Heater, Mother of Lance

Has this former vegan lost her mind?

Back at the beginning of June I “came clean” and admitted that I have added meat back into my diet. Not a lot of meat, but enough to overcome some vitamin deficiencies and crippling depression that stemmed from a state of hunger I’m not even sure I can articulate. I trained for a marathon while eating a strict vegan diet and warped my body and mind in a way that I could not have anticipated. But it happened, and now 18 months after that marathon I finally have my life back.

I believe in the concept of being vegan and wish that I could pull it off. I tried for two years. A lot of my critics will say that I too often veer toward the extreme, and I will admit freely that this is at times a character flaw of mine. I jumped head first into an icy mass that almost froze me from the inside out thinking that I’d eventually warm up and swim to the other side. But I couldn’t even make it halfway when my body started shutting down after the first two or three strokes. When I started eating meat again, I started to feel sensation in my fingers and toes, extremities that had lost all meaning to me.

This doesn’t mean that I have abandoned the value system that made me want to try being a vegan in the first place. The industrial food system is killing us and killing the planet, and unless we change the way we farm animals for food, we are simply screwed as a species—the species that happens to be at the top of a very long and varied food chain. What I loved about doing work for Farm Forward centered around the recognition that we know people are going to eat meat. We must reckon with this.

How do we make this reality sustainable?

While I was helping Farm Forward rebrand and relaunch their website, the head of partnerships at ButcherBox, Dan Littauer, contacted me to let me know about their service and why they do what they do. They are a subscription food service aiming to change the way Americans buy and raise animals for food. They deliver healthy 100% grass-fed beef, organic or pastured chicken, and heritage breed pork (free of hormones, and antibiotics) directly to your door.


So many of us want to eat and feed our families this type of healthy meat (better nutritional profile, healthy fat without toxins from commercial feedlots, humanely raised animals, etc.) and we either don’t know where to look for it or have a really hard time finding it. And it’s expensive to eat this way. ButcherBox has done the work of finding it by partnering with a collective of small farms and buying in large quantities so that the 20 individual meals in each box work out to less than $6.00/meal.

I asked Dan if he could put me in touch with one of the farms they work with so that I could get a better idea of the whole operation, and a couple of weeks ago I spoke with John Arbuckle, a 9th generation farmer, who runs a farm with his wife in Missouri. Before our call he sent me a few photos of the pigs on his farm and I was struck by how different a pasture-raised pig looks from one raised in tortured confinement.

 

And before I get to his story and why it’s so important, you should know that ButcherBox is celebrating its second birthday by giving new customers two free 10oz Ribeye steaks in each box they receive for the rest of the year (12/31/17). That’s up to 8 Free Ribeyes, a value of $100. And this offer is limited, exclusive, and time-sensitive. It starts today and ends Sunday, September 24th. If you’re going to buy and eat meat, this is one of the most conscientious ways to do so, for the health of your family, for the planet, and for the sake of the animals being raised for food.

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UPDATE: This promotion has ended, but you can still claim their ongoing offer of $15 off + free bacon in your first box if you’re still interested in subscribing.

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I asked John how he got involved with ButcherBox and his story is the kind of story that will have an impact on the food system, the kind of situation that will move the needle. It’s also the story of how we as consumers can more fully support the independent farmer. Today I’ll feature the first part of the story, and tomorrow I’ll feature the rest. There’s so much rich material here about sustainability and connecting people back to nature and why farm animals are so important to the environment. Most importantly, it’s a story about a man trying to feed his family.


I would start out that by taking the long view. I am a ninth generation farmer. My children are the tenth. And so we’ve been farming for a long time in America. We were farmers in Scotland before we got to America, so I’m not exactly sure how many generations we go back. But a long line of peasants and hillbillys make up the family tree.

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My wife and I—her name is Holly—moved to rural northeast Missouri in 2010. We had been running an organic vegetable farm in Maryland and just decided it was time to spread our wings and have our own place and raise our kids in the same environment that we had grown up in ourselves. So we bought a place in rural Missouri, and we were very firmly committed to the farm to table movement.

But you see, the game of agriculture is changing. So we felt like the way that the ball would move in the game in our generation was the farm to table thing. And we gave that a valiant try. We were sort of “Old MacDonald’s Farm” for many years. We raised grass-fed beef, we raised lamb, egg laying chickens, meat chickens, thanksgiving turkeys, pigs, we grew strawberries and blueberries and apples. We had a large organic garden. We brokered and wholesaled, you know, through our Amish neighbors who were not really interested in ever leaving their farms. And that was a positive learning experience, but we also very quickly realized that was not scalable to the point where we had living wages and things like retirement funds and college education funds for our children. Things that we wanted to develop.

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We were talking with an Amish neighbor and had an “ah-ha” moment. His name was Ezra, and he told me, “John, we can grow anything that a person wants. But we can’t find the people who want it. Alternatively John, there are a lot of people out there who really want healthy, country food. And they don’t know how to find us.” And that’s where ButcherBox really links the gap.

So we started a national snack stick company called Roamsticks.

And we’re extremely passionate about what we do. Nine generations of living in the country kind of does that to a person, you know? And after we traveled to some trade shows and we would speak at conferences. We were trying to teach other farmers how to raise pigs on pasture. Then we’d share our snack sticks in all these places and pretty soon, people were asking us, “Well, what else can you sell us? We want to buy your snack sticks, but we also want to buy bacon and sausage and ham and ribs, and all kinds of things. We want to buy all that from you too.”

So we said, “Okay, we’ll give that a try too.” But we’re not really interested in shipping direct to people.

There’s a whole level of logistics in that. There’s only so many hours in a day, and we’re not really interested in figuring that out. But we are extremely excited to fill pallets and send them to distribution centers for ButcherBox.

And in doing that, we quickly came to a point where we simply weren’t able to raise all the pigs that were necessary anymore. And that’s what we wanted. We wanted the ability to shape the national conversation by helping people realize that shouldn’t settle for “natural porks.” That almost means nothing.

Don’t settle for natural pork. Don’t settle for simply the word free range. That sort of gets diluted over time. Really, really look for the words pasture raised. Because pasture raised is where it’s at. Pasture raised is where you find your pot of gold.

And that also gives us the opportunity to help a whole other generation of farmers go into farming because we need more farmers. America needs more farmers. And Roamsticks and Singing Prairie Farm needs more farmers. So it’s a beautiful riddle to try and crack. If that makes sense.

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You know, the more orders we get, the more we can get a whole other generation of farmers to be ecologically sensitive, pasture-based, family farmers. And get pigs out of confinement. Get pigs out of the big barns. And start raising pigs where all of our ancestors raised their pigs, in the woodlands beneath oak trees eating acorns, out in the prairies in the springtime, eating the new growth and the clover.


Order your first ButcherBox today and get get 2 free 10oz Ribeye steaks in each box for the rest of this year, a $100 value. Hurry, offer ends Sunday night at Midnight PST.

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UPDATE: This promotion has ended, but you can still claim their ongoing offer of $15 off + free bacon in your first box if you’re still interested in subscribing.

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23 Comments
  • clyman11

    2017/09/20 at 10:38 am

    Literally signing up now. It makes me sick to think about what we’ve been eating, and what we feed our kids. The convenience isn’t worth it.

  • JenniferA

    2017/09/20 at 10:59 am

    This is awesome to hear, and sounds like a great way to make this kind of meat more available to everyone. I have been a subscriber for over 5 years to a meat CSA in upstate New York that is all pasture raised and amazing, and the pork is the best I have ever had in my life. But it is quite expensive and I know I am lucky to be able to afford it.

  • Erin Reece

    2017/09/20 at 11:26 am

    I very much appreciate the work you are doing. <3

  • Tristy

    2017/09/20 at 11:44 am

    Can you explain a little more about why you were unable to continue with your vegan diet? Was it a deficiency that couldn’t be supplemented with added vitamins or proteins? (I’ve been considering jumping into that icy mass myself..)

  • Heather Armstrong

    2017/09/20 at 11:58 am

    I had a vitamin D deficiency and my primary care physician said she’d never seen someone with one so bad. I took a huge supplement and felt good for a few weeks, but then my depression took a nosedive. I continued for seven more months on my vegan diet, took tons of supplements. I exercised four-five times a week. Got as much sleep at night as I could, except my anxiety wouldn’t let me sleep for more than three hours at a time. But more than anything, I couldn’t handle being hungry ALL. THE. TIME. I was never full. All I thought about was my next meal, and if I was out of my house I became crazed because what if something vegan wasn’t on the menu? Food was on my mind every second of the day and it drove me to the brink. I finally added a little bit of chicken into my lunch a few times a week and immediately started to feel a weight lifting, found myself not obsessing over how many hours left until dinner. I felt like I could breathe again.

    Being vegan works for many people, and I would encourage you to try it. There’s a ton you can eat, and so many sources of protein other than meat. I had read about people who had tried a vegan diet going into horrible physical and mental depressions, and I was like, that’s not going to be me! And then it was me.

  • Heather Armstrong

    2017/09/20 at 11:58 am

    Thank you. <3

  • housepea

    2017/09/20 at 11:59 am

    This is amazing. I deeply care about eating humanely raised meat, but it’s very expensive in the grocery store, and the selection is horrible. I’m definitely going to try this and see if I can be better about freezing/thawing meat for meals.

  • REK981

    2017/09/20 at 1:10 pm

    I am hearing so many great things about Butcher Box. My husband and I are considering it. But we can also source some really great meat locally. I hope you don’t feel guilt about the changes made to keep your body going. Dietary needs are fluid and in constant need of adjustment. I am glad you are improving your nutrition.

  • Sarah Nicole

    2017/09/20 at 1:45 pm

    This is amazing. I love that services like these are happening – providing healthy naturally sourced food and with that, helping the farming community as well. I watched the beginning of a documentary a while back and both how the animals were treated AND the farmers who truly had no say in how they were to raise these animals was simply atrocious. Thank you, Heather, for spreading awareness about important things such as this.

  • Rebecca Hopkins

    2017/09/20 at 1:45 pm

    Just signed up for this! Thank you for sharing, we are really good at thinking of side dishes, but terrible when it comes to the main course, so we end up just eating the same few things all the time. Also, we are excited to be able to conveniently and affordably get good quality healthy meats for us, and for the tiny human I’m currently growing!

    I called my husband over to look at the page, and before I’d even finished the first sentence explaining what it was, he had already said “Yes. Do it.” and was going to get my wallet for me! We can’t wait to get our first box next week!

  • Emily

    2017/09/20 at 4:01 pm

    I’m signed up. I should get my first box next week. I have tried to do the best I can in typical grocery stores but it is hard. I’m happy to support small farms and happy animals. Thanks for this!

  • Casey

    2017/09/20 at 6:01 pm

    My sister had a similar situation, she was a vegan and was told by a doctor that she was in a really bad place and needed to change her diet ASAP. She’s a mostly vegetarian now, and tries to be vegan as much as possible, but does work high quality meats into her diets occasionally throughout the week. Not exactly the goal she had, but she’s been in a better place mentally and physically.
    So I think instead of jumping into the “icy mass”, it’s probably better to work with a dietician or your doctor to find out what will work best for you.

  • beth steinen

    2017/09/20 at 7:43 pm

    Do you know if the animals are killed humanely? I sent an email to Butcher box once asking that, and never received a reply. After reading Eating Animals, I can’t stomach the idea of contributing to their suffering, even if it’s only on the last day.

  • Candace

    2017/09/20 at 8:54 pm

    We don’t eat a lot of meat, but I’ve been worried about where the meat we do eat comes from. This is perfect. Thank you!

  • Crystal Gable

    2017/09/20 at 10:04 pm

    I’m a big fan and thoroughly enjoy reading your stories every day. Just wanted to mention that you’re using the wrong terminology. You weren’t a vegan, you were a plant-based eater. Vegans care about saving animal lives and work incredibly hard to do that. When people “try it on” like a diet and then abandon it, it just confuses people.

  • Kate

    2017/09/21 at 3:34 am

    Diets are so personal and the best we all can do is stay informed and be conscious of our food choices and where that food comes from. I do really wonder why some of us feel like we need meat so much more than others. When I quit eating meat 8 years ago I just didn’t miss it at all, whereas I know people who also had a much harder time with it and/or went back to eating it. It would be interesting to read some research about why our bodies and minds react differently to certain food choices. I don’t know if I’d been able to keep up a vegetarian diet for the past almost-decade if I had felt hungry or otherwise deprived.

  • Katie H.

    2017/09/21 at 9:01 am

    I LOVE THIS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH! I was just talking to my hubby about factory farming of chickens after he made a comment about Tyson Foods putting a plant in near us not being a big deal. It’s all so WRONG and I hate buying meat I know has not only been raised in horrific conditions, but is not healthy. We’ve tried buying organic or farm raised, but I suspect it’s not much better (and it’s expensive). Thank you for putting this idea out there and supporting these amazing people. Farmers are the ONLY reason we all eat well in the first place and it’s wonderful to see them coming together to change the planet for the better!

  • Katie H.

    2017/09/21 at 9:05 am

    I was a vegetarian for 12 years and this is similar to what made me go back to eating meat. I was so anemic and had vitamin deficiencies and my doc said it was time to make a change. I also suffer from anxiety and depression and that didn’t help that aspect of it all. On the positive side, I stopped having migraines as soon as I quit meat! It’s frustrating, but we all do the best we can. This is a wonderful step in that direction!

  • Katie H.

    2017/09/21 at 9:07 am

    Seriously? That’s your takeaway from this post?

  • Jenna

    2017/09/21 at 3:11 pm

    You do know all the work, both for money and chariible, that Heather does on behalf of animals, right? You did notice that she has posted multiple times on this site about protecting animals, saving animals and not eating animals? And you did notice that this was a huge article filled with amazing information about helping people that do eat meat make better decisions FOR THE ANIMALS right? Yet, you decided the most important word was ‘vegan’? You have your priorities wrong. If you want to make pro-animal change in America, bitching about a word choice in the shadow of someone trying to make that change is absurd. Perhaps you need a burger.

  • Sarah Wicker Kimes

    2017/09/22 at 12:03 pm

    Awesome, just signed up!

  • Sarah Gardner

    2017/09/22 at 1:11 pm

    Thank you. Just ordered my Butcherbox.

  • Mary Ann Lovuolo Phillips

    2017/09/22 at 10:36 pm

    Nope nope nope nope nope.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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