Friday, January 28, 2011

How to Buy Sustainable Meat

While many people who embrace sustainable living find that vegetarianism best suits their lifestyle, many of the rest of us eat meat. I do so only occasionally, but my husband is a carnivore and does like to have meat an average of once a day. So, when we shop for meat, we look for the healthiest and most sustainable options we can.

What you see above is a chuck roast in my Crock Pot, simmering away with potatoes, carrots, and garden herbs. The great thing about this roast/stew is that it can be entirely local if you have dried your own herbs and cellared your root veggies, but it depends on sourcing your meat locally.  The process can sometimes be harder than you think, so here are the steps we follow.  The further down the list you get, the more sustainable your meat purchase.

1.  Find a local butcher.  We are lucky enough to have an Amish-run butcher shop, Landes Fresh Meats, less than 45 minutes away.  We know they butcher on site, so at least we know that a purchase there eliminates some of the transportation costs associated with delivery to a chain grocer, and we are happy to keep the money in our community.  We stock up twice a year to further reduce transportation costs.

2.  Check out where your butcher sources their animals.  Ours draws animals in from Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, so some of them may fail the 100-mile test that many locovores use, but it is certainly better than a beef raised in Iowa and taken to a slaughter house in Oklahoma with the meat then trucked to Ohio.

3.  Ask about any policies they may have about how the animal was raised.  We know that Landes does not accept beef that has been given hormones, fed animal by-products, or received antibiotics within 150 days of harvest.  These things are important to us.  If it is important to you that the animal have ample access to the outdoors (as well it should), then ask that too.

4.  Ask what the animal ate.  Landes uses corn-fed animals.  I would prefer grass-fed, but that is much more expensive and harder to get.  In fact, around here it seems I am always balancing between grass-fed and local, as the only grass-fed meat I can find is at a small upscale grocer, and it is not sourced locally. 

Since Landes does custom butchering, my next task is to find someone raising grass-fed cattle that would sell me a whole or a part if I paid for butchering as well as the meat.  This is our next step to work on in our quest to be more sustainable.  However, I know it will be hard to find.  We once bought part of a beef raised by an acquaintance, only to hear that the animal had been fed all sorts of leftovers.  In that case, a corn diet may have been preferable.

5.  When in doubt, raise your own.  We will never be able to do this on our property, but surely the most ethical way of eating meat is to raise the animal yourself, treat it with respect by allowing it as much room to roam and as much of its natural diet as possible, then take responsibility for its harvest.  

All in all, we are happy with our solution to stocking our freezer, but we know we can always do better.  However, I just feel better cooking up a roast for Mr. FC&G if I know more about the origins of both the meat and the veggies. 

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  1. OMNIVORE. Your husband is an omnivore — not a carnivore — because he eats both meat and vegetables.

  2. LOL -- true! He will eat almost anything!