Tag Archives: meat

Real Food: Animals

After my last two posts, which were more philosophical than I usually tend to be (I’m more of a realist), I wanted to share the food choices we make.  This is what works for us, after a few years of working on making our food more sustainable and seasonal.  I’m going into a lot of detail, so I’m going to split it into different categories over a few different posts.

I’m starting with meat because I believe we can be ethical omnivores.  I believe we can be animal lovers and still eat animals and animal products.

I’ve found a standing freezer to be our most valuable purchase when it comes to eating meat sustainably.  Because we get meat seasonally, we get a whole lot at once and keep it frozen all year.  It’s a great feeling to know that I have a ton of meat in the basement and don’t need to run out to the grocery store.

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My husband’s family started raising pigs again a few years ago.  Ed’s dad grew up butchering animals for local farms with his family, so he knows how to slaughter and process the meat.  One pig provides all the pork, bacon, sausage and ham we’ll eat for a year.

My husband’s family also raises turkeys.  We don’t eat a ton of turkey, so the couple that we have in the freezer will last the whole year for us.  We cut it into parts before we freeze it, so I’ve got turkey breast, thighs and drumsticks, as well as parts for soup, in the freezer.

Finally, Ed’s family started raising chickens for the first time this year.  We had our first chicken the other night, and it was great.  One roasted chicken gave us two suppers and lunches for two days as well.  We’ve got three more chickens in the freezer, so I’ll still have to get some antibiotic and hormone free chickens from the store.

We also get beef from Ed’s uncle in Maine.  The beef is grass-fed, and a quarter of a cow lasts the whole year for us.  It’s been interesting, because I’ve learned to cook all different cuts of beef, including roasts, london broil, and making stew.  But, there’s also a ton of ground beef, so I wouldn’t recommend buying a whole or partial cow unless you make a lot with ground beef.

We’re also lucky to live very close to the ocean.  Ed and his family love to go out on the water, and his brother owns a shellfishing business.  So, our seafood is always caught by Ed and his brother.  We enjoy blackfish, porgies and the occasional bluefish or striped bass (it’s suggested to eat no more than one serving every six months from Long Island Sound, and I skip them because I’m “of reproductive age”).  We also get clams and oysters, but I’m not really a fan of either.  Ed’s parents have a cottage on a little island in Maine, and we’re friends with some local lobster fishermen.  So, whenever any of his family goes to Maine, they come home with fresh lobster, scallops and crab meat.  Finally, we eat the occasional wild-caught Alaskan salmon or a can of tuna.  We can’t eat locally all the time!

What choices do you make about meat?

Next Post in my “Real Food” series: Animal Products

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Where does our meat come from?

*Warning: Graphic photos follow!*

This barn was the scene of some serious work today.

Ed’s family slaughtered their pigs yesterday, removed the hair, cut them in half and let them bleed out in the cooler overnight.

Ed’s Uncle Dan was visiting, and he and Ed’s dad (not pictured) taught Ed and his brother how to cut up the meat, what to save, and what to toss. 

Family friend Putney holds the pig while Uncle Dan removes the meat.  Uncle Dan, Rich, Chris and Kate would then get to work on cutting the hams, bacon, and saving scraps for sausage. 

Ed took the chops to the meat saw and started slicing pork chops.

We got about 50 chops from each pig.

Look how big that chop is! The girls packaged and labeled the meat using the vacuum sealer.

Ed’s mom Marie using the vacuum sealer.

The finished product!

Turkeys, you’re scheduled for Tuesday! I’ll be at work, but will send my camera along with Ed so hopefully I’ll have some of those pictures to share as well.

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Ethical Omnivores

I started writing this post as a means of explaining what I’ve learned about cooking with sustainably-raised meats since November, when we butchered the pigs and also purchased 1/4 of a cow.  However, this post turned into a discussion of our food choices, and I’ll write about the changes I’ve made to my cooking in a future post.

A few years back, I started realizing that there were major problems with the meat industry.  I remember watching news reports about E. coli outbreaks and seeing the disgusting conditions in the processing plants.  I felt like my only choices were to buy the conventional meat at the grocery store or become a vegetarian.  However, I now understand that becoming a vegetarian is not the only answer to solving the environmental and ethical problems associated with eating meat.  In fact, I prefer to vote with my dollars by buying meat that is produced according to my values.

As a life-long animal lover, I absolutely believe that the animals we choose to eat should be treated humanely, even loved by their owners, and I know that is not the case with industrially raised animals.  Therefore, we choose to eat animals that we know have lived under humane conditions.  We trust the labels at the grocery store less and less, and instead prefer to trust people we know.

I’ve developed a set of ethics for our meat choices, based on our own values.  This isn’t so much a heirarchy, but more a set of guidelines that I like to follow.

  1. Raised, caught, or hunted by family or friends.
  2. Locally and sustainably raised.
  3. Raised without hormones or antibiotics.
  4. Use the whole animals, since that will translate into fewer animals overall.
  5. Limit meat to one meal each day on most days.

Ed and I are true omnivores, meaning that we eat a wide variety of foods, including many different kinds of meats.  These are the choices we make, based on location and availability of each of the following meats.

Fish and Shellfish

  • Clams and Oysters- Ed’s brother’s aquaculture business makes this one easy.  They raise clams and oysters, or will dredge for wild clams.
  • Scallops and Lobster- We have friends in Maine who are fishermen, and when anyone from Ed’s family visits them they bring home lobsters and scallops.  We have some scallops in the freezer, but eat the lobsters fresh a few times each year.  I’m allergic to lobster, so that limits how often Ed eats them, but I’m always happy for scallops.
  • Fish-  Ed and his brother love to go salt water fishing.  They’ll catch a surplus in the summer and we fill our freezer with blackfish, porgies, sole, flounder and other fish from the Sound.  I’ve cut back on the amount of fish I eat since taking my course on Long Island Sound and learning that women of reproductive age shouldn’t eat too much of these fish due to possible contamination with mercury.  I do love fish, however, so we make sure to eat low on the food chain and limit fish to no more than one meal per week, often less.
  • Other seafood- We rarely eat other fish or shellfish, since we don’t have a local or sustainable source for them.  We will eat wild Alaskan salmon a few times a year when it’s in season, and Ed will eat shrimp (I’m allergic to them, too) around the holidays when shrimp cocktail is at all the parties.

Poultry

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  • Turkey- Ed’s family has started raising turkeys this year, and I’m excited to have a local source of turkey that was raised humanely and ethically.
  • Chicken- Chicken has been our big problem.  We don’t know any local chicken farmers and haven’t seen it at any of the local farmer’s markets.  I buy the store brand chicken that is raised without hormones and antibiotics, because this is the best option available to us right now.  We eat chicken about once each week.  I try to buy the whole bird since the price is much cheaper, or I buy bone-in, skin-on breasts, thighs and legs, and often save the bones for stock. 
  • Other poultry- We will have cornish hens rarely, maybe once each year when I see them on sale in the grocery store.

Pork

  • This is an easy one.  Ed’s family raises pigs, and we have a bunch of pork in our freezer.  The bone-in pork chops are amazing and taste nothing like the bland white ones I used to buy in the grocery store.  The big change for me has been learning to cook the different roasts, sausage, bacon and ham.  As I write this I think of all the ham in the freezer that I’ll need to use up by next November.  Anybody have some ideas for good ham recipes?

Beef

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  • We got 1/4 of a cow from Ed’s cousin and split it with Chris and Melissa.  We bought this meat because we know how the cows were raised.  Like with the pork, I’ve been learning to cook different cuts of meat that I never made before.  Ground beef recipes, since that was what we got the most of, have been staples around here.  Stews, roasts and soups have also been weekly regulars.  The round eye roast in the slow cooker right now was the inspiration for this post.  I’ve realized that the NY Strip Steaks and Rib-Eye steaks Ed loved so much before aren’t the best choice for sustainability, since they represent only a small fraction of the cow.

Dairy and Eggs

  • Milk- I buy a brand from a co-op of Connecticut family farmers who do not use hormones or antibiotics.  I am most comfortable with pasteurized milk, so that is what I buy.
  • Cheese- I love to get cheese from the farmer’s markets.  The cheddars, ricottas, and fresh white flavored cheeses are delicious but also expensive, so I’m learning to make my own cheese.  So far, I’ve only mastered ricotta, but I’m hoping to learn more as time goes on.  I’ll also buy cheese produced throughout New England at the regular grocery store.
  • Butter- I choose to buy butter from a New England company.
  • Yogurt- Ed loves to take yogurt with his lunch, but I buy a big container of antibiotic and hormone free yogurt instead of the one-serving containers to limit plastic waste.
  • Eggs- Ed and I have put our plans for chickens on hold until next year, since his schedule now that clamming season is back in full swing doesn’t allow for a lot of time to build a coop.  I buy eggs from the same brand as the milk we get, and they’re from family farms in Connecticut.  I love their dark orange yolks, but they fly off the store shelves, so when they’re not available I buy eggs from the traditional farm in the next town over.

Other Meats

  • Venison and Fowl-  We will occasionally eat deer, moose, caribou, or any type of fowl that has been hunted by Ed or a family member or friend.  This is a rare occasion now, but in the past Ed used to hunt more often. 
  • Going Out- When we go out to eat (which is pretty rare!) or to a friend or family member’s house, we tend to drop the rules.  I try to eat what’s in season and fresh, but sometimes we just get what we get.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our choices for eating meat in a humane, sustainable way.  I am sure that there are plenty of people that don’t agree with my choices.  The important thing to me is that we are all able to make our own choices.  I understand that this is a controvercial topic, but I hope that we can have a respectful conversation about it.  Please share your choices in the comments.

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