We are what we eat. This is an important post to learn the difference between the meat we buy in grocery stores and meat that's sold at Farmers' Markets or Farms. Believe me there is a difference, not always taste wise, but definitely health wise.
I read this story written by Ryan Fibiger, owner and head butcher of Craft Butchery in Westport, and thought it was fantastically described. Ryan believes in the importance of knowing where your meat comes from and talking to the Farmer’s themselves about their methods and I think you’ll find some of the information Ryan shares with us in the story is quite eye opening and hopefully will get you wanting to learn more. I really feel like Ryan makes an excellent point in his writing and that it’s very important for people to know the facts about what you’re putting into your body as well as your children’s body. It’s important to be informed for your health. We are what we eat after all.
By Ryan Fibiger: “Why I believe knowing where your meat comes from is valuable:”
Knowing where your meat (all your food, really) comes from is valuable and powerful for a lot of reasons. First, it ensures a level of transparency that we should all demand of the food we put in our bodies. As a country, we’ve gotten very comfortable just accepting what is put on the plates in front of us or in the neat shrink-wrapped and gas-filled containers at the grocery store. Ground beef products is the most obvious example of how disconnected we’ve become, since one package of ground beef at the store or one burger at most restaurants (not just fast food) has the potential to be sourced from as many as 20 cows ranging in origin from Mexico to Canada. If someone gets ill from that meat, like a case of E. Coli or Mad Cow Disease, it’s almost impossible to track it to the source.
This transparency also provides access to an understanding of how the animal was raised, slaughtered and prepared for sale. Meat is not a standardized product differentiated only by the amount of marbling. The type of beef raised by people like Mark at Ox Hollow and the mid-west feedlots that account for 99% of the meat in this country could not be more different. Unfortunately, the labels that we put on our products to help us make more informed decisions have been so watered down and legislated that they don’t provide much value to the consumer. The only way to really know the what, where, when and how of the of meat that you’re buying is to know the source and ask A LOT of questions. Knowing where your meat comes from also provides a connection to the food that has been lost. I think most people would prefer not to think about the fact that the lamb chops in the styrofoam diaper actually came from a lamb, which is why the supermarkets have sterilized the buying experience. Picking your own berries or greens at the farmer’s market is one thing, but it’s very different when you talk about where a ribeye or pork chop came from. The encouraging thing is that we’re really only one generation removed from the days when everyone knew their butcher/grocer, and only two generations from when everyone knew their farmer/rancher and had access to all the important information about their food. Other cultures that still offer experiences similar to walking into Craft Butchery and seeing a whole lamb or pig on the table take better care about what goes into the food that they eat. We can get back to this in our culture too, but it will take a lot of education and consumer awareness. Witnessing the butchery of a whole animal like you can see nearly every day at Craft Butchery might be a little shocking to some, but it’s a health experience and something we should be exposing our children to as well.
“Why supporting local farmers is important”
In addition to playing an important role in keeping us connected to our food and ensuring transparency, I think supporting our local farms is the only way to transform our food system. I don’t see another way for us to make high quality food available and affordable to everyone than to keep our farmers on the land pay them the real cost of production. This can still be made affordable for the consumer by buying direct from the farm, and it helps to offset the fact that our small local farms get none of the subsidies that the corn, soybean and other commodities producers receive. I also see it as a way of supporting a business that reflects my values as both a consumer and a fellow small business owner. Can you imagine if we started loosing all the great local farms around us in CT because of the difference in the economics versus the huge factory farms and the discrepancies in the government aid? At the end of the day for me, we have awesome farms and farmers in our area who work their asses off every day for us to put together that perfect salad or serve that amazing cut of meat. We need to honor and support that in the way that we choose to vote with our dollar.
”Guidelines for buying meat”
The advice that I always give to people is to ask A LOT of questions, and make sure you’re comfortable with the answers. One of the reasons we started Craft Butchery is that we couldn’t get straight answers from anyone about where the meat came from and how it was raised. Don’t just assume that because you’re in a high-end restaurant or grocery that the meat is of better quality than the famed stories of Food Inc and Omnivores Dilemma. It usually isn’t. Also, unfortunately we can’t take much stock in labels like “natural”, “grass fed” or “free range”. None of these labels mean much anymore and they are very loosely applied. The best thing you do to ensure you’re not getting the burger made from 20 cows and three different countries is to ask:
- WHO raised the animal? WHO butchered the animal?
- WHAT was the animal fed? Was it raised on pasture or in captivity? Was it ever given any hormones or antibiotics?
- WHEN was the animal slaughtered and by whom? Was it humane?
- WHERE is the farm located and do they accept visitors?
- WHY did you choose this farm?
- HOW did you receive the meat? In large pieces (primals)? Pre-cut and packaged?
Thank you Ryan!! Well said! Even if you don’t go out tomorrow and change where you buy your meat from, (which would be wonderful if you did), but even if you didn’t, just being more aware and educated on what’s really happening to our food is an great thing. Our health really depends on the choices we make in what foods we eat and that includes meat. Ryan mentioned one of my favorite books in his post, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. I HIGHLY recommend that anyone who eats, reads this book. Michael Pollan does what many of us wish we could do. He purchases a package of chicken from Whole Foods and follows it all the way back to the very factory and then farm it came from. Pollan learns a whole lot he didn’t expect along the way and writes it all for us to experience with him. He visits a factory and learns more about how they care for their cows and chickens, (or don’t care for that matter) and then visits a farm that still uses traditional ways of farming, where the cows are grass fed and so are the chickens. It’s extremely eye opening and a must read. It even made our “Books we Love” Section on www.BuyLocallyCT.com.
If you are curious about what farms near you raise and sell their meats, please go to the “CT Farms” Section on the website or go here: “CT Farms”, put in the town you live in and how many miles you’re willing to travel. Select “Meats” under the categories and press “Search.” Try visiting a farm and asking them some of these questions. Just know that purchasing direct from the farm is fresher and healthier for you and your family. It makes a difference for you and your family.
If you are a business that makes your own products here in Connecticut and would like to join our cause in getting more consumers to purchase locally and would like your products on our website, please contact me, Carissa at 203-223-0127 or email carissa@buylocallyCT.com. Visit us on Facebook at: BuyLocallyCT.com by Carissa Algeri-Gulyas. Thank you.