A woman entrepreneur who champions sustainably raised animals, Ariane started a sustainable niche meat business in a country full of factory farms, almost 40 years ago, long before the farm-to-table philosophy was even a thing. She is an advocate for taste and has founded the industry’s most prestigious humanely raised protein producer.
A pioneer in the humane farming movement, Ariane Daguin is the owner and CEO of d’Artagnan, a sustainably raised meat company she founded 37 years ago. She hails from Gascon, in the southwestern corner of France, and is passionate about good food and amazing taste. Her commitment has always been to ensure a humane and sustainable approach to raising animals, selling and eating meat. “A happy chicken is a tasty chicken,” she says.
D’Artagnan’s products are sourced from 2000 small farmers and ranchers around the United States that must adhere to strict specifications. Animals must be free range, raised without medication and in a low-stress environment. The company supplies the highest quality of meats, game and pátés to home cooks and some of the country’s best restaurant chefs.
In addition to her company, in 2021 Ariane opened a non-profit silvopasture regenerative farm and education center with her daughter Alix in upstate New York called AOOA (“All for one and one for all” from Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers).
By Ariane Daguin as told to Chefs for Impact
C4I: You are a pioneer in sustainable farming and animal welfare, which you have been advocating for over 35 years. What is your definition of sustainable meat production ?
AD : It's all about sourcing. Sustainability is breeding with great respect for the animal. That's the main difference between animals that are responsibly raised and those that are factory farmed. When you have this respect, the quality follows.
C4I: Supplying sustainably raised meats has always been your philosophy, since the beginning of d'Artagnan? Why?
AD : My goal has always been to try to get the best taste possible. It turns out that the best taste is from animals that are respected and raised in wide open spaces and without stress or any medication.
C4I: How do you select the farmers and ranchers you work with?
AD : We establish a set of specifications - inspired by Label Rouge in France - that we give to our farmers to meet the selection criteria. We either work with third party certifiers who will check or we go ourselves. It's a combination of both.
C4I: How often are your partners re-audited? Do some of them lose their certification ?
AD : Every year we re-audit the farms and the processor (i.e. the slaughterhouse) in order to verify that nothing has changed in the production process. Sometimes even criteria are added, based on new technologies (medicines, etc.).
Eight years ago, there was a problem with one of our processors. We went there, immediately rectified the situation to put things back in place, and then followed up very closely.
C4I: Why is it so difficult for the consumer to navigate all the different labels and appellations ?
AD : It's complicated because the line moves because of the lobbyists’ influence on the USDA. An organic chicken today does not mean the same thing as an organic chicken when we defined years ago with the USDA. At first it meant “organic-fed, free range and total access to the outside.”
Today it means access to the outside and “sufficient room.” But what does “sufficient room” mean? It is totally subjective and can have a different meaning for everyone. That's where the problem lies. There are many certifiers that have different barometers. For example, there are three certifiers in the United States that certify "humanely raised" meats, but each has a different interpretation of what that means.
C4I: How can consumers buy meat responsibly?
AD : It is very difficult to make an informed choice about meat. You should look for small local farmers who seem passionate and respectful of the animal and nature. But that doesn't mean that, from time to time, they don't inject some medication to prevent the herd from getting sick.
It is almost impossible to source responsibly. At d'Artagnan, we offer the highest quality possible and we have certification for it, and precise criteria that the producers must follow.
Why do they follow our specifications? Because we represent a significant volume and therefore there is something at stake that producers do not want to risk losing. But it is never guaranteed. The rules are more defined in Europe but that doesn't mean they are better.
When you have a lobby that has that much influence, it kills the small producers. Some people are trying to set up networks that work with communities, canteens, to move the lines. But in general, it's easier with vegetables.
C4I: Animal production is undoubtedly a controversial topic. What trend have you seen in the past years?
AD : I see more and more chefs who are convinced that this is the right way to do things. Not only Michelin star chefs but also chefs from small bistros, who understand the difference in taste. To be a good chef is also to be creative and to use all parts of the animal and not only the noble and expensive pieces.
We are on the right path even if everything is relative compared to the world or even national consumption. Consumers are becoming more aware, but I am addressing a niche of privileged people.
C4I: Is it much more expensive to eat sustainable meats?
AD : It's a little more expensive. But people have to understand that it's a little more expensive but of much better quality. Once they understand that, it's a matter of priorities. It's about whether you want to buy the latest $300 sneakers or whether you'd rather feed your family good food.
But there's still a lot of education to be done. I recently had lunch at a restaurant, which claims to be sustainable, where I was served strawberries as a dish decoration in December. This is shocking and means that behind it all is a chef who still doesn't get it. Raising awareness through food does not seem so complicated to me.
C4I: What role do you think chefs play in changing eating habits?
AD : They have the most important role. The easiest thing is to educate through them. They are the biggest influencers.
C4I: What is the mission of your foundation AOOA?
AD: To show people that there is a circle of life that starts from the earth and that we have to take care of it in a different way than what we have done the last 50 years. AOOA is a role model for regenerative farming, where we cook in tune with the seasons, where we gather our friends and family, where we share moments of life. By tasting the difference at our table we raise awareness of understanding where our food comes from and the importance of safeguarding this circuit in a healthy way that keeps the planet alive. At AOOA we educate through taste, experiences, and education on the ground.
C4I: What motivates you?
AD: The joy of seeing people happy while eating. I come from seven generations of feeders, “nourisseurs” as we say in French. Good chefs are those who want to give pleasure. I have this passion and it comforts me to see that my daughter has it too. When I receive these incredibly touching testimonials from my visitors, then I know why I do what I do.
Chefs for Impact is a New York City based nonprofit organization educating children and adults about the environmental and well-being impact of healthy and sustainable foods.
Chefs for Impact collaborates with local schools and community centers, and organizes food and wine events as well as online instructional material.
The organization is supported by some of the food industry’s leading authorities, Michelin starred chefs, and sustainability experts.
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