Monday, May 12, 2008

Calculations and Ruminations of All That Is Grass-Fed

After weeks of research, mulling, querying, and more mulling, I have figured out where to get our meat for the coming year. I decided to buy a quarter of beef and a side of pork from Deck Family Farm near Junction City, located west of Eugene. I hope to go in with friends on those purchases and now just need to get confirmation and deposits from all the people who said, "Yeah, great idea!" when I suggested getting shares of a steer and hog. I'll also be getting a lamb from local writer and homesteader Mary Rosenblum and I just ordered six chickens from Rebecca, who organized a large order of roasters from Deo Volente Farm near Mulino. Later in the year, I'll order a turkey from the Deck family.

When I last wrote about finding pastured local meat, I was still not sure how much of everything I should order. Figuring out how much of a steer our family is likely to eat within a year led me to deciding to make some fairly radical (for us) changes to our eating habits. Usually, we eat meat at least once a day, at dinner time. Lunch often includes meat too, though breakfast rarely does. I know eating so much meat is not sustainable, both in terms of our food budget and planetary resources. I also found trying to calculate our annual meat consumption overly taxing and decided it would be easier to reduce and simplify--my mantra with just about everything these days. So out of both altruism and laziness, I decided to limit myself to cooking meat for the family to just once a week. For about six weeks now, I've been doing just that, cooking a rump roast, pork loin, or whole chicken at the beginning of the week and then using the meat variously--in sandwiches, soups, salads--throughout the week. This has been working out well for us. We're eating more eggs and legumes and while I haven't been keeping any tallies, it seems like I'm spending less on food lately at the same time everyone else seems to be complaining about spending more.

Here is how I arrived at the various amounts of meat to order for our family for a year. The typical steer yields about 195 pounds of meat per side, roughly 65 pounds of steaks, 65 pounds of roasts, and 65 pounds of ground beef. Half that amount, 97 pounds, will more than suffice for our family for a year. That's about five pounds of roasts or steaks and 3 pounds of ground per month. Currently, average American beef consumption is about 60 pounds per year. I estimate that our kids each eat about one-sixth of whatever meat we cook and that my husband and I eat one-third each. If we limit our beef consumption to what we eat at home, my husband and I will eat half as much beef as the average American over the next year.

The typical whole hog yields about 144 pounds of meat, including three pounds of feet, five pounds of head, and 23 pounds of back fat. So, minus the that stuff we wouldn't eat, a side of pork would have about 60 pounds of meat that we would eat. If we again assume Mike and I would each eat a third of that total, our annual pork consumption would be less than half the current American average.

Whole roasted chicken is such a favorite at our house and again, we can feast on the remains for the whole week. I brine the bird overnight, air-dry it in the fridge all day, put butter mixed with salt and pepper beneath the skin, fill the cavity with garlic and a quartered lemon or orange, then roast at 500 degrees for an hour or so (usually less). Although any chicken cooked with this method will yield crispy skin and succulent flesh, I can really taste the difference between pastured chicken and conventionally raised birds. Even the organic, "free-range" chicken from New Seasons isn't as tasty as the pastured ones we've gotten from Abundant Life Farm.

We get a dozen or two eggs a week from my friend Chrissy and her in-laws and I've decided to go back to getting raw milk from the Portland Real Milk network. I stopped getting it for a month or so because Annabel says she doesn't like it, but when I pick up our order next week, I'm going to put it in a container from the store and see if she notices the difference. I think her reaction wasn't to the taste so much as the unfamiliar container and a wee bit of contrariness for its own sake. Some days, whatever I like, she does not, and such is the nature of five-year-old girls.

That's all on the pastured meat, dairy and egg front! I'm so pleased to be saying goodbye to mystery meat and hello to real, live farmers and their fantastic offerings.


Brittney said...

This is so cool, Chris! We have thought about doing something similar. What are you doing for storage?

Chris said...

We have an largish upright freezer in our basement. I think our quarter of beef (I placed our order Thursday!) will take up about 1/3 of it, maybe less.