Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Eating locally

The last two books I've read for the Kitchen Reader has messed me up in a good way, in the sense where I am now hypervigilant in what I buy. The husband started a year or so ago after reading Michael Pollan's In defense of food, where it manifested with him only buying products that had a minimal number of ingredients (preferably under 5). It's manifesting in me trying to buy as many local products as I can.

I first noticed it a few weeks ago when I picked up organic chicken from Whole Foods. We are unabashedly WF fans - it started when we first moved to the US and saw how readily available organic food is, and how wide a variety of goods that are for sale at very reasonable prices in our opinion. In contrast, Canada at the time and Montreal in particular treated organic food as a precious commodity, resulting in difficulties sourcing products, a limited selection, and often exorbitant prices. This was 5 years ago so I don't know how things have changed, but we became loyal WF shoppers here in the States right from the start.

We've been buying the organic chicken from WF for a while now, but they'd just changed their packaging with a vacuum seal so tight I had to put all my limited strength behind it to get the plastic wrap off the container. As I was fighting with the package, I noticed "Bell and Evans" in the corner. I'd never noticed it before, and that made me sigh - Bell and Evans is an industrial chicken producer, which is why they can offer organic chicken relatively cheaply.  A minimal amount of internet research confirmed that while these chickens were fed an organic diet, they lived a miserable existence.

That didn't sit well with me. I like meat far too much to ever give it up, but I do believe that happy animals taste better - or as the commercial says, "Happy cows come from California!" (perhaps I watch far too much TV). So off I went to find a more humane and hopefully healthier alternative to the WF chicken.

I was pleasantly surprised to find it was fairly easy to get free range alternatives. Savenor's makes a point of selling free range chickens (whole and in pieces) from a farm in Vermont, as well as sustainably raised pork from Vermont. But the first free-range options we tried were procured from the Lexington farmer's market. There are two farms (Chestnut Farms and River Rock Farms) that sell their meat at the market. The first we tried was pork spareribs from Chestnut Farms, which was excellent and I hope to be able to buy more of that soon. River Rock Farms sells dry-aged beef - the ribeye steak and the short ribs were delicious. We've also tried lamb from Signal Rock Farm that was probably the best lamb we've had at home (which technically isn't hard to beat since it's not like we cook lamb often). We finally tried the chicken from Chestnut Farms on the weekend and while I had to pluck a few stray feathers off of the skin, the chicken was probably the best tasting of the bunch (though the others follow very closely behind).

As for the price - well, buying high quality meat is expensive, even directly from the farmers. The steaks were easily $20+ each, as were 3 large shortribs and the rack of ribs. Two pounds of chicken legs was the most reasonable at $12, but that's still 50% more than what I paid at WF. While Barbara Kingsolver's book indicated that her family was able to eat incredibly inexpensively by growing all their food themselves ($0.50 a person a meal, I believe), I don't think she factored in the time for labour - and forget about the feasibility of that approach.

It's a good thing the husband is extremely disciplined at portioning - 1lb of steak is enough for one meal for the two of us. We stretched the rack of ribs into two dinners, and the chicken also made for two meals. So $5-$10 of meat a meal is fine for the two of us, as long as there's plenty of vegetables for accompaniment. It's kinda like what a recent issue of Fine Cooking magazine suggested - "Use meat as a condiment". Despite my meat-loving ways, it hasn't been too painful to cut back - particularly if there's ice cream for dessert.

We're off to Italy for 10 days where we're looking forward to seeing how the Italians put the eating local philosophy into everyday practice. Ciao everyone!


Jennifer said...

I'm so jealous. Have a fabulous trip!!!!

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