in a large freezer at home.  It is some of the best tasting meat I’ve ever bought. Also important is that since there is not multiple "middle men" between the farmer and the consumer, the price of the meat is reasonable and the farmer is able to make more of a profit.


Want to find meat, poultry, dairy and eggs raised sustainably on small, family farms? Visit the Eat Well Guide for a listing of farms, stores, and restaurants in your area. (US and Canada).

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (3)

I would love to visit Hemlock Farm sometime! I have to say I'm a little shocked by that 70% and have always wondered if our own antibiotic resistance comes from eating treated cattle or taking antibiotics ourselves. Equally shocked by the idea of creating meat in a petrie dish - that is a tough one eithically. Our family eats a lot more chicken than meat, but the way chickens are kept can be just as disturbing. Well, I can say you did a great job of shocking me out of my stupor this morning. Thanks for all the great info!

September 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

There is such a challenge here to figure out how to feed everyone in a healthy and economically realistic way. We as a country have traded one for the other. Along with health care reform we are going to really have to look at how and what we eat and where it comes from. Excellent job laying this out for us Pam, thank you.

September 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Soffel

Yes, even I was surprised at the amount of antibiotics used by farms. We (medical community) definitely prescribe more antibiotics than necessary especially when pharmaceutical companies have convinced us all on TV and print ads that we need to ask for this medicine or that medicine and unfortunately the way health care is run, patient education is at an all time low because it takes time to explain. Time which private insurance companies and government run programs like Medicare do not reimburse. But I think that a small revolution is taking place and people are questioning all of this and becoming aware that they need to take responsibility for their own health and they can start with what they put in their mouths everyday.

A blog like Deborah Soffel's Grapes and Greens ( is a perfect way that people can rediscover how fulfilling vegetables can be both in a culinary sense and also a health and cost savings sense as well. And this is in no way about deprivation - this is delicious stuff! One can adopt a day a week to be meatless and if done by enough people, can impact people's health and the health of the planet. Check out

September 17, 2009 | Registered CommenterPam

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>