Tag Archives: beef

Italian Beef Stew

1 Dec

Welcome to December, everyone. While the weather has still been pretty unseasonably warm (well, off and on) here in Kansas, as the days slowly become shorter and I become more busy and tired from the impending end of the semester, I find myself craving soups and stews more often. So I thought this week I’d share with you all this recipe for Italian Beef Stew to warm your bones as winter sets in.

This is one of those traditional, hearty, slow-roasting stews that’s best given the full three hours of time. I also made sure to prep all my ingredients in advance: trim the meat into cubes, chop the vegetables, have a peeled clove of garlic ready, and the olive oil on hand.

I read a few months back in Cooking Light that the secret to a really good stew is to follow the first step to brown the meat in the pan with savories (like onion and garlic) and then remove it to create the broth base with the browned roux left behind. When pressed for time, I often skip the step of browning the meat first, but it really does add a nice depth to the flavor and a thickness to the base of the stew.

But if you take the time to prep all your ingredients in the first place, once you’ve gone through the first sequence of steps and all the pieces are together in the pot, you just get to walk away for a few hours. Return to stir a few times, or to appreciate the fogged windows of the kitchen, but otherwise, relax and enjoy as your house fills with the scent of stew.

Serve, of course, with crusty bread. And maybe an afghan around your shoulders…

If you like this recipe, check out some of my other soup/stew posts:

Or leave a comment and share your favorites!

How to Shop for (and Eat) Whole Foods

22 Sep

A few weeks ago, I asked some of my Facebook friends for thoughts on posts and Laura, who writes the blog Shaped by My Life (a fellow IC writing alum) suggested posting a sample shopping list with an eye towards cooking with whole foods. I thought this was a great idea. So often, people don’t buy whole foods because they aren’t quite sure what to do with them. Also, I really love grocery shopping, and making lists, so this is post will be particular fun for me.

I thought I’d start with my general grocery shopping philosophies for whole foods trips.

First, don’t expect to get everything all in one place. I know it seems inconvenient at first, but the massive corporate chain grocery store that stocks everything does so to the detriment of other features like locality, quality, and health. Cheap products that can sit on shelves for months at a time are highly processed — if you want to begin avoiding corporate foods, processed foods and to prioritize local and organic foods, you’re going to have to go outside the big box. The good news is, you will likely quickly develop a routine that is not inconvenient: produce at the market, bulk grains and legumes at the co-op, meat at the local butcher, all in the same amount of time you’d normally spend weaving your way through the fluorescent aisles.

Second, don’t be scared off by the higher price tag. You will spend more in a single trip on whole foods than you are used to at the grocery store. But again, there’s a silver lining here! A single trip to the co-op will stock you up with more food that will last longer, and needs only to be supplemented with weekly produce additions. When you shop at the grocery store, you’re buying food that is pre-packaged to make a single meal. When you buy whole foods, you’re buying the pieces for lots and lots of meals, instead.

In general, a good method for figuring out what to buy involves thinking of the big categories of whole foods, and choosing the individual parts you like in those categories. This will give you lots of options for mixing and matching ingredients into many different meals. I’ve provided a list of the categories here, with a sample of what I would normally buy in each — but keep in mind that’s limited to my tastes, so the categories should be your guidelines.

Grains

You can buy grains either in bulk (where you fill your own container) or pre-packaged. Some of my favorites are:

  • Israeli & French couscous (Israeli for deconstructed couscous salad, french for Parmesan couscous)
  • Arborio rice (for risotto)
  • Pasta! (I usually get a smaller shape that holds sauce for baked mac n’ cheese and a longer pasta for tossing in lighter sauces)
  • Orzo/wild rice/brown rice (for pilafs, stir fries or beds-of kind of recipes)

Legumes/Nuts/Seeds

This is where a normal person would buy lots of bulk lentils and legumes. But I don’t like those, so I spend most of my energy here on nuts for snacks or meal garnishes and seeds for salad topping.:

  • Cashews!
  • Whole or slivered almonds
  • Sunflower seeds (great on spinach salads)
  • Walnuts (for crusting oven-baked chicken)
  • Pecans (for chicken salad)

Produce

I’m not a fan of canned vegetables, and frozen veggies don’t have as much flavor for me, so I try to buy mostly fresh produce. The few exceptions I make are:

  • Frozen fruit for smoothies (though you can just freeze fresh fruit)
  • Frozen corn and peas
  • Canned refried beans if I’m in the mood for Mexican
  • Dried fruit for salads and granola

For fresh produce I always try to get a mix of:

  • Leafy greens
  • Green stalk veggies, like green beans, asparagus (or again, for normal people, broccoli)
  • Tomatoes and a variety of peppers
  • Carrots and celery
  • Lots of onions (I always get at least one red, white and yellow) and garlic!
  • Portable fruit like apples, oranges and bananas
  • Berries, watermelon or pineapple for chopped up snacks/cooking

And then I toss in a few extras depending on what’s there and what looks good seasonally, like cauliflower, zucchini/summer squash, red cabbage, or alfalfa sprouts. Obviously, the possibilities are endless here, so I suggest you figure out your most used veggies, and pick those up each time, and then supplement that with one or two other veggies each trip. This way, you have variety  but don’t overwhelm yourself and end up throwing lots of produce away as it’s spoiled.

Meats

Meat is a lot like produce for me — I pick up the same few things each time, and then add in a bit for variety. I try to get a mix of meat types so I’m not consuming a ton of red meat, and to work in some seafood. My staples are:

  • Chicken breasts (not a fan of the low meat content of other chicken parts, but wings and thighs are best if you like dark meat)
  • Pork chops and/or tenderloin
  • White fish like tilapia or cod (this is a purely Marissa-picky thing, as it’s the only kind of seafood I really like)
  • Ground beef or lamb and/or some fancy form of these like ground buffalo, lamb shanks or sirloin steaks
  • Meats you can use for deli sandwiches. If you’re lucky, your co-op will sell nitrate-free ham, or sliced chicken and turkey. But if not, it’s really easy to buy and cook a chicken or turkey breast and slice it up yourself!

Dairy

Dairy covers a lot, and those things have variety in them (like cheeses!) so here’s a breakdown of what I buy:

  • Milk and/or soymilk. I usually get regular milk for drinking and cooking, and soymilk for smoothies
  • Butter (which I always get in stick form because it measures easier for baking, but can still be used on toast, etc.)
  • Sour cream for sauces
  • Yogurt (I get a large, vanilla container for smoothies and then smaller individual packages in flavors for midday snacks!)
  • And cheese galore! I try to get one or two hard cheeses that work for both sandwiches and grating, like sharp white cheddar and Gruyere or another Swiss, plus fresh mozzarella for salads, Parmesan for pasta, plus some orange cheddar or something else that will melt into a cheddar sauce well.

Baked Goods

Now, by baked goods, I don’t mean cookies and snacks. I make those myself! I mean things that are made in an oven, mostly forms of bread. I usually keep:

  • Whole grain bread sliced for sandwiches
  • Wheat tortillas (for enchiladas, lunchtime quesadillas and wraps)
  • English muffins or bagels for breakfasts

The only things not considered in these categories are sauces, condiments and drinks. Once I’ve stocked up on the basics, I assess the recipes I know I have in my cart and get the corresponding condiments (mayonnaise for sandwiches, mustard for everything, BBQ sauce for pulled pork, vegetable broth, peanut butter, etc.). I basically don’t buy drinks at the store because I consume pretty much exclusively water and milk, but I know that co-ops often stock really delicious local root beers or soda waters, as well as adult beverage treats.

I’ve also not included the things I have in my pantry on a regular basis that don’t need to be purchased on each trip to the store: baking goods like flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, etc; spices and seasoning, like dried herbs, lemon juice, balsamic and other vinegars; honey, and lots and lots of olive oil. Never run out of olive oil.

I know that changing your shopping habits might seem daunting at first, but I promise you that lists become routine very quickly. And you’ll really enjoy getting to spend time creatively piecing together different pieces to make your own meal.

Cooking with whole foods means more than cooking in a more healthy way — it means learning to think about how foods fit together. I know that can seem overwhelming, especially for people who want cooking to be easy, something they can do at the last minute. Once you get the hang of it, and get used to stocking your house with a variety of whole components, it will be easy! I usually take some meat out of the freezer in the morning, and then decide what to do with it when I get home, depending on what I have, and how hungry I am/how fast I want the cooking to go.

The pride I feel when I can open the fridge and freezer and think: Hmm, I’ve got walnuts, chicken, spring green mix, orzo — hey! I can make that walnut-rosemary crusted chicken on a bed of orzo pilaf with lemon-sprinkled salad greens! is unparalleled. Give it a shot!

Ok — what did I forget? What are your whole food staples, and what are your favorite recipes to go with them? Leave a comment and share with readers, as I know my taste and cooking style are limited!

Food Policy Essay Roundup

19 Aug

I only have a few links for you all to cap off this week in food policy — not because there aren’t more stories in the food world to cover, but because the ones I’ve included here are all on widely varying issues tethered to the larger question of what is fundamentally wrong with our global food system, and are all worth reading in full, and in depth.

In fact, I’d love to hear what you all think of any of these issues as you read these essays over the weekend or going forward, whether in a comment here, an email to marissa@wemeatagain.com, a tweet or a Facebook post (just tag me so I can see it!). What lingering questions remain for you on these ideas? What are your thoughts about moving forward?

  • A slightly older Guardian article via Tom Philpott on how the Gaza strip is becoming a new hub of the new and true green revolution in agriculture — growing products that will actually feed people while working within the boundaries of the local ecosystem. What a concept!
  • The U.S. government has made a bonus purchase this year of an extra $40 million of surplus chicken, a result of the combined forces of declining consumer demand (on which Cord Jefferson over at GOOD places a desire to protest factory farming. I don’t know if I would go that far, but it’s a start) and increased prices. This is really dumb, as both articles here point out. The last time the government stepped in to blunt the impact of bad decision-making on an industry that caused its own problems, it was the banking industry. Enough said.
  • Speaking of bad meat industry practice, the big news in the food world these last few weeks has been more of this summer’s same: the recall. A slaughterhouse in Dodge City, Kansas (my neck of the woods, yay!) has recalled 60,000 pounds of ground beef that tested positive for E. coli. This on the heels of the massive Carghill ground turkey recall has, of course, prompted a re-visitation of antibiotic practices in the meat industry. Now is the time to get on the horn to your reps and let them know you want legislative action. The one silver lining to these disasters is they are often the driving force for the political will toward substantive change.

Cooking with Grass

21 Jul

Image courtesy of Wallace Farms, my local source for grass-fed meat!

In light of the recent EWG report on the link between meat and climate change, and to help hammer home my point that it’s corn-fed, industrially-raised meat that’s the problem, it occurs to me that some people shy away from grass-fed meat because it seems like a strange new beast. Unfamiliarity is often an obstacle in the kitchen, one I’ve encountered (and hurdled) many times. So here’s the truncated We*Meat*Again guide to cooking with grass-fed meat.

First, a little explanation on what grass-fed is and why it matters. While grass-fed is not the only thing you should care about when searching for your meat, it’s a good place to start. When cattle (or lamb) are raised on grass, rather than corn, they will also tend to be raised in a pasture rotation (the cow’s version of free-range). This is usually indicative of a farmer who uses biodynamic practices. Biodynamic means letting the parts of a farm work together with a natural cycle, such as allowing chickens to rotate on a pasture after cattle, as the chickens will pick through cattle manure for grub, thereby spreading naturally-produced fertilizer on the land. You should still learn all you can about a farm’s practices,  but generally speaking, cattle who are fed with grass will tend to be raised in a more humane, more sustainable, and healthier way.

We’ve covered why grass-fed meat is better for the planet. But it’s also considerably healthier. All that beautiful “marbling” in your corn-fed steak is fat. Grass-fed meat is lower in both overall and saturated fat (the kind that clogs arteries) and is actually higher in nutritional value, specifically by providing some of those elusive Omega-3 acids (yeah, you thought you could only get them in fish, huh?) as well as being higher in lineolic acid (which reduces cancer risk) and vitamin E.

But I love my marbling, the fatty masses cry! It’s what makes a steak taste good! Wrong. It’s what makes a steak taste deadly. Cristina from An Organic Wife mentioned in the comments on Monday’s post that grass-fed meat “tastes about ten times better!” And this fantastic taste-test from Slate debunks just about every imaginable myth about marbling and breed stock when it comes to taste. The winner? Alderson Ranch grass-fed steaks. Which also happened to be the cheapest.

So with all that in mind, here are my tips for cooking with grass. These are an amalgamation from Sustainable Table, Cooking Light, a few grass-fed cattle ranchers, and one of my heroes, Anthony Bourdain (whose tips are not specific to grass-fed, just great beef cooking ideas).

  • As a general principle, grass-fed meat should be cooked medium rare. You should cook grass-fed at half the temperature for about a third of the time as you cook grain-fed.
  • Since grass-fed will cook faster, if you prefer it well-done and need to cook it longer, you should use a method that seals in moisture, rather than a dry-heat method.
  • Moisture and tenderness are going to be the biggest challenges. Fat is an insulator, which means a grass-fed steak, with less fat, doesn’t have a safety net for overcooking. So if you’ve never been one to time-cook your meat before, now is the time to start.
  • You can also add moisturizing ingredients, especially when using ground beef. Caramelized onions on top of grilled grass-fed burgers, for example.
  • Use tongs, rather than a fork, to turn the meat while cooking, as otherwise, precious juices will escape. And turn it as infrequently as possible, ideally just once. As you cook, you’ll notice juices pooling on top of the meat — the more you turn it, the more of those leak out onto the pan, rather than seeping back into the meat.
  • When it’s done cooking, in the immortal words of Mr Bourdain — leave it the f*ck alone. Let it rest for 8-10 minutes, without touching it, turning it, cutting into it, or even seasoning it. Anything you do to the meat now will allow juice and flavor to escape.

For more Bourdain tips on steak, check out this video, around 4:25

Trust me. Try one perfectly-cooked grass-fed steak, one juicy and delicious grass-fed burger, and you’ll soon learn that the flavor of great meat comes from the meat itself, from the grass on which they graze, not from the fat of marbling. There you have it — now go forth, and grill!

What advice do you have to add? Have you tried any great techniques for grass-fed (or organic, or local) food? What are favorite recipes with grass-fed or free-range meat? Leave a comment and share!

How Cow Farts Cause Global Warming

19 Jul

Since I spend so much time here talking about how I’m no longer a vegetarian, some people might be surprised to learn that I’m still a big advocate of eating less meat overall. But there’s an important case to be made for significantly reducing our (and by our, I mean Americans, who eat the vast majority of the world’s meat) meat intake. That case is front and center in the food world this week as the Environmental Working Group — the watchdog organization who also brings you that handy annual sunscreen guide, and GMO watch — released their first Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health.

Not everyone is aware of the link between meat production and climate change, so let’s break it down. Here are the highlights of the issue — more detail can be found by following the links embedded, or by reading the great EWG report, which is very accessible.

Food production contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than transportation.

A recent study from Carnegie Mellon put it into these concrete terms. 83% of the average U.S. household’s carbon footprint for food comes from growing and producing it. Transportation is only 11%.

Meat is the primary culprit of this.

The ways in which food production contributes to global warming can be both direct & indirect. Direct contributions include the burning of fossil fuels to fertilize and grow the massive quantities of corn required to feed livestock animals and methane gas emissions from cattle (yup, cow farts). Indirect contributions stem from what factory farms do to the land. Desertification, water pollution, deforestation, topsoil erosion, etc. All of these make our planet  less resilient to rising temperatures. And these animals require a LOT of land. About 30% 0f Earth’s ice-free land.

That is, industrial meat.

Since most of those negative consequences of meat production stem from grain feed, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and fuel for transporting all those things, this is a problem unique to factory-farmed meat. Take away those features, and sure, you’ve still got the cow farts to deal with, but they become a miniscule, if stinky, problem. But combined with a ravenous desire for meat growing globally, industrialized meat production is a huge problem.

Sustainable meat is a different beast.

If we changed our farming methods,  much of those  problems would be dramatically reduced — and some would even be reversed. If cattle were allowed to roam, they wouldn’t need grain-based feed, as they would eat their natural grass diet. This would also reduce their impact on the land. There’s a much longer chain reaction here, but the point is that raising livestock in a biodynamic cycle is better for them and better for the planet. The hitch? Meat doesn’t “grow” as quickly or in as great a number with those methods. Because it’s not supposed to.

Meat should be a minimal part of our diet.

Lisa Frack of EWG said it most concisely:

Eating meat in moderation can be a good source of complete protein and key vitamins and nutrients such as iron, zinc and vitamins B-12, B-6, and niacin. That said, we eat far more protein than we need: Kids get three to four times the recommended amount and adult men get twice the amount they need. And, of course, the nutritional benefits of meats can be reaped from other, less environmentally damaging food sources.

Because it’s better for our health that way, too.

This one I can say briefly: over-eating red meat and/or industrially-processed meat significantly increases your risk of dying prematurely. Not to mention your risks for certain types of cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart diseases. Conversely, eating more vegetables is universally agreed upon by nutritionists to be the best dietary choice ever. No exaggeration here, and no surprise, I’m sure.

We don’t have to do without.

People! Bacon is my header. So before you think I’ve gone and jumped back on the vegetarian bandwagon, let me share with you a little environmental agriculture secret: livestock meat can actually, if done right, be a more efficient use of land. Scale is everything here. This sustainable system works great for everyone — if we do it small enough, and with the basic principles of a natural food cycle in mind.

We just have to do less & better.

Yes, buying local, grass-fed, antibiotic-free organic meat is more expensive (for now). But if you’re buying less of it, you can balance that impact. And over time, you’ll be contributing to a better, healthier system for your body and for the planet.

Any questions? (No, really, ask away! Leave a comment and let me know what you think of the global warming/meat connection. How do you reduce your meat consumption? Share your meatless stories, recipes or conversions!)

If  you’re sold on all this but need ideas, check out my advice post on How to Eat Your Veggies, or these past We*Meat*Again vegetarian recipes:

 

Our Broken System

20 Jun

Last week, I hinted at the notion that much of the underlying problems with the food industry are not actually hidden or underlying — often, these are issues that no one is attempting to mask, but that are still widely misunderstood or outright ignored. I’m talking about the structure of the food industry in general, and of agriculture in particular. Rather than launch into another diatribe, I thought I’d let the experts do the talking on this one.

When I first began researching the food industry, it was to uncover whether or not I might inadvertently be supporting some of the large corporate conglomerates I’d meant to boycott by being a vegetarian. I discovered that I most certainly was, and the connection was largely corn. Here’s Bryan Walsh, for TIME magazine, for an overview of the corn problem:

According to the USDA, Americans spend less than 10% of their incomes on food, down from 18% in 1966. Those savings begin with the remarkable success of one crop: corn. Corn is king on the American farm, with production passing 12 billion bu. annually, up from 4 billion bu. as recently as 1970.

But cheap food is not free food, and corn comes with hidden costs. The crop is heavily fertilized — both with chemicals like nitrogen and with subsidies from Washington. Over the past decade, the Federal Government has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop — at least until corn ethanol skewed the market — artificially low. That’s why McDonald’s can sell you a Big Mac, fries and a Coke for around $5 — a bargain, given that the meal contains nearly 1,200 calories, more than half the daily recommended requirement for adults.

The problems with this system as I’ve mentioned before, range from environmental to antibacterial. But the problem this causes our collective waistlines cannot be understated. You may have noticed that America is in the midst of a deadly-serious obesity epidemic.According to the latest obesity research from the Trust for America’s Health:

Adult obesity rates increased in 28 states in the past year, and declined only in the District of Columbia (D.C.).  More than two-thirds of states (38) have adult obesity rates above 25 percent. In 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent.

Troubling trends along racial and income lines are also drawn in the report. For instance, adult obesity rates for Blacks and Latinos were higher than for Whites in at least 40 states and the District of Columbia. The reasons for the discrepancy in obesity rates — and the rates of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases that go along with obesity — have much to do with pervasive racial bias in urban planning, and the absence of healthy fresh food in low-income areas.

But the overall absence of this kind of food at a reasonable price affects all of us, and is largely the fault of a severely-skewed food subsidy system.

Image courtesy of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

 

If  you’re wondering why the federal government seems to be regulating in favor of unhealthy food habits like heavily corn-fed beef and against fresh fruits and vegetables, you wouldn’t be alone. The reason is that the food industry works much like any other industry in this country: that is, large corporations succeed in increasing their profit margins by buying up their competitors, or contracting them, and gain massive market shares.

The latest research by the fields leading experts, Mary Hendrickson and William Heffernan, in the Department of Rural Sociology at University of Missouri, has some startling figures that are worth not skimming over, for example, that the four largest beef packers in the U.S. control more than 85 percent of the beef market. Not much in the way of competition.

Here’s Tom Philpott, old school, discussing the effects of this consolidation on industry practices:

As these few companies engulf market share, they gain increasing power to dictate terms to growers. In meat processing, the companies wield a second weapon: captive herds. Smithfield, for example, is not only the nation’s dominant hog processor. In addition to slaughtering 27 million hogs per year, the behemoth also raises 1.2 million hogs of its own — more than any other operation by a factor of three. It also controls a huge portion of the hogs it slaughters indirectly, through contracts with large-scale growers.

Pork giants Tyson and Cargill also keep large captive herds, and buy most of the rest of the hogs they slaughter under contract. They use their market might to squeeze prices, giving small, independent growers two options. They can get bigger, in hopes of making up in volume what they’re losing in price; or they can shut down.

And the picture is the same on the grocery and distribution front. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest grocery retailer, rakes in more than $300 billion in annual profits, more than three times that of grocery retailed #2. This means they set policy, especially in terms of what food they will stock for how much — hence the more expensive fresh vegetables in the low-income neighborhood.

Lest you think you can avoid any of this by buying organic, think again. Your friendly neighborhood multi-national conglomerate has figured out where their consumers are trending, and have been buying up organics and folding them in as subsidiary brands since the 1990s.Here’s a fun game: try to match up the corporate owner on that chart with their place on the list of the country’s most lucrative food processing companies!

All of this is to say there are two fundamental truths about the food industry.

First, as Tom Philpott says, we — the consumers — can’t transform the food system alone:

Even if Obama were serious about transforming the food system (which I don’t think he is), he would have to contend with a set of highly profitable incumbent industries, from agrichemical makers to cheeseburger purveyors, that will defend their interests by fang and claw on Capitol Hill. And their immense lobbying power leaves any would-be reformer in the White House with little room to impose change…any serious presidential effort to reform the food system will crash into a brick wall constructed by the likes of Monsanto and Tyson Food.

And in case you needed any proof, here’s (Iowa farm boy) Secretary of Ag Vilsack trumpeting ethanol as the future of American biofuels, and arguing that industrial ag will feed the world — in a speech just last week.

Philphott means that we need to lobby for political reform, rather than just buy our way out of the problem. Because buying our way out isn’t an option for everyone.

But the second fundamental truth is this: there are other options. Right now, many of those options cost more, due to the enormous financial and legal constraints under which small-scale, sustainable producers operate. But those financial realities exist under a falsely-constructed system designed to help big, unsanitary, dangerous conditions the cheapest ones available. As consumers, we must seek to financially support the change we believe is necessary in the food system while we can,  because those decisions will help push food policy in the right direction.

Because I’m an optimist, I’ll leave you with hope and a call to action from Nicolette Hahn Niman (the vegetarian cattle rancher of the Niman Ranch sustainable operation). Hahn Niman has some great details on why big ag and sustainable ag are fundamentally different, and how to choose properly at the grocery store.

According to Hahn Niman, For those of us who can afford it (and every little bit counts, so support local farmers even if only in tomatoes!) this extra money now is an investment in the future:

We should all be asking our elected officials why our government isn’t supporting farming that produces food that’s healthful for humans, environmentally benign and respectful to animals. Over the long term, that’s the change we need to advocate for. If government policy made such a shift, wholesome traditionally produced foods could be as inexpensive as the junk coming out of factory farms. In the meantime, expect to pay more for good food. Think of it as an investment in good health, an unspoiled environment, fair treatment for animals, and of course, tasty eating.

Test Tube Meat

30 May

My loyal readers (as I imagine those of you who are left after this hiatus must be loyal) I apologize for my extended delay from We*Meat*Again! I have missed thinking and writing about food even just since Thursday, and have an ever-growing collection of book-marked articles and ideas to work my way through. I’ve had a recent string of bad luck that culminated in a (minor) car accident Saturday evening, and so real life has gotten a bit too busy for me to keep the blog properly updated.

It may take a few more days before I’m fully back on track, so I thought now would be a good time for a question post, wherein I share a news item about which I can’t quite formulate an opinion and see what you all think! Now, as anyone who knows me in person can testify, I cannot promise I will just automatically adopt the opinions in the comments, but perhaps they will sway me one way or the other.

Today’s Topic: Meat from a Test Tube

The Brief Overview: Science is surprisingly close to being able to use stem cells or bioreceptors to grow animal protein in a petri dish. We’re not talking about growing full animals here, but rather growing just the protein from the animals we consume, starting only with cells.

For a more in-depth discussion of the science here, check out SEED magazine’s interview with a “meat alternative” developer.

This would mean producing animal protein food without any of the issues of environmental pollution discussed in this post, or under any inhumane conditions that made me a vegetarian in the first place. In fact, it would mean getting to eat hamburgers without any blood or slaughter at all.

And not fake burgers–nothing chemical or artificial here. This would be actual animal meat.

So why does it feel weird? Shouldn’t this, for an ethical omnivore, be the perfect scenario? There’s something holding me back from fully embracing this idea. It’s not taste or appearance, as I’ve never seen or tried in vitro meat. What is it that prevents me from seeing this as a sustainable, ethical way to consume animals?

Would you eat meat from a test tube? If not, why? What about this might make us uncomfortable? Here are some comments from folks via GOOD magazine’s twitter and Facebook feeds on this topic.

Auction Meat

2 May Steak

A firm believer in the notion that  sometimes, the simplest things are the best things, my first “recipe” here at the blog will not be a recipe at all, just the brief recounting of a pretty basic meal: sirloin steak, mashed potatoes & green beans.

Fresh from beneath the broiler–a nice crisp on the outside, still steaming & juicy on the inside. Medium-rare, edging on rare, just how I like it. My favorite side dish in the universe, mashed potatoes. (Perhaps someday, the story of mashed potatoes on the ceiling will make its way onto the blog.) And fresh steamed green beans because, let’s face it, our tummies need a little help digesting meat, and green veggies are good for us.

Simple. No frills.

But of course, why would I post about a steak that didn’t have a back-story? And this is a good one. Because I bought this steak … at an auction.

Yes, you read that correctly. I bought meat at a live auction.

Here’s the whole story: Every year, Flyway , the literary magazine run by my MFA program, (Iowa State University’s one-of-a-kind MFA in Creative Writing & Environment) hosts a live auction as a fundraiser to keep publishing the magazine. It’s your standard low-key but nighttime affair: cash bar, jazz musicians, a poetry slam, etc. but the night culminates in a live auction wherein attendees (mostly graduate students and faculty members) bid on donated goods.

This past November, some kind soul donated five boxes of grass-fed, antibiotic-free, organic meat. Each box was estimated to be worth well over $150.

Not long ago, the idea of bidding on a box of meat at an auction would probably have been something I would have attempted to make a joke about. But after a couple of years of co-ops, buying clubs and very, very high price tags (again, for a grad student) that cardboard box of frozen flesh was looking pretty good for the low, low starting bid of $20.

I used my very best puppy-dog eyes on Scott, who had the checkbook and the auction card, who also loves a good grass-fed Juicy Lucy or slow cooker jambalaya with organic pork sausage (recipes to come!) and he flashed that bidding number like it was nobody’s business. Because there were five boxes of meat, and only about fifty people present, we walked out of the Flyway benefit auction that night with a whole roast chicken, four top sirloin steaks, four packages of maple breakfast sausage, four gigantic pork chops, a pound of ground lamb, a pound of ground beef, and a full lamb shank–all for just 36 bucks. We are STILL working our way through that box of meat.

And that is your introduction, dear readers, to just how far I will go for good, local meat. That’s what I call a victory.

Though I have to say, I also consider it a victory that I made it through this entire post without snickering to myself about the term “meat box.”

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