The 2014 NFL season opens with a unique and delicious win for the St. Louis Rams, who kicked off more than a football: Their home turf, the 64,000-seat Edward Jones Dome, is the first to offer sustainably raised, high-animal-welfare hot dogs and burgers to fans.
Even cooler, the better burgers and hot dogs were made possible through the efforts of Will Witherspoon, former Rams’ starting-linebacker last year (and this year’s sideline commentator) and owner of the sustainable Shire Gate Farm in Owensville, Mo., and Delaware North Companies Sportservice, one of the world’s leading sports concessioners. "I am excited the Rams are taking a stand on sustainable food production,” Witherspoon says. “When the bigger players in the food industry raise their game, and start sourcing local, sustainably-produced food in this way, it can lay the foundations for real change--not just at sports venues, but everywhere.”
Will’s products are certified by Animal Welfare Approved, the most stringent certifier of farms in the US. To meet AWA’s exacting criteria, farms must meet high animal welfare and environmental standards, including being raised on pasture, and must not rely on hormones, growth promoters or non-therapeutic antibiotics (meaning that animals receive antibiotics only when they are sick, not to make them grow faster or to mask the symptoms of overcrowded or otherwise problematic conditions).
"At Shire Gate Farm, we're committed to producing great-value, wholesome food as naturally as possible. AWA and I see eye-to-eye on how cattle should be raised--outdoors on pasture for their entire lives, just as nature intended,” Witherspoon says. “The AWA logo is our way of showing customers that we really are doing the right thing by our animals, and the environment."
A Big Win for Health
Unfortunately, when most people think about getting food at the game, they aren't thinking about what's healthy and good for the environment. Queue a reel of Bill Swerski's Superfans, the famous Saturday Night Live skit featuring fans like Chris Farley’s character Todd O’Conner who perennially has “anudder heart attack.”
Thankfully, through this pioneering move, the Rams are putting health first by providing fans with meat that is better for fans. It’s a fact that pasture-raised meat and dairy are lower in calories and total fat, have higher levels of vitamins, and a healthier balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats than conventional options. Witherspoon agrees, “Hot dogs and burgers are practically shorthand for bad food, but my Grassfed Hot Dogs and Grassfed Ground-Beef Burgers are fit for a professional athlete.”
By eating these healthier burgers and dogs, the Bill Swerskis of the Rams’ fans who are worried about health (and heart attacks) can rest a little easier after the glory of the game wears off. “As a professional athlete, Will Witherspoon understands the direct link between the way we raise animals, the nutritional quality of the meat, milk and eggs they produce, and our own health and well-being,” says Andrew Gunther, AWA’s program director. “As a farmer he's now applying that knowledge first-hand."
Sportservice Scores a Safety - As in Food Safety
In addition to being healthier for consumption, Sportservice is also living up to its global stewardship platform by serving meat from farms that aren’t reliant on antibiotics, thereby helping to reduce the risk of an outbreak of drug-resistant infections.
While treating sick animals with antibiotics is fine, it’s the undisciplined, freewheeling use of antibiotics that causes problems. Factory farms use antibiotics to spur on growth and to prevent their animals from getting sick in the unsanitary environment in which they’re forced to live. By routinely feeding livestock antibiotics unnecessarily, factory farms become breeding grounds for drug-resistant germs. According to the FDA, 55 percent of ground beef, 69 percent of pork chops and 86 percent of ground turkey were contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria in 2011.
Making the Two Point Conversion…to Sustainability
Seriously, last football pun. Not only is the Rams’ choice to serve AWA-certified meat great for fans’ health, it’s also a great move for the environment. There is a huge difference between farms like Witherspoon’s Shire Gate Farm and the majority of big players in the US meat production industry. For one, factory farming (aka industrial livestock production) is terrible for the environment.
Industrial livestock production generates a huge amount of waste, which pollutes air, water and soil, resulting and degradations to the natural environment. Outcomes of this pollution are all over the news, for instance: Lake Erie’s recent algal bloom. While all meat production draws on resources and all cattle create some waste, AWA-certified farms are dedicated to lessening and mitigating their environmental impact. The AWA certification ensures animals are raised in a manner that results in lower overall emissions of greenhouse gasses and ensures manure is managed sustainably.
So all in all, the Rams’ decision to sell responsibly produced meat is a win-win for lovers of the game and for lovers of the environment. It’s one more example of how sports and sustainability are a winning combination. While the Super Bowl is a long way off, it’s obvious to us the Rams have won another important championship: the Supper Bowl of course! (Okay, that was the last football pun.)
Image “Rams” by jasieggs on Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Generic license.