In my younger years I tried to be a vegetarian. I was embracing the back-to-the-land dream of self-sufficiency, earth sheltered houses, that sort of thing. I tried cooking my way through the Moosewood Cookbook and indeed there are delicious recipes in there that I still use. But inevitably I would go to my parents’ for dinner. My mum is an excellent cook and as a Scottish farm girl cannot imagine a meal without large helpings of meat. I was probably a sanctimonious prat for about half an hour before tucking in to whatever delicious meat was on offer that night.
Fast forward to the early 2000s. I am a working environmentalist. How can you be a proper environmentalist if you eat meat? Not to mention being a huge sappy animal lover.
Thank goodness for Michael Pollan whose 2006 book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” helped my conscience and provided me with useful facts and arguments.
I highly recommend any of Pollan’s books. They are highly readable personal accounts of his explorations of the North American food system. In this one, he travels America investigating the impact that corn and government subsidies have on American farmers and the food on offer in North American supermarkets. Truly appalling.
He visits Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm (polyfacefarms.com) in Virginia to learn about a way of farming that is both new and entirely traditional. Truly uplifting.
He follows a calf from its Wyoming grasslands to a feedlot and finally to the abattoir gate. Close your eyes. And finally he forages for wild mushrooms and shoots a wild pig.
These excursions are an attempt to understand where exactly our food comes from and the many ways we feed ourselves.
His conclusion is that humans are meant to eat meat and in fact should eat meat. What the book strongly condemns is the industrialization of the food system in general and how meat is raised in particular. The book portrays a system that is largely inhumane and quite frankly disgusting. He makes a plea for us North American consumers to continue to eat meat but to eat better meat. To seek out farmers who raise their animals in healthy, humane conditions. Animals who have a good life and only “one bad day”.
We are lucky here in Pontiac region that many farmers are in fact doing this. For many years now I have been able to buy all of my beef, pork, lamb and chicken directly from farmers who allow their animals to live out on pastures. I need to have a freezer (well three actually) and it means a lot of meat comes in all at once. But, man oh man, is it good. And I feel better about it.
Another important benefit of this is that my money stays in the region. I hand the farmer a cheque and no multinational makes a cent from the deal.
Here’s how you do it. Find a farmer producing what you want. Make contact and try to get on the customer list. Do this in the spring.
It is also handy to familiarize yourself with basic butchery. Many, but not all, of these farmers want to sell you a particular section or all of an animal so figure out how you want it cut up. The internet is a great tool for finding cooking techniques for less-familiar cuts and it is an interesting challenge. Slow-roasted lamb shoulder cooked over thinly sliced potatoes with some garlic and herbs is a dish for the gods.
I have put a list of the producers, I know about, who are raising animals humanely and I hope that readers will add to it.
Also the Wakefield Farmers Market is a good place to find farmers
Moylinney Farm - Beef http://www.refordbeef.ca/
Lastholme Farm (Poltimore) – this region’s Polyface Farm
Helen & Walter Last. Grass-fed beef, lamb, pork, and poultry, no hormones, no antibiotics.
Contact: 819-457-9001 or find them at the Wakefield Farmers Market
JAE Farm – Lamb, eggs, chicken http://jaefarm.com/
Elevage Cataraqui – beef, lamb, goat and eggs http://elevagecataraqui.com/
Netherleigh Farm - Beef, chickens, turkeys and pigs, a variety of produce in season http://www.netherleighfarm.ca/