This is the time of year that ranchers move their cattle from spring lands to summer lands. It happens after the calves have been born, branded and vaccinations have been given. Summer lands may be leased or owned, but are generally in higher elevations away from the main homestead. It is not a great picture, but here is a photo I snapped when I ran in some cattle being moved last week.
For those of you curious about this all, the county I was in last week had just under 2,000 people. According to data I could find they sold approximately 45,0000 head of cattle last year. This does not include the cattle that they kept for breeding stock for this year. If you ever wonder about the food on your table and where it may have come from, your beef may have come from one of the many cattle herds in Montana.
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. .
Today was a holiday for my husband and me. We spent the day putsing around the house. Smoke blew in from a forest fire from who knows where and we knocked off early, both feeling a little under the weather. There has been lots of crud going around my husband’s office and the kind of smoke we had today can make anyone feel poorly. We had planned on having a nice dinner, but it quickly seemed to both of us that comfort food was more in order.
I pulled things out of my refrigerator to make beef vegetable noodle soup. I was making it home-made, using the make-do philosophy. I think sometimes that kind of cooking is a lost art. The art of cooking from scratch, making do with what you have on hand. I had some left over short ribs, I had made in the slow cooker yesterday. I threw the meat from the ribs in a pan along with some water, a diced potato half a carrot sliced, and a small handful of bow tie pasta. While boiling away I sauteed a little onion and celery until they were clear and added that to the boiling veggies. Next I found a couple of tomatoes that were ready to be used and chopped them and poured them on top of the boiling mixture. It was now evident that my water was boiling away, so I pulled out the last of some V8 and found some gravy that we had made from the drippings last night. Both went in the soup. I found one collard green left in the refrig and pulled it out and chopped a little into the soup. Everything fresh I had on hand was in the soup, but it still did not say vegetable to me. Off to the freezer; there I found corn, peas and beans. I took a small handful of each and add the three to my soup and cooked until they were done. Ta’Da. Soup was on.
Before we could sit down and eat soup, my husband got a call to report to work. It seems there is another forest fire tonight. I quickly heated up a wide mouth thermos and filled it with my soup. I am not sure when he will get to it, but I hope it is still warm. No matter what I am sure that my make-do soup will hit the spot. He will miss out on dessert though as it was still in the oven…creamy pear pie. He was bemoaning the fact that he was going to get none of that. This is a late season fire, let’s hope in spite of the dry weather it doesn’t go crazy and he can be home soon and enjoy his pie.