Knowing Where Your Meat Comes From

There are not many true butcher shops left today.

This week with all the horse meat controversy going on in Europe it made me think again about how important it is to know where your food comes from.  It is something that none of us can do all the time, but maybe we should spend a little more time thinking about how we can take baby steps in the right direction.   Lots of baby steps can together make a big difference.  Now days so many folks have no idea about where there meat comes from.  We have pre-cut meat coming to our supermarkets ready packed  in those Styrofoam containers, some injected with gasses to keep them looking better longer.   We in this country want good cheap meat.   I would argue that cheap and good don’t go together.   It doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive, but you do get what you pay for.

In high school I read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair.  It forever tainted my view of the US food system.   It was a novel written to expose the plight of the working poor, but the pictures he painted in my mind of the Chicago meat industry have never left my mind.    I have always though much more about where all my food comes from ever since.  During the Clinton administration,  we for the most part returned meat inspection to an honor system by processing industry.   We have fewer food inspectors on the US payroll and we are having repeated cases of contaminated food in our consumer food system being reported.   I question if self policing is in our best interest. 

Think just a few years ago pink slime was in the news here in the US.   Now it has blown over.  Pink slime may be gone, but if you don’t believe that something else has replaced it  I would have to say you are deluding yourself.   Those big meat packing houses are looking at the bottom line, and not looking into your face as they hand you ground beef you just ordered like the local butcher shop.   If you wonder why ground beef in the roll is so much cheaper, than the stuff at Sam the  butcher’s shop, ask yourself are they really both the same quality.  I doubt IBP or some other big packing house really cares about what you think or say.   Sam the local butcher knows that if he has crappy meat it will get around town and he won’t be in business long. 

Growing up we did not live on a farm, nor grow our own meat.   My parents did work with local sources and would buy a whole beef or hog and have it butchered locally.   In the rural area I grew up in almost every town had a meat locker and a local butcher.    Once your was cut and wrapped we would bring some to our home freezer but most of it was stored at the local meat locker.  We could not store that much meat at home.       For you those who are unfamiliar with the term a meat locker was a place generally owned by the local butcher.   They came into play when electricity in the country wasn’t so common and even if it was a freezer in the home large enough to hold your beef was not easily found.  Local butchers had large walk-in cooler/freezers to age beef that they would cut and sell. This huge room that was the walk-in freezer also had rows of baskets you rented to store your frozen goods.   You then put a padlock on the basket  so only you have access; hence the term meat locker.

Today we source our beef and lamb from  local ranchers.   Our chickens are  from our own flock.   Fish at our house comes from local streams, rivers and lakes.   That is not possible for everyone.  The reasons are many why not everyone can do that.   What I am hoping you will think about after this article,  is that frequently your local butcher or meat shop may be one of those baby steps you can take.   It may not be as convenient as the supermarket in your city.   It likely won’t be quite as cheap.   I am thinking you will  know a little more about how your meat has been handled, and at the same time support a small business owner.   Pretty good combination in my book.   Hope so for you too. .

12 comments on “Knowing Where Your Meat Comes From

  1. Well thank God we raise our own long horn beef! But you have since scared the bejesus out of me with the whole chicken thing. Your next blog should be about what they do to chickens to sell them. It might make a person swear off poultry forever! I try to get my chickens from the local Hutterites, but I’m not sure it is much better than Costco?! And I totally agree with the post above about sharing meat and knowing where it comes from. That is huge!

  2. I so wish we had a local butcher. Luckily most of our meat is raised on our farm or hunted from the wild. I wish there were more options for people that can’t raise their own and that can’t afford the good stuff.

  3. I, too, purchase direct from rancher and have it butchered locally – when you have control over how your meat is processed, you get more from your purchase and end up getting quality meat for around $4-$6/lb – which may seem like no savings for hamburger, but you’re getting your t-bone steaks for the same price!

    Once I switched -(along with changing our menu to the Traditional Diet) I noticed my family didn’t need as much quantity because they were getting quality, so our grocery budget actually lowered in the long run, even though I had to come up with the lump sum initially.

    If you are on a tight budget, find friends to split the beef/hog with – – once you get used to quality meat and see the savings vs. buying the stuff at the chain store – you’ll never go back. And once you get into a rotational buying system, I can vouch this is the more economical way –

    Sorry, so long – One of my passions – for anyone interested in reading more, or if you live in Eastern Colorado – here’s where I get my meat from (He let me build a website for him!)

    • I am passionate about Grass-fed beef as well. It is what their digestive system was designed for. Going back to grass-fed beef like free range dual purpose birds requires you to re-learn and be open to more ways of preparing your meat. I have a couple of cook books from the 30’s and they are the best.

  4. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to only eat meat I know. That is, I know where it came from or who hunted/butchered it. I did this partly for health reasons, but also because of the cruel treatment of animals in our industrialized food system. If I can’t find meat I know, then I don’t eat meat. The thought that one pound of ground beef from the grocery store can contain the meat of over 400 different cows completely freaks me out.

  5. Couldn’t agree more but sadly it’s those with the smallest incomes (and often with more mouths to feed) who are left with fewer choices. Anyone who can afford the choice owes it to the less fortunate to fight for full knowledge of food chains.

    • I do so agree that it is costly to eat “right” I constantly see these TV shows showing that isn’t expensive to eat lots of veggies and fruits. I always wonder what are they smoking? Same is true for meat, dairy and the other food stuff.

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