The Quality of Food

As usual, I’ve been thinking a lot about food.  With our meat supply running low, I managed to get to the indoor farmers’ market this morning.  We were down to a pound of bacon, a chicken and today I actually found an elk steak when I was rearranging the freezer in the garage.  I’ve never been before, usually confining my farmers’ marketing to the April-October time of year.  Even last year when I was already picky about the source of our meat, what I didn’t get directly from Jordandal Farms during the out-door market season, I bought from the now defunct Artamos Meats and Deli.   Just a couple of weeks before they closed I had ordered and picked up a 20 pound box of mixed cuts of grassfed bison meat.

We made the customary winter cranberry pancakes this morning and then I drove down town.  Even before I parked in the ramp, I could see people swarming around, many headed to or from the market given the number of reusable bags that were being carried.  As soon as I got in the door, I found that it was very busy.  Besides the expected farmers selling things, there was a lot going on.  There was live music, people were sitting at tables eating the farmers’ market breakfast.  Apparently, the cooked breakfast is an event in and of itself.  My husband said our friend La’s FB status mentioned the breakfast this morning.  I wandered around until I found Carrie and Eric at their stand and Eric recognized me right away.  They were out of a couple of things that I was hoping for, but it doesn’t matter.  At the shopping stage, I just want a few different cuts of meat, probably involving beef, chicken and pork.  I have never bought their lamb, though I probably should.   They are done with turkeys until next year.  I walked away with two butterflied porkchops, a chicken, a pack of two chicken legs and thighs and beef petite tenders.  Tonight, we’ll use one of the pork chops in stir fry that we’ll eat for dinner and it will provide probably four leftover servings since we use such large quantities of vegetables in the stir fry.  Tomorrow, we’ll splurge and eat the petite tenders.  Monday we’ll have a mixed bean and barley soup with leftover ham that I froze after Christmas.  Tuesday, I will roast a chicken.  I’ll broth out of the chicken next and the giblets and a really good stock out of the rest of the carcass.   Wednesday, I don’t think meat will be involved in a curried squash stew, I will make a pot pie or enchiladas with the leftover chicken which will probably yield not only dinner, but another four servings of leftovers for lunches.  I should have bought beef stew meat since we still have a lot of root vegetables that need to be made into Cornish pasties soon.

All this talk about meat brings me back to a conversation we had last weekend with my husband’s family.  His father either gardens on a very large-scale or is a small-scale vegetable farmer.  He doesn’t hire much help, but some of the work does involve a tractor.   He was talking about his difficulties distributing his vegetables since he doesn’t take his produce to a farmers’ market, thinks that people don’t want to make a special trip to somewhere other than where they buy the rest of their groceries.  Part of the problem with getting things to a market is that in order for things to be as fresh as he thinks they should be, they really need to be sold the day after they are picked.  I see his point, especially with things like raspberries and tomatoes which are fragile and things like peas where the sugars start changing after picking.  He mentions watching people buy hydroponic tomatoes which were probably trucked a couple thousand miles from California during the height of his local tomato season.  He doesn’t think these two products are equal and I agree.  On the other hand, while I’ve seen a magnet advertising a local meat producer on their refrigerator, I’ve never heard them talk about buying the local meat.  As far as I know their meat usually comes from the local grocery store where the meat is anything but local.  Another conversation which seems to repeat itself is comparing the price of a gallon of milk with a certain triumph in finding the cheapest milk around.  This means it is from a large dairy where (probably) grainfed cows from many farms possibly treated with rBGH and almost certainly treated with antibiotics because of their unnatural diets are the norm.    I always stay out of that conversation since I’ll only buy milk from a handful of small on-farm dairies where the cows graze like the ruminants they are supposed to be.  Admittedly at this time of year, that probably means mostly hay rather than grass.  The milk isn’t cheap.  It also doesn’t taste like the cheap milk from the grocery store.  For starters, the diet of the cattle.  Add to that the fact that the milk is not homogenized so there is a cream line.  I’ve noticed that the cream in the spring and early summer is a lot thicker than it is at this time of year.  It is also pasteurized in small batches at a lower temperature than what is customary at the large dairies where the milk comes from many farms.

While I agree with my father-in-law that his vegetables which I have eaten both at their house and at ours are superior to those found at the store which certainly weren’t as recently harvested and  about which it is hard to verify the growing conditions, It is hard for me to sympathize with his frustration over the fact that his neighbors and people in their small town don’t appreciate  the difference or that they don’t know or don’t care.  I certainly know the difference since I’ve eaten his produce both at their home and ours.  I’ve worked in his fields.  Last year, I spent a good part of the day picking five gallons of peas and five gallons of beans.  The year before I spent four hours of my morning one day weeding the onions.  I spent the afternoon helping with cherry picking, running cherries through a pitter and making a pie.  I think the more we know about the food we eat, the more we appreciate the  quality of it, the seasonal changes in food and how it gets from the field to the table.  The reason I have difficulty sympathizing with him about his frustration is because he and my M-i-L don’t seem to appreciate the same qualities in meat and dairy that they could be purchasing directly from farmers instead of from the Walmart Supercenter or from the County Market.  For all the talk about how conscientious he is about the vegetables he grows, he doesn’t appreciate the same benefits of buying local good quality meat and dairy.  It would be one thing if he acknowledged the difference between the products, but they decided they couldn’t afford it.

Given the fact that pesticides are going to be more concentrated the higher one is eating on the food chain, it seems to me that organic, grassfed meat and dairy are more important than organic vegetables.  Most of the year, we get the bulk of our vegetables through a CSA which was certified organic last year, but we understood and accepted their farming methods even before they had met all the conditions for certification.  I’ll have a separate post about that soon.  At this point, I’d probably go mostly vegetarian rather than return to eating conventionally produced meat  except rarely.  While we do eat meat several times a week, we don’t usually eat very big portions.  I stretch a cut of meat that could easily be eaten by one or two people at a meal across four to six portions most of the time.  We don’t eat out often.  We almost never (maybe occasionally on a road trip) eat fast food.  We also take our lunches to work most of the time.  To be sure all of these habits save us money where our food is concerned, but they are driven more by taste, qualilty and health than they are by finances.

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