Slow Meat 101

The Slow Food Guide to Meat

Slow Food USA
7 min readMay 11, 2015


by Keith Gotcliffe

It’s time to turn the herd away from the tyranny of cheap meat. Slow Meat brings together producers, butchers, thought leaders and eaters of every ethos to address the conundrum of industrial animal husbandry and to celebrate the alternatives.

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What is Slow Meat?

Slow Meat is meat raised humanely, naturally and with minimal impact on the environment. It is a fair deal for producers and processors. It is public understanding and appreciation of meat’s value. Slow Meat convenes a diversity of opinions and experiences to shape the future of meat. Slow Food will host its second Slow Meat event June 4–6, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The event will raise awareness and inspire actions to address the challenge of meat production and consumption in two ways: by celebrating sustainably raised meat and its producers, and by bringing together a diverse group of delegates, involved in all stages of the meat food chain from field to fork, in order to document and generate strategies for activating our large grassroots network.

Slow Meat 2015 Official Site

2015 Slow Meat Symposium FAQ

“The present system of producing food animals in the United States is not sustainable and presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health and damage to the environment, as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise for food.” — Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production


Early in the twentieth century, chickens were raised slow, by families, in farms and backyards. With the development of the modern poultry industry, the chicken left the farm for the factory — and we started eating a lot more chicken. Today chicken is the most consumed animal protein in America. Concerned with the animal welfare, public health, and environmental consequences of the chicken industry, consumers, chefs, and chickens are returning to their local farms.

What’s wrong?

Most American broiler chickens are raised on factory farms, where the priority is efficiency. Tens of thousands of broiler chickens may live in cramped and often unsanitary conditions, leading to use of antibiotics. Factory farming is damaging to the environment; its waste pollutes waterways and the air of neighboring communities. The modern chicken industry has been criticized as unfairly compensating its poultry producers and poorly treating processing workers. Our appetite for fast, cheap chicken has exacted a high cost on the environment, workers — and the chickens most of all.

The Solution

Get chickens out of the factory and back on the pasture. Manage waste responsibly. Cultivate an understanding among consumers of chicken’s value, and commit to paying for chicken raised right.

Chicken by the numbers

2767%: Increase in broilers raised 1950–2015

98%: Decrease in number of chicken producers over same period

600,000: Average broilers produced by a factory farm

36 lbs: Average per capita broiler consumption in 1975

88.3 lbs: Per capita chicken consumption projected for 2015

Read more about poultry:


The average cow weighs nearly 1400 pounds and the average American will eat 270 pounds of beef annually, more than twice the global average. Cattle were imported to North America by European colonists in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, eventually settling in the abundant forage of the American west. Today, beef consumption is declining, while demand for ethically-raised and environmentally-friendly beef grows.

The Beef with Beef

Cows are large animals that eat and drink a lot. Beef is the most resource intensive animal protein. When cows are allowed to overgraze, fed corn instead of grass, raised on hormones, their environmental impact becomes problematic. Americans eat far more beef than they ought to, and far more than the land can sustainably support.

The Solution

The fix is in treating beef as a treat. Eating less beef — in accordance with dietary recommendations — allows ranchers to raise beef of higher quality and devote more attention to sustainability.

Beef by the numbers

Texas: #1 state for cow production

4: factor by which greenhouse gas emissions of beef production exceed those of pork

10: factor by which they exceed those of chicken

$5.29: average retail price per pound of Choice beef in 2013

95 million: US cattle inventory in 2014

4: number of large companies in control of beef market

0.005%: Market share of grass-fed beef in 2009

A Cow of a Reading List:


When raised on a pasture, free to explore and indulge its omnivorous appetite, the other white meat has been shown to contain more Omega-3 fats than pork produced in factories. From the 1950s, as pork production consolidated and hog farms grew in size, factory farms became ubiquitous in the pork industry. Calls by consumers and businesses for improvements to animal welfare and a better deal for hog farmers have faced considerable industry resistance.

The Problem

Credit: CALM Action/Flickr/CC by 2.0

Pigs are intelligent and social animals that love to explore outdoors. Unfortunately, most hogs spend their entire lives caged inside factory farms, with little room to live like a pig. Air and water pollution from factory hog farms has threatened public health in neighboring towns. Intensive pig farmers has pushed out small-scale farmers and undermined the livelihoods of processors and packers. Consumers, farmers and businesses have been vocal in their opposition to standard practices — gestation crates, tail docking, and use of antibiotics and hormones — of the factory hog farm.

The Solution

Credit: George Chris/CC by 3.0

Ideally we raise fewer pigs, outside, free to wallow in the mud. The animal that gives us bacon deserves much better than life in a crate.

Pigs, quantified.

Iowa: #1 state for pig production

647,000: Total pig operations in 1977

63,246: Total pig operations in 2012

37: Percentage 50,000+ head hog operations in 1998

60: Percentage 50,000+ head hog operations in 2012

Even more on pigs.



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