I love eating meat that lived well and died happy. In my opinion, the most critical thing in my diet is my quality supply of meat. If food animals live on the diet that they prefer, not the diet that is controlled by the price of grain, soy this week, corn next, depending on which is cheaper, then their meat is more nutritious than the alternative, grain finished. More and more people are jumping on my bandwagon.
Unfortunately the more crowded the bandwagon gets, the more apparent the bottleneck will be, the processing of small-farm meats. If I order a hog from my farmer-friends, they have to get an appointment with the meat locker to process it, and that can be two or three months in the future due to the limited capacity to slaughter and process the growing number of animals. Can the market respond? According to the New York Times:
Slaughter has long been a bottleneck for the tiny grass-fed beef business, which accounts for about half a percent of the retail beef sold, according to data compiled by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“The grass-fed industry is growing so fast, but it’s still just so young,” said Nina Biensen, who writes the grass-fed beef market report for the Agriculture Department. “And it’s having some very serious growing pains. Slaughter is certainly a big one.”
So grass-fed ranchers sometimes have to ship cattle hundreds of miles, a costly move that is stressful for both the animals and the people who raised them.
I want everyone I know to eat meat from a local farmer, processed at a local processor. I want this business model to kill the one used by Tyson and Cargill. Processing meats leads to a great deal of animal parts that are not your customary food faire. What do you do with all the hides, brains, lungs and other unmentionables? In the not too distant past these items were quickly prepared into sausages and force-meats, cooked quickly because they were difficult to preserve any other way, and too nutritious to just discard.
Preparing food and harvesting animals used to be community work. The labor and rewards were shared, the distance from soil to table was just a few miles at most. The veil that has been drawn between us and our food’s ultimate sources, between us and the harvesting and treatment of our life-sustaining animals has served to allow nefarious practices to take hold in the name of profit. It would serve us well to quit contributing to that system of production. Don’t bother asking them to change, make them change by shopping their most expensive competition. If you prove that money isn’t the most important factor, then it will cease to be the most important factor.
It used to be that the only beer bought was cheap American beer, so it just got cheaper and cheaper to make and buy. When we found out that more expensive beer tasted better, and started paying more for better, then suddenly the big beer makers are interested in giving us better beers. If we had never bought Blue Moon or Guinness, and stuck with ‘value’ beers, all we would have would be horrible ‘value’ beers. If nobody ever bought an iPhone because it cost more, there wouldn’t be a smart phone on the market yet.
If all I cared about was money I wouldn’t tell you all to buy the same kind of meat I do. I would keep it to myself, keep the market little and just as expensive as it is right now. I’m just not that kind of guy. Jump on the bandwagon, it’ll never fill up, it’ll just get bigger and bigger. There is room for all of you.