GLUTEN FREE TURKEY MEATBALLS + WHY I CHOOSE MY MEAT CAREFULLY
I was a vegetarian for almost 19 years of my life. Well, pescatarian if you want to get all technical. But, while I ate seafood, I didn’t eat much of it because we simply didn’t cook it that often. And then I went to college and started eating in the extremely wonderful and delicious dining hall (notice the sarcasm) and my seafood consumption got even lower. There was just something about a big tray of white, soggy fish that didn’t get my appetite revving. Not sure why…
I didn’t choose to be vegetarian because of moral reasons (but it definitely developed into that for a while there), but simply because my parents were vegetarian when I was born. I never knew anything else and so meat never appealed to me.
Near the end of my sophomore year of college my mom suggested I add poultry into my diet to help my protein consumption, because it was lacking big time. After semi freaking out about it, I started eating chicken or turkey once, maybe twice, a week. I was still eating in the dining hall at that point and not having any clue where that meat came from made me really hesitant. Although I had obviously never been a big meat-eater, I knew I should care about where it came from, how it was produced and whether it was organic, grass-fed, etc. For a vegetarian, I sure watched a lot of movies and documentaries that showed the horrors of factory farming. On further thought, maybe that’s why I stuck with it for so long… lol
I now eat meat (still just seafood and poultry) almost daily and I can honestly say my body has never been happier. I think a vegan or vegetarian diet can work well for many people, but it didn’t suite me well, and I finally get that. With my pretty intense working out, my body craves that pure protein like crazy. Meat is also one of the few things that I know never hurts my stomach. It makes me feel strong and healthy and I love that.
As my meat-eating habits have increased, so has my knowledge and passion for sustainable (and organic) agriculture, environmental issues and knowing where my food comes from. I’ve started reading as much as I can about these topics and Megan Kimble, in her book “Unprocessed,” pretty much sums up my philosophy: “it is not meator no meat but rather which meat.”
I didn’t realize how passionate I was about not eating factory-farmed meats until my first semester of junior year when I was taking a feature writing course. We could choose any topic we wanted for our final long-form story and every idea I had was focused on local farming. I remember my professor saying to me, “Wow. You’re REALLY passionate about food and small-scale farming.” And I was like “Yeah… I guess you’re right!” I got to interview the most amazing farmers for that story and it only fueled my passion further.
It’s actually INSANE how many animal products are factory farmed. In “Unprocessed,” Kimble says that “99% of the land animals eaten or milked in the United States come from a factory farm.” I’m also 99% sure my jaw fell straight off my face and onto the ground when I read that.
She goes on to discuss how animals in the factory farming system are not actually animals. They are simply a good, a product, a big, fat dollar sign. The farms in this system are called CAFOs – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. And that’s truly what they are. Operations that are simply focused on putting food into the animals in order to squeeze money out. One of my biggest issues with these farms is the environmental destruction they create. Kimble explains the vast amount of resources these farms use (“An average-size steer living on a feedlot sucks up two hundred gallons of fuel over its lifetime, fuel that is embedded in feed, fertilizer and machinery… Forty percent of grain grown across the world is fed to animals; if it takes twenty-five gallons of water to grow a pound of wheat, it takes five thousand gallons of freshwater to produce a pound of steak”), the even greater amount of methane that is produced by them (“Livestock contributes over a third of the world’s methane emissions”) and the even greater amount of waste (aka feces) that is being dumped into our waters and lands.
Factory farmed meats also have the potential to be unsanitary. First off, animals that are being produced in these CAFOs are typically being fed corn, which is not what they naturally eat. Because of this they are very prone to getting sick and then, because of this, are given antibiotics. Kimble says, “According to the USDA, 80 percent of all the antibiotics sold in the United States are consumed by chickens, pigs, cows, and other food-producing animals.” How crazy is that?! EIGHTY PERCENT. These antibiotics can be harmful to the people ingesting those meats (although there isn’t enough evidence on this topic quite yet). The corn-based diet also causes the natural bacteria in cows’ stomachs (Escherichia coli) to turn into toxic strains, which has the potential to end up in the meat we’re ingesting because once it turns to waste, the cows in these large feedlots stand in it, making it likely that it ends up in the slaughterhouse. YIKES.
Health concerns aside, I like knowing where my meats come from and that it was raised on an organic farm that doesn’t force feed the animal corn and treat it with antibiotics. I like to try and buy meat from local farms because I like supporting local farmers and I like knowing that, if I wanted to, I could drive on over to the farm and see where my meat comes from. See that the animals are wandering around like, well, animals.
And maybe you think I’m crazy and need to just eat my damn turkey, but I’ll never stop advocating for being a knowledgeable consumer and a knowledgeable meat-eater. Everyone can make a difference in our environment and you can start by focusing on the impact that your food choices are having on the environment (and not to mention, your health).
Of course, I know that organic and/or local meat is expensive, and not everyone has the financial means to make it a regular purchase. If this is the situation you find yourself in, I suggest you simply try to incorporate what you can. Organic meat isn’t the end all be all, but it’s something that is important to me. As I always say – being a responsible consumer is important. I promise you’ll get more joy from the food you’re eating if you engage with it in new ways. Getting it from a local farmer, cooking it all by scratch, etc. truly changes my eating experience!!!
Also, as a meat eater now, I have found it important for me to be able to deal with raw meat. That may sound weird, but at the beginning of my meat-eating journey I kind of tried to ignore the fact that my meat was indeed coming from an animal. I bought frozen meat and threw it in the oven until it was so well-done it was practically jerky. Finally this summer I started buying raw meat and, shocker, even touching it while I cooked. I KNOW I KNOW. You’re probably laughing at me. But it was a big deal for me. I even had my mom snapchat my brother a photo of me handling and cutting my first raw turkey breast.
These meatballs were a WHOLE new level for me. I haven’t really ever eaten any form of meatball or sausage because I don’t like how processed they are, but I got a random craving for turkey meatballs. So I decided it was a sign to create my own killer recipe. I got everything out to make them and realized, oh shit, I have to get my hands all up in that ground turkey. But I realized, if I couldn’t handle touching it, then I shouldn’t be eating it (at least that’s how my brain works). To be a fully engaged eater I wanted to be able to do this. AND I DID IT. I just pretended it was cookie dough I was forming into balls. Kidding. Nonetheless, I’m proud of myself and I can’t wait to make these again. Because THEY BOMB.
Enough brain dumping, LET’S EAT.
Kalamata Olive Turkey Meatballs with Basil Red Sauce (Paleo + Gluten Free) AND Why I Choose my Meat Carefully
These gluten free and egg free turkey meatballs pack a huge punch of flavor and are the perfect addition to any savory dish!
16 ounces organic ground turkey
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
8 kalamata olives
1 thinly sliced leak
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
avocado or olive oil
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a pan spray avocado or olive oil.
Cut up the leak into very small pieces and place in the pan and add the balsamic. Sauté until browned.
While those are cooking, slice the kalamata olives into small pieces.
In a bowl, mix the ground turkey, cooked leaks, kalamata olives, salt, pepper and dried basil. Make sure to mix well!
Prep a baking sheet or other pan with olive or avocado oil.
Roll the turkey mixture into about one inch balls and place on the sheet.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until browning.