produce basket, I started chatting with the woman next to me. We talked about how we enjoyed Bountiful Baskets, and she said that was just the beginning of the changes she had started making. She told me that she was now buying her meat from a local farmer who lived just down the street from where we were. In fact, you could see his silos.
I was pretty stunned when I heard this, because - wait, you can get meat from a farmer? Like with actual cows? I thought you just had to get it wrapped in cellophane from the grocery store and that was your only option. She told me that she had watched Food, Inc. which had really motivated her to find some alternative sources for her food. So I went home and watched it, and - oh boy. Not for the faint of heart. One interesting thing that I learned is that since corn is so easy to grow, most cows raised on CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) are fed corn. But sadly, corn isn't natural at all to a cow's stomach, and E. Coli gets into the meat. So the food industry adds ammonia to the meat (rather than just pasture-feeding them which would take away the E. Coli, but isn't cost-effective).
Now, I'm dancing dangerously close to the line of making this post all about the evils and politics of the food industry, but I honestly don't want to go there. I just wanted to point out a few of the things that motivate me to make changes. And if I'm not quite accurate on the whole E. Coli issue, please feel free to comment.
Anyway, I contacted this farmer who my friend said she buys from, and we had a really interesting discussion. Their cows are pastured down in the next county south of here for most of the year, and in the winter they're brought back to their farm until the spring. I'd read about this online - a lot of cows are brought back to the farm for the winter and are fed hay while they wait out the season. It sounds like that's how organic beef are raised. But my nice farmer lady told me that their beef isn't certified organic because they grain feed them in the winter. I asked if there was corn in their winter-feed, and she said there was along with several other grains. I had done some research online before she told me about this, and I knew that while purely grass-fed beef is sure LEAN, cows that are grain-fed part of the time have more marbling. And I'm definitely not above marbling. NOPE. Plus, if I'm going to have marbled beef that's been fed grain, I'd rather have it at least pastured some of the time, rather than raised on a CAFO. Aside from what makes up their feed, they don't use any pesticides on any of their property (despite great personal inconvenience, she told me - the weeding! good golly), and the cows aren't given antibiotics or any growth hormones. All things I was hoping for!
So, am I cooking up steaks every night with my new-found beef gold mine? Sadly, no. Because you want to know what the catch is to buying from farmer John rather than SuperMart? You have to buy A LOT of beef. As in, a whole or a half a cow. The Nice Lady at my produce co-op told me she found a deep freezer online, and stores all her beef in that. She buys half a cow and it lasts her a year. Farmer Lady told me that they have all of their beef butchered by a local guy, and when it's all done and wrapped up, it comes to about $2.50 a pound. Across the board. For the roasts, steaks, and hamburger. So what does that add up to for a half a cow? About $700. We're talking about A LOT of meat. Unfortunately, we don't have the means to invest in a freezer and a half a cow, though we wish we did. Also, we probably only eat one or two pounds of beef a week as a family, so I'm not sure we could go through that much meat in a healthy amount of time.
On the bright side, Farmer Lady told me that I could come buy a few pounds out of her freezer if I wanted to try out the meat, so I zipped over there and picked up some hamburger and a few steaks for the $2.50 price (bonus!). What was it like? It tasted like beef. It wasn't like I experienced any kind of life-altering cosmic meat experience, although I really did like the texture of the hamburger - not all mushy like I get from the store. It tasted like beef normally does, but for me personally, there are definitely some peace-of-mind elements to this kind of food that make it worthwhile. Knowing WHERE my meat is coming from, for one. Seeing the faces of the people who produce it and shaking their hands, learning about what's actually going into the meat from the horse's -- or cow's? mouth. Not to mention supporting local farmers, and getting a deal on the per-poundage price.
For now, we are eyeing the cellophane-wrapped offerings from the store with suspicion, and waiting for the day when we can make a deposit in the tasty beef bank. I know that what I've learned here is really just one perspective on beef, or meat in general, and that there are lots of other things to learn. Does anyone else out there have some beef insight?