Friday, January 1, 2010

Thoughts For A New Year: Meat Of Known Origin, Revisited

One of my New Year's resolutions last year was to eat only Meat Of Known Origin.

I stuck to this resolution pretty well. But I did make some exceptions—for example, when I found myself at someone's house for dinner, I ate what was put in front of me, rather than explaining why I wouldn't eat it.

Why did I make this exception? Was it out of consideration for my hosts? If I had made my explanation to my hosts, for them to go on eating their Meat Of Unknown Origin would have been like admitting that they didn't care about suffering as much as I did, or didn't care about food as much as I did, or weren't as clever or resourceful as I was, or even that they couldn't afford to pay for MOKO.

Perhaps I made the other-peoples-houses exception not for their sake but for my own, so that I could avoid a conversation that might be uncomfortable for me. (I don't enjoy delicate conversations, although I am better at them than I used to be.)

It's pretty easy for me to eat Meat Of Known Origin while at home, surrounded by my familiar food supply chain and restaurants; eating MOKO on the road is generally much more difficult. So I made another exception when I traveled internationally, because language and cultural barriers made it harder for me to know where my meat was coming from, and because factory farming is somewhat less prevalent outside the US. Then I started making exceptions when I traveled within the US, for reasons of convenience as much as anything else.

Then I thought I was getting a cold, and I decided that what I needed was some of the delicious Vietnamese beef-noodle soup called phở. So I went to a Vietnamese restaurant and had some. (More about phở here.)

One of my resolutions for 2010: I will do better.

I just finished reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Saffran Foer. I recommend this book highly to anyone who eats meat, and to anyone who does not. In it, you will find such apparent contradictions as the vegetarian rancher, and the vegan who builds slaughterhouses. Foer explores the ethics and alliances of the world of meat in a nuanced way. Rather than simply presenting the facts, like a journalist, he provides useful moral and cultural frameworks, and invites us to explore for ourselves how everything fits together. He goes beyond previous writers on the subject of "sustainable" meat. Reading his book helped remind me that I could do better than I have done before—and that in fact I must. And perhaps even that I could eat less meat than I have before.

I would invite everyone to think about where their food is coming from, particularly their meat. If you do eat meat, have you explored sources outside the factory system?


Elizabeth A. said...

Alex, so glad to see you thinking this way. Becoming vegan is not the only response to factory farming of animals. Continuing to eat factory farmed meat may be a cop out for folks who find veganism hard if not impossible. There's an answer people: EAT LESS MEAT. How simple. A New Year's resolution we all can keep.

Alex Lewin said...

Frugal: agreed.

I'd be curious to hear what you think about these proposals:

- To minimize the number of animals that get eaten, we can use as many parts as possible: the tender parts, the tough parts, the fat, the bones, the organs.

- To reduce demand for "meat animals", we can eat as many "non-meat animals" as possible: retired dairy cows, retired laying hens, and perhaps, arguably, male calves from dairy farms.

Marianne Elixir said...

This is an interesting resolution. I think we largely ate only MOKO in 2009 with largely the same exceptions as you stated. I would like to join you in trying better for 2010. Now that I am 3+ years in on my own food revolution, I have slowly won over many of my friends and family, which makes traveling and eating at others' homes all the better. My husband's family is another story entirely, but for now it seems more loving not to take issue (and we don't see them that often).

We also decided that it made more sense to eat an entire animal. It is not sustainable to eat only the good or favorite cuts. Take lamb shanks, for example, you can only get 4 from 1 animal. How often do I cook them? How many lamb lives am I taking to eat my shanks? At this point I cannot even fathom buying cuts of chicken. The whole bird is SO much more economical anyway!

This year we bought a whole butchered cow (split with a friend) and have had to make do with eating all the cuts. I am still learning how to prepare some of them in a satisfying manner. I set out a rationing plan of sorts that allowed cow meat twice a week, ground beef once, and alternating weeks of a roast or a steak (and I use the term "steak" liberally to include things like "tenderized round steak"). 1 good steak night a month and the rare treat of tenderloin. This is how it must have been before the invention of convenience grocery stores.

The bones can be used for broth, and there is lots of liver I have not prepared often enough. I have tongue and heart to figure out too, but I am grateful for your blog for such things.

Thanks for all you post and do for the real food revolution.

Alex Lewin said...

Hi Marianne,

Thanks for your kind and insightful comment.

It sounds you and I are thinking about a lot of the same issues. One that you allude to is the question of how to talk to people about meat while still being loving, and not overwhelming them. I had finally convinced my mom to get organic meat rather than regular meat, and then I turned around and decided that organic meat wasn't good enough, and that we should really be getting meat from a variety of farmers' markets in different places on different days, or from a small, far-away farm, or from a buying club that takes orders once a month! I'm not sure she's sold on this program, but I've been giving her frozen meat every now and then, and this seems to keep us both happy.

A few days before Thanksgiving, I bought a fresh heritage turkey, my mom and I brined it, and then the night before Thanksgiving I dropped it off at our hosts' house. This allowed me to satisfy my desire for MOKO, while still being a good guest. (It's not every guest who delivers an awesome turkey to the hosts!) When you look at the price per person of heritage turkey cooked at home, it's still significantly less expensive than questionable meat bought at a medium-priced restaurant, especially if you include the turkey soup and turkey sandwiches in your calculations. This, even though the turkey I bought was more than 10 times more expensive than a Wal-Mart turkey! (more than $5/pound vs. less than $0.50/pound)

Congratulations on your cow. That seems to me to be the way to go. Since I live alone, it is difficult for me to imagine getting that much meat all at once, but I'm sure the time will come. For now, I get a steak here, some cubes there, and now and then a big bunch of bones!

The heart and especially the liver can be ground up and snuck into meatloaf, meatballs, burgers, or gravy. The tongue, well, I suppose that can be ground up and snuck in, too. There are some great Spanish recipes for beef tongue, but I'm guessing they could be a hard sell to most kids (and to many adults!).

I've been enjoying your blogs and your wonderful writing. I am looking forward to following your endeavors. I am honored to be part of a revolution that includes people like you and some of the others I met at the Wise Traditions 2009 conference this fall.

Rachel said...

We are on the same page as well :-) Like Alex, we don't have the stomach size or storage space for a whole or half animal, but we've joined a meat CSA which uses the whole animal. We haven't gotten tongue, but the CSA offers quite a variety nonetheless. It certainly stretches your creativity! Alex, I'd love to go to your class at CSCA, but I'm having a really tough time fitting it into our budget :-( Has the WAPF announced the date of the 2010 Wise Traditions Conference? I don't see it on the website, but I'm hoping to go...
Thanks for your great blog!

Alex Lewin said...

Rachel! Thank you for reading my blog. Which meat CSA are you getting?

I understand about the class. I am doing another class this month for $15. I hope that works better for you. Details here:

Wise Traditions 2010 will be Nov 12-15 in King Of Prussia, PA.

Before that, the Fourfold Path To Healing conference will be in Nashua, NH at the end of this month, Jan 29-31. . I went last year, and it was great. HIGHLY recommended!

Marianne Elixir said...

Alex - Thank you for such kind complements!

I really enjoy your thanksgiving story. Who could say no to bringing the Turkey! What a wonderful idea. I am tucking that away for next year.

Yes, the whole cow was a LOT of meat. I have a post from last spring with the details. It completely filled our upright freezer with no room for the bones. Luckily we only kept half. Previously we had bought an 1/8 of a cow split with other friends, and that, surprisingly, fit in our kitchen freezer along with other things. A meat CSA sounds like another great option for MOKO.

Thank you for the reminder of meatloaf. My kids actually love the stuff, so that would be a good way to sneak in the organ meats (though, I think the kids would have less problem eating it as is, my two year old devoured his liver when I made it, it was the rest of us that had problems).

I hope to make it to a Wise Traditions Conference one of these years! It has been wonderful to get to know, through all the real food media blogs, so many other like minded people. Keep up the good work!