Visiting the farmers market in February, I understand why my northern European ancestors were omnivores. It’s still too cold for high tunnel greens and the root vegetables just keep getting bigger and less diverse. Gone is the lovely carrot medley with thin white roots reaching out to lure me in. Instead there are big, thick orange carrots about the size of my forearm --along with parsnips, potatoes, turnips, some die hard squashes, and apples. Even the eggs have slowed down.
This is where we’re happy for meat of all varieties. Since starting this blog, I’ve been educating myself about meat — where it comes from and what they do to get it to us safely (for the most part). It’s not a happy story. Factory-farmed pigs are housed in cages so small they can’t turn around. Chickens grow fat so quickly that they’re unable to stand. Manure fouls the water supply, methane gas accelerates global warming, and antibiotic resistance flows silently into our bodies. Some sights can’t be un-seen or un-learned. As a result I face a crisis now in the supermarket. Will that chicken send me to the hospital with antibiotic resistant salmonella? Does that sausage harbor listeria? And what were the lives of those animals like who died for my dinner?
Trying to eat locally farmed, ethically raised meat on a fixed income is tough. My days of spending $10 per pound on ground beef are long gone. I understand that the comparison is unfair — as the low prices we enjoy in the supermarket are the result of collusion between government policies and big Ag that support monocultures and factory farms. But $20 for pork chops seems a lot for one meal.
Assuming that these costs are the true cost of farming, how do we bring meat into our winter diet without going broke? First, I think we need to be realistic about our food costs. In the next few months I’m planning to track what I really spend and find ways to incorporate locally raised meat in a financially responsible way. Last week was a start.
Cooper’s Ark Farm from Schoharie is now selling frozen stewing hen carcasses — two for $3.25. In the past the slaughterhouse would have disposed of them. Each package includes the wings and legs. I simmered them with carrots, celery, and onions in a crockpot for about 10 hours and set the pot on the back porch overnight. The next day I pulled out the chickens, strained the broth, and made an amazing chicken soup with fresh carrots, potatoes, celery, and thin egg noodles. At the last minute I added thinly sliced cabbage and some drained, canned tomatoes. There was enough dark meat from the legs and wings. the whole house smelled like fragrant chicken stock for two days and the bright green cabbage made us feel like spring was here at last. What’s more we had enough soup for about 10 servings. The only thing I would have done differently is cook the noodles separately and toss them into the individual bowls as I don’t like starchy soup.
I love grass-fed beef but $20 for prime cuts is just too much. Last week we found ground lamb from Bella Terra Farm of Sprakers for $6.00 per pound. They call themselves the vegetarian and the butcher. Paul (the butcher) does his own cutting, which helps keep costs down. Add potatoes and onions from Barber Farms and carrots from Migliorelli Farm. The lamb was super lean and very mild. I made a traditional shepherd’s pie from Joy of Cooking. Six yummy servings for — maybe — $7 worth of ingredients. Not bad!!
These aren’t big beautiful roasts, and meat occupies a smaller place on the plate but the flavors perfume the house and we can eat guilt free for another week.