Tuesday, November 27, 2007

An Easy Choice

I took a weekend off to go visit my brother, taking the kiddo with me to see her cousins. With the two of them spoiling her with attention, and just my very laid back brother and myself as the adults, it was a peaceful weekend. For me, anyway. For my brother, the weekend was about as much of a break as he gets, only two calls on the pager and thankfully, none in the middle of the night.

My brother is a large animal vet in a rural area. He pretty much works seven days a week. The pager goes off, and he's out in the dark, cold night pulling a calf, or going to calm and help an injured horse. It's a hard job, not just the hours. While we were sitting in the family room, Dr. Bill told his son to be careful where he put his feet, not to kick the spot on his leg that was still sore from a harder kick by a cow. Dr. Bill also has a shiny row of gold-capped teeth in the back of his mouth from another such kick. He's missing part of a finger where it got caught in between a horse and a chute.

It's a hard job caring for livestock. A hard job that he loves. He has a deep respect for the animals, and for the farmers as well, many who are right there beside him as he works.

I think about him quite a bit these days. While I go to source local meats, I consider the hard work it takes to care for the animals. I think about how the animals are raised, what kind of life they have. I think about how my choices affect these animals and the small farmers who raise them with care.

It seems pretty inconvenient to track down food sources and do the extra leg work. After all, the grocery store is just up the road. It takes some extra calls, and driving a bit out of the way to pick up a steak or two or half a beef. But, I realize now, that consumer choice is nothing compared to the work of raising and caring for these animals.

The choice matters because:
  • It supports a family farm in my community
  • It supports sustainable agriculture
  • It supports raising livestock naturally, without antibiotics
  • It supports a better, humane life for the food animals
  • It keeps me involved and connected to the source of my food
  • It provides my family with a healthier and safer meat supply
  • Naturally-raised meat tastes really, really good
  • Buying in bulk even saves me money
  • And, it's a helluva lot easier than being kicked in the jaw by my own cow
Among the list of benefits, I can now add the issue of public health. With all the headlines in the news about antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, it's pretty notable that this one and the same bacteria strain (MRSA) has been found in concentrations on Canadian pig farms. The study, published in Veterinary Microbiology, sampled 285 pigs in 20 Ontario farms.

MRSA was found at nearly half of the farms and found in about one of every four pigs. One in five of the pig farmers were also infected. Canada will export about nine million pork to the U.S. this year alone. This study is the first one to conclusively suggest that a major source of MRSA in North America is from large-scale agriculture practices and overuse of antibiotics.


jen said...

you are right, always so right. i need to be better about this, about the meats i choose especially.

Her Grace said...

This is such an issue for me. We've become practically vegetarian because I just can't seem to find a local source where I live. I can and do get chicken, but we get soooo tired of chicken. My girls have fallen in love with a certain brand of turkey sausage (and I their ground turkey), but while it's free-range and organic, it's far from local.

I can't even look at the meat in the grocery store anymore, let alone consider buying it.

I sit right in the middle of a farming community, but yet can't buy meat. Go figure. But I keep trying.

mpg said...

I feel so grateful when I read your post that later on this morning I will pick up five pounds of turkey for meatloaf and a whole chicken at the butcher shop in my town. Although it's not certified organic, none of it has antibiotics, and all of it comes from Amish farms less than 100 miles from where I live.

The shop is run by a husband and wife who have lived in my community their whole lives. I get to chat with them every time I go in. The sad thing is that the husband has had lots of health problems (two bouts with cancer) and they are trying to sell the place. I pray that someone will buy it and continue to run it with the integrity that they have.

Hey - I made your vegetable soup last week and it was delicious and a hit except for the greens (the kids find the texture too difficult to deal with). I LOVE the kale and don't want to leave it out. Does your kiddo have the same problem?

The Expatriate Chef said...

It's ironic that it is hard to find a resource in a farming community! Good luck.

mpg, I hope the store survives. Kiddo likes the kale, and mostly doesn't notice green stuff as anything bad. She prefers the green veggies overall. She is leery of soup after trying curried pumpkin that was too spicy. We're working on it!

Pam said...

Do you list some local sources in KC in another one of your blogs? I am new reader. I purchase organic or natural meats at Whole Foods and buy local meat at Hen House. I am intested in other sources. We grow our own vegetables - so at least have that in the good weather.

The Expatriate Chef said...

Pam, you can find local meat sources listed under kcfoodcircle.org for your area. Or, use the search tool at eatlocalkc.com