The primary influence in my new assortment of frozen bovine protein is my partner Stephanie. Regular readers know why. If you don't, read the sidebar and some of the older posts. I was also influenced by a class I took last fall about Environmental History. Some of the weekly readings included material authored by Michael Pollan, and I started listening to a number of his podcasts including an older one in which he participated in the commercial beef process as an animal owner and consumer.*
I don't subscribe to the notion that commercial beef is "poison,"† but I do recognize that we have yet to fully understand the effects of hormon‡ and antibiotic-laden meat which has been hyperfattened for commercial purposes. I also believe that the CAFO system of finishing commercially lucrative beef is an exercise in poor animal stewardship.
I live in cattle country. I'm surrounded by ranchers, some sheep, but mostly cattle. The ranchers in my part of the country are those who raise calves for part of a year then sell them to the commercial lots in the Plains States where they're fattened and sold commercially. The cattle in my part of the country have good lives, but many people here buy commercial meat because it's less expensive than local. This is the perverse and interesting part of modern, efficient, cheap meat production.
In any event because of my conversations with Stephanie and my exposure to Pollan and other eco-thinkers including my professor (Dr. Bret Weber), last December I finally and seriously set about attempting to find a source of local, less risky, ethically handled beef. I contacted one ranch not too far away that advertized "organic" beef, but they never returned my call or email. I didn't know the people anyway and went looking elsewhere.
Over the years, I've written about my friend Sim. He's a local rancher, a fellow volunteer EMT, and the Mormon version of the Marlboro man; a real live, good-looking, non-smoking cowboy. I called him last month and told him that I was looking for a local source of beef in an effort to avoid CAFO/Factory Farm-finished commercial meat. I was just hoping for a lead. His response, however, was, "boy, do I have a deal for you!"
He told me that he was just getting ready to have an animal butchered. Local ranchers sometimes select first year cows that fail the "mommy test" through calf rejection or failure to nurture, and harvest them as beef. These animals are not part of the commercial beef outflow of young animals injected with growth hormones and sold to the large lots for commercial corn-soy finishing. Sim's personal cattle are fattened** for a shorter period on alfalfa (grass), rolled barley, and limited corn. I told him that I was interested in 1/4 beef (25% of the processed animal). Sim said that his animal was going to be slaughtered shortly, would cure for a couple of weeks, and then would be butchered and frozen.
A couple of weeks later I received a phone call from the butcher asking me how I wanted my animal processed. Did I want single or double wrapping? (Meat eaten within the year can be single wrapped, but they recommend double-wrapping for long-term storage.) Did I want a large prime rib or should they convert that cut into steaks? (Steaks, please.) How thick would I like my steaks? (One inch sounds nice, but the 3/4" standard cut yields more steaks.) Hamburger in one or two pound bags? (One, please.) Would I like any of the organs? (Yes, heart please.) Soup bones? (Again, yes.) And so on.
I didn't have a place to put the meat, so I priced small (5 or so cubic feet) chest freezers from a couple of local appliance dealerships. I found one that looked decent, and Asher and I picked it up in Evanston, Wyoming.
Late last week Sim called and told me it was time to pick up the meat. We scheduled a day to make the four or five hour round trip. I took part of a day off, changed my shirt in the parking lot, Sim came by to get me, and we and hit the road. Boys' day out.
The drive from our home in Rich County, Utah to beautiful Thayne, Wyoming isn't very far, and the strip of western Wyoming through which we were able to pass is alpine and not like the sagebrushy landscape that most people envision when they hear "Wyoming."
Dana Cold Storage in Thayne Wyoming combines butchering and frozen products storage. During the weeks prior to our arrival the animal was killed, initially prepped (skinned and gutted), weighed, and hung for curing. My expense included the weight of my 1/4 beef and the butchering costs based on my specifications.
Some of the beef was for Sim, some for family members, and one bag for me. Since it was cold outside, we were in no rush to get home, so stopped in Afton for a leisurely early dinner at a (surprise!) cowboy themed family restaurant. I enjoy that man's company.
By the time I got home, Asher was chomping at the bit to help me get the meat inside and into our pristine freezer. We now have a beautiful collection of steaks, roasts, stew meats, hamburger, soup bones, and so on. I know where it came from, and I'm on Sim's short list the next time I need beef.
The next day, seared steak strips and eggs for breakfast, with excellent Hawaiian coffee.
Thanks, Steph. We're saving some of the best stuff for you.
* The podcast is gone, but the transcript remains.
† Overstatement of ills is a problem the conscientious consumer of information runs into among the well-intentioned as well as the evil. Persons promoting an agenda as a social problem tend, either consciously or not, to simplify and exaggerate the "villain." Caveat lector!
‡ The European Union doesn't ban growth hormones because they're poisonous. Their conservative and sensible approach is based on the thinking that we just don't know enough about the ramifications of the biotechnology.
** Agriculturalists have fattened animals prior to slaughter for millenia. The problem with modern agribusiness fattening comes in the overreliance upon foods such as corn and soy that ruminants like cattle have a hard time digesting. Their stomachs ulcerate, they get sick, and in a twisted practice the cattle have to have medications included in their feed to combat the effects of that very same feed. Agribusiness defends itself by saying that space prohibits the storage of the vast amounts of grasses needed to sufficiently fatten the animals, and corn is cheap.
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