I have a confession to make… For as much of a local foodie as I have become, I intentionally delayed reading Michael Pollan’s, The Omnivores Dilemma, for about two years. You could say that I wanted to bury my head in the sand, but I was just convinced that I would turn into a vegetarian if I really learned about where my meat comes from.
Eventually I opened the book, and while I can proudly say that I’m still an avid meat eater, I’ve become highly selective about the type and quality of meat I consume. I haven’t decided whether I’m a butchers’ greatest customer or worst enemy, but before I make any meat purchase, I need to know how it was raised, what it was fed, how it was processed (a very pretty industry word that means how it was killed), and how it gets to my plate. Yup, I’m THAT girl…
Which brings me to today’s blog. What does the average person need to consider when buying meat, and where are some reliable sources for the good quality stuff?
Defining “Mindful” Meat
I could dedicate pages and pages to this topic, but today we’ll keep it short and sweet. Here is what you should consider when purchasing meat:
How It’s Raised: The best quality stuff you can buy is pasture-raised from small farms (remember those words from our last egg blog?), not from conventional feeding facilities. For beef, “happy cows” are meant to eat grass, so opt for a grass-fed variety if you can. For pork, chicken & duck, look for pastured varieties.
What It’s Fed: For cows, grass is the best option, with organic grains as the second-best option. Feeding animals organic grains can be an expensive proposition, so some farmers opt for a high-quality conventional feed that doesn’t include any genetically modified grains. Talk to your farmers…the better quality their food, the better quality the meat.
By asking these questions to your meat purveyor, it will be clear that you’re looking for meat with high nutritional quality that has been raised in an ethical environment.
Where to Buy:
Farmers Markets: Most established farmers markets have grass-fed beef or pastured meats available now. Buying from them allows to you establish a relationship with the farmer and only purchase the cuts or amounts that you need. And if you have a big freezer, you could consider another great option: buying a ¼, ½ or whole cow! They cut it up for you and you get everything in small, vacuum-sealed packages.
Meat-focused CSA: If you don’t make it to the farmers market, consider subscribing to a meat CSA. This is another way to buy directly from the farm, and just like a veggie/fruit CSA, you get a box of fresh meat cuts delivered directly to your front door (or to the pickup location near you). Check out LocalHarvest or EatWild to locate a meat CSA in your area. These sites are a little confusing, so when in doubt, just start calling the farms! I know that Tara Firma Farms and Marin Sun Farms both have great meat CSA’s pickup spots throughout the Bay Area.
Butcher Shops: The next best option is to buy from a local butcher shop that practices “whole animal butchery”. Instead of getting boxes of specific cuts in Cryovac bags, these butcher shops buy the whole animal and butcher up everything themselves. It means that every part of the animal is used and nothing is wasted…the way is should be!
I still haven’t found a great listing of high quality butcher shops in the Bay Area, but here’s the best I could compile, and many of these practice whole animal butchery. If you know of others near you, please email me so I can add to this list.
Avedanos (SF, Bernal Heights)
Marina Meats (SF, Marina)
Fatted Calf (SF, Hayes Valley
Star Meats (Berkeley)
Marin Sun Farms (Oakland/Rockridge, Point Reyes and more)
The Local Butcher Shop (Berkeley)
4505 Meats (SF, Hayes Valley, Ferry Building Farmers Market)
Bi-Rite (SF, Mission District)
Oliver’s (SF, Dogpatch)
Harley Richter Meats (pickup & delivery, goodeggs.com)
Canyon Market (Glen Park, carries BN Ranch meat…)