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. .