Top | Weasel Food

For the love of meat...

(post, Jake Benner)

It's 5:30 Wednesday evening, just after work. I've been anticipating this moment for a week. I am the designated dealmaker. Eighty dollars cash from the ATM. I meet my dealer in the parking lot who's working out of the back of a nondescript white van. I hand over four twenties, nothing but small talk between us. He walks away and comes back with a red and white Igloo cooler. I open it to check the contents. Everything is in its place. Others are beginning to gather around me. I make my exit before things get too heated...

No, it's nothing remotely illegal--I'm just making my monthly pickup from my meat CSA, an animal-friendly, organic, community supported agriculture operation located in west-central Massachusetts.

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="A pork chop prepared with tomatoes in the Italian style."]

Each month, my spouse, a neighbor and I receive ten pounds of assorted meats from this beautiful, humanely operated farm. They keep us up-to-date with regular newsletters on animal doings and (sometimes) dyings, making us feel as if we're intimately connected with the successes and (sometimes) failures of the farm. 

Since we started in December I have been thinking about how I might justify the hefty $8/lb. price tag for this meat when a similar package of cuts and grinds may average $5-6/lb. at the non-wholesome grocery store. Wouldn't buying cheaper meat make sense with the economy and all?

Below are the benefits I figure we get for our $8/lb. Maybe those of you who are participating in a meat CSA or co-op could suggest more.

# By supporting this farm, we save its >100 acres of pasture and woodland from being subdivided and developed. As we all know, much agricultural land in the US is under development pressure from encroaching suburbs and bedroom communities. See the American Farmland Trust for more information.
# We are paying for the additional care required of animals that are raised with enough space, sun and natural food to enjoy their brief lives and that are killed as quickly and as humanely as possible. My farmers often observe how their animals are killed, many of them their personal favorite pigs or cows, and make sure that its done right (See The Center for a Livable Future's Industrial Animal Production Program reports). Yeah, I'll pay for that.
# We are eating less meat! I know meat is not an important component of everyone's lives, but we enjoy it. We also have always known that we enjoy too much of it. By restricting  our meat consumption to that we buy from the CSA we're able to put a limit on our intake. I'm not saying we're 100% successful yet, but that's the goal. Divided by 3, that's only 3 1/3 lbs per month per person (I tend to sneak a little more because I'm the cook). Come summer I may inquire about special cuts for smoking, etc., so we may kick it up to 5 lbs. per month, but still...many people where I'm from (the Midwest) eat 5 lbs. of factory meat per week!
# By giving our money directly to the farmers, we can provide them with a living wage. This is not unique to a meat CSA, but it cuts out the middle of the supply chain and means more of my money goes to support the food I want to eat and the farmers I admire.
# By buying meat locally we reduce the amount of transport used to get meat to the table, which reduces use of fuel. Although, by supporting animal agriculture we're supporting methane production...but what can you do...

So, for our $8/lb. and with a full-cost accounting of the disadvantages of industrial animal husbandry (read any of the detailed reports in the links above), I think we're getting a pretty good deal. 

In this economy it is tempting to want cheaper and cheaper food. Cheap food is killing us, just like cheap gas, and leading to the downfall of American agriculture. Cheap food isn't cheap. Pay a little more for what you really care about and eat a little less of it. Use the tips elsewhere on Culinate to rewrite or learn new recipes for a more economical use of ingredients at home.

Well, I have to go to the freezer now to decide which piece of happy hog we will eat tonight...the chops, ham steak or sausage?

p(blue). Editor's note: Read "DISCLOSURE: I'm the 'spouse'!" for more of the story.

reference-image, l