Monday, October 05, 2009

Happy Meat

So it's Monday and I think I'm just the tiniest bit crabby because it's been raining for like a week straight which is keeping me from getting the stuff done outside that I'm feeling anxious about, what with it being fall in Minnesota and all. Because we feel something is urgent when it gets to be this time of year here, don't we?
So with that in mind you'll forgive me when I start rant about food, right? But more importantly, you'll listen, because this applies to YOU. To me. To everyone.

First, let's start off with something happy. Happy meat! Steaks from the cow who wandered around and lived it's life at the farm next door, butchered in the town next door to that and sold at the same place it was raised. It doesn't get any better, and I can't wait to grill these up:
gale woods beef

So then, did you happen to see this article in the NYT? It's about the disgusting practices of industrial-scale slaughterhouses and commercial beef processors that led to a St. Cloud woman's permanent disability due to e. coli infection, and it will make you want to barf and it will make you angry. But it's important and enlightening, so go read it, I beg you.

So it's good, and DISGUSTING, to know exactly what goes into those "meat" products you buy at the store. And the players in this game can and do stand around pointing fingers at each other and fighting about who's responsibility testing for e. coli contamination should be, but THAT IS ONLY PART OF THE PROBLEM. What I think the article misses is the fact that industrial agricultural practices, namely feed-lot "finishing"of beef cattle, are what gave us pathogenic e. coli in the first place, and if we'd quit doing that and quit eating that, we'd have a lot less to worry about. Likewise anything that's been slaughtered and processed on an industrial scale. IT NEEDS TO STOP, and the only way I can see that it might, like ever, is if we stop it.

So MY point here is this: lets redouble our efforts to get off industrially raised and processed meat, eh? I know, it's more expensive to buy pasture raised, non-industrually produced meats and it probably takes more effort to get them, but it has an impact that goes way beyond being safer and healthier and I think it's the single most important thing you can do with your own personal part of the food chain and your food dollars...right after getting hooked up with CSA or local farmers markets for your produce.

I've been doing fairly OK with the happy-meat-only goal I set for myself a few years ago. Not 100%, but probably 80% of the meat I buy these days is pasture raised, organic and most often local. What's harder is the eating, because it's harder to control for that when you're eating out and I'm not the kind of girl who would ever say no to a nice hunk of slow-smoked prime rib or pork shoulder at a BBQ with friends, even if it did come from Sams Club and an animal that stood around in a crowded poop swamp for months eating antibiotic-laced GMO corn. So while I've never been a big restaurant steak or burger eater anyway, there's always those times that I just have to give myself a break. And then I might just try and find a way to start a conversation about the provenance of meat, because I'm an annoying bitch that way.

So, how about setting a happy meat goal for yourself and your family? For me, yes, it does cost more and take a bit more of my time, but the result of those facts at my house is that we eat less meat, which is a GOOD thing, even if it does take a bit of getting used to and a change in thinking. It's totally do-able, people! If you need a place to start, check out the Local Harvest website or these local sustainable farming resources.

We bought 1/2 a certified organic raised cow last year. The thing I like most about it is that the meat isn't that strange technicolor red that store bought beef is. No carbon monoxide exposed moo-moo for us! Plus it tastes 1000x better than feed lot beef.
Amen! I've been doing the same thing you are, but I just got started about a month ago. I've been buying local when possible, organic when I can't buy local, and if the only option is something that came from halfway around the world, I skip it and choose something else. I'm especially picky about meat - we eat out at restaurants far less often now, and when we do I always order a vegetarian or fish entree. Have you read Animal Vegetable Miracle and The Omnivore's Dilema? It's hard to find people to talk to about this, because most people choose to remain willfully ignorant about what happens to food animals in this country. (PS - great blog!)
Yep, and yep to those books. O.D. changed my life forever, and I really think it should be required reading for school kids everywhere. How about "In Defense of Food"?
I agree that people seem to choose to be ignorant more often than not, but I think that's getting harder and harder to do. And that's one reason I just have to preach about it once in a while. Besides, I believe we're ALL going to have to change our ways at somepoint in the not so distant future so why not start now?
Love it! I'm justing finishing the half of grass-fed beef that went into my freezer last year. The bones make wonderful broth. Next up is a chicken coop for my back yard :)
Yes, I have also read In Defense of Food, and as a result I have started making a lot more things from scratch (bread, yogurt, instant oatmeal mix, even cheese!) and doing A LOT more label reading at the grocery store. I feel like my entire perspective has changed regarding the amount of time I am willing to invest in food prep, and the amount of extra work it takes to track down the food I can feel good about eating. Are there any other books you would recommend?
Michael pollan writes fairly regularly in the NYT, and his recent op-ed piece about our eating habits in the context of the current debate over health care was superb:
I do 100% happy meat, but that's because I was vegetarian for the last 17 years, up until my last pregnancy and when I began to do a lot of reading about farms and all of Michael Pollan's books. Now I do eat meat once or twice a week, and it's easier for me to say no at parties and such since I was veg for so long, they're already used to my food quirks!
Omnivore's Dilemma made a convert of me. Or a convert in progress, at least. One of the things I love about the city I live in is that at a lot of restaurants you can ask where the meat came from, and they understand why you're asking (because enough people here are conscious about the importance of non-industrial meat). Some menus even feature the source of their meat.

That said - wow it's hard.... it's soooooo convenient to just grab the meat at the grocery store and not think about where it came from and what it actually is. I find it easier to just really cut down on the meat in my diet.

The thing that really puts me in a rage about industrial meat + e coli, etc is that everything about government regulations concerning slaughterhouses makes it difficult for small scale operators to meet code. so you're guaranteeing only large scale operations, which means when any contamination happens, it taints huge quantities of food and is unleashed on huge food networks. If we could (and did) do things more locally, the effect of any contamination would be so much smaller!
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