For the Love of Food, Serve Meat Raised Without Antibiotics

We all have different ways of expressing our love—some buy presents, some make grand Facebook pronouncements and some turn to Craiglist’s “Missed Connections.” For my fiancé, chef Ben Wheatley, and me, food is love. So it’s important that what we choose to eat, whether it’s on a date or on the couch, doesn’t put the public’s health at risk.

The meat of the matter: antibiotic resistance. Bacteria are evolving to withstand the drugs we need to treat infections, with grave consequences. We fretted last year over Ebola—which resulted in two deaths in the United States—while drug-resistant “superbugs” kill at least 23,000 people nationwide and sicken two million every year.

The issue is complicated, with many contributing factors, but public health experts agree that the way we use antibiotics impacts the drugs’ effectiveness against emerging superbugs. The more we take them, the less they work. That’s especially true when antibiotics are given to those who don’t need them.

The bulk of our antibiotics don’t go to sick people; they’re used on healthy animals. More than 70 percent of antibiotics in the United States are sold for use in food-animal production. Many large producers of meat and poultry have been known to give antibiotics to boost animals’ growth and to compensate for unsanitary conditions. In the long run, their facilities can grow not only cows, pigs and chickens—but an array of drug-resistant bacteria, as well.

This is a big problem and should be a concern for everyone, but especially for those of us who love food. Whether I’m braising pork shoulder for 50 or grilling burgers for four, I want to be sure that what I’m serving is a good choice—not only for those eating the food but for those who stand to be affected by the way the food was produced.

You don’t have to look far in Athens to find a similar love of food. The city is surrounded by hundreds of farms, and many of those boast responsible growing practices—using antibiotics on animals only if they really need them. Restaurants like Heirloom Café, The National and others embody the farm-to-table movement, serving foods grown locally with quality in mind.

Larger operations are starting to get the message, as well. In January, Chipotle took pork off the menu at many locations after the chain’s supplier failed to meet its standard for raising animals without antibiotic misuse. And last year, Georgia-based Chick-fil-A—the largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain in the country—announced that within five years, it will serve only chicken raised without antibiotics, joining a growing list of companies with similar commitments. There is hope that food producers will meet the demand for meat raised responsibly from companies and consumers alike.

And there’s something we as food lovers can do. By researching how our meat is produced—certified organic, limited or no antibiotics, etc.—we have the power to turn the tide of antibiotic misuse in food production. When we buy from farmers who prioritize the health of their animals and that of the public at large, we encourage all food producers to do the same.

Supporting responsible antibiotic use is a no-brainer. In fact, it’s a matter of the heart, a way to show that you love food and care about the health of those around you.

Try this recipe for roasted chicken with mole poblano and share the love.

Roasted Chicken with Mole Poblano

For the Mole:

5 Mulato Chiles *
3 Ancho Chiles*
3 Pasilla Chiles*
1 Chipotle Chile*
¼ cup neutral oil
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp almonds
2 tbsp peanuts
2 tbsp raisins
½ small onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 stale tortilla
1 Roma tomato
¼ of a ripe banana
½ tbsp Worcestershire
3 black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
¼ tsp anise seed
¼ tsp coriander
¼ tsp ground canela (cinnamon)
½ tsp Mexican oregano
½ tab of Mexican chocolate
5 cups chicken stock
1 ½ tbsp salt
1 ½ tbsp brown sugar

Clean the chiles by removing stems and seeds. Heat a heavy bottomed cast iron over medium high heat. Toast the chiles until they begin to soften, about 10 seconds, turning once; make sure they do not burn. Put the chiles in a nonreactive bowl, cover with hot water, and set aside for 30 minutes. Drain the chiles, reserving the soaking water. Puree the chiles in a blender with enough of the soaking water to make a smooth paste. It may be necessary to scrape down the sides and blend several times to obtain a smooth paste.

In a heavy-bottomed, large pot heat ½ cup oil over medium heat and add the peanuts and almonds. Sauté until golden. Add in chile paste and cook for 2 minutes, be careful when you add the paste, it may splatter. Add in onions, garlic, tomatoes and tortillas. Sauté for 3 min, stirring often. Add in toasted spices, raisins and banana. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add in 2 ½ cups chicken stock. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.

In a heavy-bottomed, large pot heat ¼ cup oil over medium heat. Add in the puree and fry in oil for about 2 min. Stir in the remaining chicken stock and Mexican chocolate. Simmer for 1 hr, stirring occasionally. Add in salt and brown sugar to finish. The mole can be made the day before and can be kept in the fridge for up to 5 days. It freezes well.

*All chiles are dried and can be purchased online or at a Mexican grocery store.

For the Chicken:

4 chicken breasts raised without antibiotic misuse, skin on (about 6 oz each)
¼ cup neutral cooking oil
1 tbsp salt

Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sauté skin side down until golden brown, about 4 min. Turn and place chicken in a 400 degree oven until cooked through, about 6 min. Transfer to a plate; keep warm.

To serve, place cooked chicken breasts on a platter. Pour the mole over the top. Garnish with toasted sesame and enjoy with warm tortillas.

Whitney Otawka is a chef residing in Cumberland Island, GA. She is the former executive chef of Cinco y Diez and Farm 255 in Athens.