A lot of people have a hard time discussing where our food actually comes from. It seems the ‘ostrich in the sand’ approach at the grocery store is the norm. And this kinda scares me. Like, a lot. I’m not a crazy ‘doomsday prepper’ (partly because I see a lot of processed scary foods in their bunkers) but believe in being as proactive as possible when it comes to what I put in my mouth. This is not to say I don’t eat junk food occasionally, and it has been a long process to switch our household to a more self sustaining system, but it’s all been worth it. Piece of mind is an amazing thing.
A few weeks ago we invested in a side of local, grass-fed, yearling beef. What does that even mean? A side is half of the cow, directly down the middle. Grass-fed is the new hot way to eat beef, and folks who are used to the feedlot farmed beef at the store may not like it. Why? Because these cows grow slower at a more natural pace, have less fat and just taste fresh. Feedlot cows are fed corn and other grains mixed in silage that they are actually unable to digest properly. In a nutshell: the food to fatten them up for us makes them sick – but they are led to slaughter before they feel the full effect (or shot up with drugs). Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that…..I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Anyhoo. Buying local and in bulk not only tastes a ton better, but saves you cash in the long run. You are able to tell the butcher exactly what you want. If you’re like me and struggle to make a roast that isn’t a dried out brick, you can ask for more steaks. Don’t like stew beef? Have it ground. You even get the bones (should you want them) to freeze and make stock with later. (Beef bones make amazing french onion soup). You can talk to the farmer in many cases and ask him questions about his animals. My friend Heather has even gone to farms to see how they do things (she’s a pig buying expert). Not sure you can handle a full animal or even half? Go in with a friend! Heather and I did that this last time to try this new farmer’s animals and so far we’re in love and planning our next freezer restock already.
Think you might want to give it a try? A few helpful questions to ask your friendly farmer to see if the meat is the right fit for you:
- Has the animal had grain at all? (grain adds fat to the animal, but grain too close to slaughter adds a very obvious taste to the meat which most people find to be highly undesirable. A reputable farmer will have his timing down pat.)
- When discussing the weight, is this the hanging weight of the animal or on hoof? (Hanging means it has been processed down to just half the animal, on hoof is the whole kit and caboodle.)
- How old is the animal? (A heifer has been milked, most likely for awhile, and will not be as desirable. Bulls are out – too many hormones. But a yearling cow, though smaller than a full sized cow can be either sex – the hormones in a male will not have made a difference in the meat yet.)
- When talking to your butcher be sure to ask what offal come with the package and make sure you are given the tenderloin (it’s the most desireable part and some shady butchers keep that for themselves.)
It may seem expensive at first to invest such a large amount of moolah at one time, but in the end it all works out. Your ground per pound costs more than the store, but you just scored a filet mignon and all sorts of tasty bits for cheaper, and you have far better piece of mind. And if you don’t like the idea of seeing this cow/pig/chicken in your minds eye as meat, remember that Bessie, Porky or Bawk Bawk had a far better life (almost 200% guaranteed) then the meat you find sitting on styrofoam in the meat section of your local Stop N Shop.