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. .

Salvation Army of Food

Sometimes I think of our house as the Salvation Army of food.   I say that because our friends seem to share not only their garden’s abundance they can’t use but those things that they get, they are not sure what to do with.   My close friends know that I grew up in a home where we ate lots of small game that have never ate.   They seem to think with this background that there is nothing that I can’t cook.

Case in p0int every year we can depend on  our friends who purchased a 4H hog to give us  pork hocks.   It seems to them that pork hocks are just unimaginable for use.  I on the other hand have no problems with hocks.   Unlike the hocks you would find in a grocery store these are large, wonderfully smoked and meaty.   We turn out the standard fare Senate navy bean soup and a Caribbean bean black bean soup that can’t be beat.  Sometimes there is enough good smoked pork to make scalloped potatoes on one of those hocks.

Two days ago our 4H hog buyer  gave us  pork neck bones.   This cut of meat is not something you find every day at your supermarket or local butcher shop. Even I was a little befuddled as to what one does with this.   I ended up cooking them all day in the crock pot.   Then I deboned the meat and made with a red lentil and yam soup.   It was pronounced a keeper by husband.     It was a North African recipe and had a bit of feel of a curry.   I served it the next day to a guest for lunch.   It was a nice the second time around.

Thanks to my mom who would cook anything my dad brought home.  Thanks to my granny who said eat one bite of it, you don’t yet know if you don’t like it fixed this way.   Thanks to my grandma who cooked Sunday night dinner every week with new recipes from your cookbook collection.   You made me the broad-minded, adventuresome cook I am today.