Sometimes I look at a meal and it’s, you know, just food everyone eats, like Costco meatballs (I love Costco meatballs), or store-bought spaghetti with Food Lion frozen peas. Other times, so much of the food on my plate has come from us, or close to us, that I have to do a double-take. Like, seriously? All that came from us?
It’s fun to parse the mash-up of earned, gleaned, scavenged, grown, and made. For example, in this particular round of “Source Your Food”…
Stale sourdough bread from the bakery.
Butter from our cows.
Onions and cherry tomatoes from the farm where my son works.
Green peppers from our garden.
Steak from our grass-fed steers.
Scrambled eggs leftover from the diner where my daughter works.
Cheese from our cow Daisy.
Recently when I was chatting with some out-of-town friends, I happened to mention that our supply of beef is dwindling so if we didn’t want to run out then we needed to start raising a steer now. I also said I was kinda bummed that Fern and Petunia are the slow-growing hog variety of hog — I wanted sausage now.
Do you eat a lot of meat? they asked.
“I’m trying to eat more of it,” I said.
“Why?” they asked.
I didn’t know what to say. Why am I trying to eat more meat? Why did they seem surprised? Why did I suddenly get the feeling I was doing something wrong? I thought about that conversation for days, trying to figure out what was going on.
burger with homemade cheese, pickled veggie salad, and toasted, discarded bakery sourdough
And then I remembered what I’d grown up learning about meat eating: it was bad for the environment because it required more land, water, and energy to produce one pound of beef (pork, chicken, etc) than one pound of grain. Therefore, the story went, plant-based eating was more environmentally friendly. Factor in the climate crisis and in some social circles eating meat is practically unethical. And rightfully so! The meat industry does wreck enormous havoc on our environment.
stale bakery baguette, homemade mozz, steak from us,
veggies from our garden and the farm where my son works, dressing from Costco
But there’s another side to the story that conscientious eaters who are removed from their food sources might not be aware of.
1. Crops require fertilizer, either chemical or organic, and when animals are removed from the equation there’s increased reliance on chemical fertilizers which isn’t that great for the environment.
2. When animals and plants are grown together on a small scale — animals and crops rotated in a symbiotic manner, manure used for fertilizer, etc — the natural give and take is actually good for the environment.
raw milk cheeses, discarded prosciutto from my daughter’s work
Not that we’re doing any crop-animal field rotation — that’d require fencing and legit planning and we’re much too slap-dash for that. Most of our animals’ poo stays exactly where it plops.
However! The amount of calories we get from letting a single steer mow and fertilize the back field (and then slaughtering and eating it for its troubles) is far greater than what we’d ever raise in our piddly and neglected garden. Add in a cow or two and we get an even greater variety of nutrient-dense calories via the milk and cheese. (Not to mention a calf to raise for beef or sell for cash.) Toss in a couple piggies and a flock of chickens to gobble up the whey and all the garden/kitchen scraps and now we’ve got sausage and eggs to boot.
grass-fed beef burger on a Costco hot dog bun, raw milk Gouda, discarded diner bacon, homecanned zucchini relish, tomatoes from the farm where my son works
Grass-fed beef, farm-fresh eggs, and ooo-la-la artisanal raw-milk cheeses are wildly pricey. If I had to buy them, we’d eat them sparingly, if at all. However, since we’re doing it ourselves, these food items are actually the cheaper, more economical choice. So when I said I was trying to eat more meat, what I meant was that I’m working at shedding my “meat is a treat” mentality and training myself to eat more meat because this is what we have. Our homegrown food is both a luxury and the pragmatic, economical choice.
scavenged green beans via a neighbor, leftover steak, groundnut stew
Eating more meat doesn’t mean we’re routinely feasting on beef or no longer eating our vegetables. (If you look at one of the weekly menus I post on our fridge, you’ll notice there’s usually quite a few meatless meals.) Rather, it simply means I’m making a conscious effort to work meat into our diets more regularly.
What does this look like?
leftover diner biscuits, eggs from my daughter’s chickens, steak from our steers, butter from our cow
Grilling up a couple extra steaks and then thinly slicing the leftovers and flash-frying them to go with groundnut stew or our morning eggs. Making burgers whenever the urge strikes. Ignoring the ice cream freezer section in the store (this is hard!) and then taking the time to make ice cream when I get home. Keeping stocked in mushroom salt for big beef roasts. Using my cheese mistakes in mac and cheese and on pizza. Tossing hunks of ricotta into the pancake batter even though it’d be perfectly fine without it.
It’s saying yes to what we have and what’s available and then building a menu accordingly. It’s shopping less and making more. It’s eating a lot, a lot, a lot of leftovers. It’s accustoming our palates to flavors that are sometimes stronger and earthier. It’s sometimes boring. It’s occasionally limiting and challenging.
And most days, fortunately, it’s also filling and delicious.