When we're wheeling the cart around the grocery store, picking up pantry staples and dairy products, you generally don't find any meat in the basket.
No, we are not vegetarians. It's just that our meat buying habits require "go around back" and entering the side door, as opposed to the back door — that's where the cows go in. There, greeted by a man with blood-spattered clothes and a knife at his side. It sounds more like a horror flick than a meat run, but, if you are going to eat meat, you need to know where it comes from.
Growing up, with an uncle who raised our beef, this was a normal way we bought meat. For others, it may take a bit of getting used to, but it is well worth the effort.
Recently, we took a field trip to a different meat locker. I know, not your typical weekend activity, and there is the awkward moment explaining to the kiddo that no, the cows are not going to get up and walk. But, it was an educational trip. The meat locker is called Paradise, and it is the source of the heritage Berkshire pork that the likes of Thomas Keller and Mario Batali have shipped to their restaurants.
The owner, Mario, will happily walk you through the facility. It is so clean you could safely eat off the floor. And he also talks through their methods — one animal slaughtered at a time with every precaution and never a single positive test for E. coli. It made me want to eat medium-rare hamburger again. It also restored my belief that there are people who care about the way our food is produced, who are passionate about the end product being safe and the best it can be. It just takes some looking and extra work to find these folks.
The animals were all sustainably-raised without antibiotics or animal byproduct in their feed. You can find both Wagyu beef and grassfed beef dry aging in the locker. For a quick comparison, the two sides at the far right in the photo are grassfed, note how much less fat they have. The locker also has Berkshire pork, chicken, lamb and even goat.
The prices are surprisingly reasonable buying direct as well. Expect to pay more than "conventional" factory-farmed meat prices, but far less than the "natural" product from Whole Foods. If you buy in quantity from a trusted source, you can get your meat prices down to around $4.00 per pound for beef or less. Indeed, knowing what the NY restaurants that serve this stuff are charging, I felt like I was shoplifting the two slabs of Berkshire pork ribs under my arm.
Ways to Buy Better Meat (and be more green)
- Find ranchers/farmers who raise their livestock in a sustainable way (localharvest.org)
- Visit the facility where the meat is processed and ask to see the locker and how the process is done — ask about safety record
- Visit the farm and see the living conditions for the livestock
- Ask the farmer if the animals have been treated with antibiotics or hormones
- Ask the farmer what the animals have been fed, grassfed is the most sustainable and safest beef
- Share a cow with other families to save costs by buying in bulk
- Skip meat one day a week to lighten your carbon footprint, eat less, eat better