I’ve been reading a lot more about sustainable meat production while working with Chefs Collaborative and I want to share some of the press I’ve been reading lately as well as some of my personal experiences with sustainable meat as motivation for chefs and farmers to keep up the good work.
1. The cutest (and tastiest) lambs
Next door to Anne Amie Vineyards, in Oregon, is a family that has been raising sheep and cows and horses for 20 some odd years. On my way to work at the winery, I would creep up the driveway everyday, oggling the baby sheep, and laughing at the llama that stood guard. From harvest to bud break, the sheep were let into the vineyard to graze, effectively tidying the detritus from harvest and mowing while “fertilizing.” The second year I worked there, I discovered that the staff pooled cash to buy a couple lambs’ worth of meat whenever the neighbors harvested a few. It was the first time I’d heard of this sort of practice – meat straight from a farmer. I brought my cash, and the next day there were no sheep in the front pasture, but a box of freshly butchered meat wrapped in brown paper and labelled awaited me in the cooler. I took it home and carefully unwrapped a package of chops. They were the lightest, brightest pink I’ve ever seen and the fat was a brilliant sticky white. I seared them and we ate them with roasted roots and an Estate Pinot Noir from the same vineyard the lambs had grazed in. It was the best lamb I’ve ever eaten; maybe one of the best meals. I felt a twinge of sadness knowing that there were fewer baby sheep, but there were more again the following spring. And I knew that they ate well, were loved, and were harvested with care. Now I have a really hard time buying lamb that’s shipped from elsewhere, and I refuse to buy non-domestic at restaurants. I would rather abstain from meat than have something that I can’t connect with.
2. Turkey time
Last year, while I was living in Nevada, my family started participating in a farm share program at Girl Farm, outside of Reno. Every so often, they’d send out an email for volunteers to help plant garlic, or harvest chickens. Around Thanksgiving, they invited the families who requested Turkeys to come out and harvest their own. Sixteen families participated with at least one volunteer. We showed up at 7am on a snowy day and helped separate the keepers for breeding and the Turkey dinners.
Turkeys, if you’ve never hung out with them, are hilarious. They roam around in groups, like little kids playing soccer. They would swarm around and cluck at me, tilting their heads, as if looking for a response. They’d peck at the grommets on my jeans. When they posture and puff up, they hold their breath and their faces eventually turn blue, so they start to let out little puffs of air that sound like pressured air hose spurts. They’re downright goofy. So I was a little sad to see them go. That being said, I’m not squeamish and I was up to the task.
Girl Farm is small and still getting started with a lot of things, so we did everything by hand, even the plucking. I was amazed by how gentle everyone was, and how quiet the turkeys were. Everything went smoothly and no one was shocked or traumatized. The first gizzard we opened had full size fence staples and a few small nails in it and everyone laughed. Wendy asked if her pliers were in there, too. After I went through the process start to finish, I weighed my turkey. 9 pounds. I was stunned. Growing up, we almost always had 20lb. turkeys at Thanksgiving for our enormous family. I asked Wendy how they would ever get Turkeys that were 20 lbs. The ones that were 9 lbs. seemed huge already. They wouldn’t.
That turkey was so flavorful that I don’t think I could ever eat turkey from a grocery store again. It left a profound impression on me. So I was particularly moved by a blog post on Serious Eats.
The meat debate is forever ongoing. When I started this last semester in the Gastronomy program at BU, one of the most fiery debates was over vegetarianism and veganism. How can someone be serious about food if they rule out the vast portion of cuisine that meat and dairy comprise? How can someone knowingly eat meat that is unsustainable and unethical? I can’t see myself doing either. I love meat. I always have. I’ve never considered being vegetarian, much less vegan, so I am intrigued by one of Mark Bittman’s latest articles. It seems to me that education is key to changing the direction of our food system, but direct connection with individual consumers (in the way that I’ve experienced it) is incredibly laborious and difficult to achieve. That’s just another good reason for Chefs to set a good example and bring the farm to the table. Keep up the good work!
Katie Dolph is a Communications and Outreach Intern with the Chefs Collaborative.