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Jul 15, 2008 06:42 AM

Buying local / humane meat?

I'm about half-way through The Omnivore's Dilemma right now and the whole concept of "humanely raised" meat (beef and chicken in particular) really resonates with me. I'd like to start adding more meat from humane sources into our diet but I have no idea where to start looking for such a thing in the GTA.

Does anyone have any suggestions for places to buy meat that hasn't been produced using industrial food production practices (mega farms, etc.)?

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  1. you might want to check out this discussion - i opened the topic just after i had read the Omnivore's Dilemma. the discussion provided lots of help!

    1. healthy butcher carries meat from a number of farms, some of whom use traditional methods. one of those is dingo farms - all the animals are raised on pasture, and longer than conventional beef (pastured cows take a lot longer to get to the sellable size, which explainspartly the extra cost). ask at healthy butcher for products from dingo farms (i'm sure there are other sources there that share their philosophy but this is just one farm i know for sure does).

      1. My "dilemma" with this is the hellish premium paid to self-righteous middle men. Margaret Webb has run some interesting articles in the G&M recently about Ontario Mennonite markets and "old-school" pigs. Many in the GTA are unable--but as often unwilling--to track these products down outside of their local meat boutique. Pardon the cynicism but finding these products at fair prices takes a bit work. Try here, too:

        8 Replies
        1. re: Kagemusha

          My favourite source for naturally raised beef, pork, and lamb is Twin Creek Farms near Owen Sound. The farmer, Gerald, is at the Trinity Bellwoods Farmers Market every Tuesday between 3pm and 7pm.

          His meat is excellent. I don't mind paying more for it, although I'm not sure that it is more expensive than other comparable purveyors. Beef tenderloin medallions, for example, are $18.50 per pound, which is definitely less expensive than Cumbrae and Healthy Butcher. Pork loin chops are $8.50 per pound which I think is very reasonable. I've been taking the loin off the bone, brining the loin, pounding it a bit, breading with flour, egg, and panko, and making some pretty amazing tonkatsu.

          The higher fat content of the pork (and the brining) yields super juicy and tender tonkatsu. Also, I've read that the meat contains more of the healthy kinds of fat, higher omega 3, CLA, and vitamin E content, as is the case with pasture-raised meats.

          I love beef that tastes like beef and pork that is tender and has mega flavour. He has heritage breeds that don't have all the fat bred out of them.

          Buying from a farmer, especially one like Gerald, just feels right. I would pay double for it (I hope he's not reading this).

          Check them out at

          I've read the Omnivore's Dilemma too and loved it. I've also read his more recent book, In Defence of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. Also loved it. I These books really had an impact on me.

          1. re: Kagemusha

            if one has the time to travel further away to actually meet face-to-face with the farmers, then that's great. i'm not sure though why a local butcher who pays a fair price to the farmers offends so much. i would bet that the supermarket's profit is much higher on the same cut of meat, even if the consumer doesn't notice it due to the overall lower price of the cheaper product. not to mention, it is the ethics of the 'self-righteous' butcher like healthy butcher that allows the farmer to survive by buying the whole animal.
            in addition, i do buy some of my meat from my CSA farm directly, and their prices, which i trust allow for the farm to survive and its producers to make a decent living, are not substantially lower than healthy butchers.

            the cynicism seems to be misplaced here.

            1. re: Kasia

              Hardly. Boutique meat involves overhead, realty taxes, wages, utilities and shareholder salaries that I'd frankly like to pay once--to a farmer. Supermarket meat isn't the topic. "Better" for a DT butcher isn't necessarily "better" for you; he survives on his mark-up and may not always buy the quality you think you're paying for. I've got access to farmgate meat and that's what I'll buy--better for less without the arbitrage works for me.

              1. re: Kasia

                was curious about the "whole animal" purchasing of healthy butcher, could anyone clarify a bit?

                i spoke to them about offal and they considered it a special order. in part because they get different animals during different days in the week but it also seemed like they just didn't carry it much. now if they purchase the whole animal.. shouldn't the innard goodies come with it as well? or are they selling it all to restaurants? or are some animals not bought whole hog, so to speak?

                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                  In my experience Whole Animal does not include the Offal... just the carcass..

                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                    If you have an animal slaughtered, the offal ( liver, kidneys, tongue, etc). must be saved immediately, usually frozen asap. The rest of the carcass is usually hung for a few weeks to age. Any commercial meat business will have trouble keeping the innards together with the specific animal because of this time difference.

                2. re: Kagemusha

                  Yes. I know a farmer who raises his own meat and says that the middle man (retail op) makes much more than the farmer. I have ethical issues with that. Look at the rate which these stores are opening a second and third location. I am going to try and shop from the farmer direct, hopefully, I can find some.

                3. For red meat, humanely raised pretty much describes fully pastured, grassfed animals. For the record, my preference is bison over beef. For the last decade I have been buying farmgate product (whole, halves, individual cuts) from Ontario farmers that I've learned to know and trust. If I buy a whole or half animal, then I have to contract an abattoir to age, cut and package the meat. None of this is cheap in cost or time. Now starting adding up the farmgate price, your fuel costs and time spent, and then the eventual storage once you finally receive the processed meat. I've lost thousands of dollars due to farmers being less than truthful about their products and also using an abattoir that failed to age or package properly. A retail establishment also has far more costs than I do since they must pay rent/mortgage, salaries, license fees, insurance, advertising, etc. I want cheap food too, but if it's to be humanely raised and slaughtered there's a price to pay. Buying from a retailer like the Healthy Butcher means that you are getting a great product without any of the risks of doing it yourself. I hope to continue 'doing it myself' but it really is about to bankrupt me.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: torontovore

                    I think that the consumer buying retail has a much better chance of being fooled than a retailer buying from a farmer.

                    1. re: torontovore

                      More producers are obviously alive to the presence of a growing direct market and are taking steps to satisfy the demand. I'm sure the boutique meat shops sell nice stuff but I can get as good or better without the sort of diseconomies you suffered. People blow big bucks on gas shopping for fluff, so a few bucks on gas for a major food buy doesn't seem extreme. If I wanted "cheap" I'd shop the flyers and rush in for bargain industrial pork chops; but I don't, so I'll research where to get the best quality/cost quotient on ethical/humanely raised livestock. Healthy Butcher and their ilk aren't philanthropists.

                      1. re: Kagemusha

                        To survive economically no business can be philanthropic. Middle men provide an essential service and are not automatically suspect. The knowledge and butchering skills that the Healthy Butcher adds to their products has significant value. Maybe you have the 'few bucks' for those day long trips to local farms (at least 4 hours of driving time from and then back to the city) that's necessary to visit and correctly evaluate each farmgate producer, but most people don't. You can't believe everything you read during your Internet research. Also remember that when you buy the whole animal, as Healthy Butcher does, you either find a way to sell hearts, liver, bones, etc. or you dump it and compensate by upping the price of the fancy steaks to offset the loss.

                        1. re: torontovore

                          I find the place's hauteur to be annoying. Scoping out meat sources isn't costly for me and I'll happily share the results. I'm also not lacking in critical abilities or executive function, so "Internet research" isn't especially risky or stress-laden, either. Start with retailers to learn the ropes but DIY provisioning isn't terribly difficult. Lots of ways to do this!

                          1. re: Kagemusha

                            Looking forward to the sharing of your methods and results. Where to go and what to buy, as a practical, cost-effective alternative to urban retail 'boutique' butcher shops.

                            1. re: torontovore

                              Try here. That's the sort of thing I'm working on now.


                              Good links here, too.

                              1. re: Kagemusha

                                Thanks for sharing Kage, I'm trying to sort this whole thing out too and just keep coming up with new far my only resolution is: Gasparro's sells the same free run chickens as Cumbrae's, but for much less, $2.89/lb when buying whole birds (ie: 6 lb bird cost around $16)...

                                1. re: Recyclor

                                  Most meat chickens in Ontario are raised in large open floor barns, and are therefore "free run". Laying chickens are raised in cages, unless the eggs are labelled otherwise. So, if a chicken in a store is labelled as free run, that does not mean that it has ever seen the sun or green grass. If you want pastured chicken, it should be labelled as such, or something similar. There are so many labels that we need to know the definitions of. For example, "organic chicken" does not mean pastured, or "pastured" does not necessarily mean organic.

                                  1. re: earthygoat

                                    Ya, I know, the standards are so loose and undefined, even free-range can mean the birds were out and about but not for any predetermined length of time, might be a 10 min walk only...but, the stamp of approval from Cumbrae's does hold up...

                                    1. re: earthygoat

                                      There is no question that I would rather eat a chicken or egg that is pastured and not organic than the opposite.

                                      1. re: acd123

                                        I'm happy to here that i'm not the only one that feels the same about the jargon that's used. I'm hoping to find some insight on exactly what to look for when buying local or organic or grass fed or free range or natural or whatever

                            2. re: torontovore

                              what bothers me about the healthy butcher is that their markups are unreasonable - i went in when they first opened and they were charging $8.50 for the exact same organic butter that was $6.50 at the organic market down the street (queen near ossington - i forget what it is called). i have not been back since!

                              last year the farmers' market at trinity bellwoods had a couple of mennonite farmers selling meat - most will sell you a half or a quarter if you talk to them. i bought a quarter of organic grass-fed beef (butchered) from a family farm in eastern ontario for $5.50 a pound (i think? don't remember exactly) last year. soup bones were thrown in free. well worth it! i plan on doing that again this fall and maybe getting a half a lamb as well.

                              eta: here is a link to their website:

                        2. After reading Omnivore's Dilemma, I've been buying my meat from Beretta Farms--they sell at some local farmer's market, but also deliver themselves, thus cutting out the middle man. The grass-fed beef is very tasty, reminds me of what I used to eat when I was a kid.