Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Did NOT Buy a Cow

***A note to any of my regular readers.  I have removed the post entitled "An Actual Shit Ton of Meat."  I decided that, in addition to being callous and rude, the post was not in the spirit of this blog and was unnecessarily mean.  In addition, it took away from the joy that the post should have contained.  For those of you who read it, you will see some of it here.  The repeat material starts near the end, but there is a little new content at the very bottom.  I personally think it's funny and worth reading.  For those of you who didn't read the original post, don't worry.  This one is better!***

I did not buy a cow.  I need to stop saying that I bought a cow.  I bought a steer.  More so, I bought a quarter beef.  But that's just not as exciting as to say as "I bought a cow!"  I didn't buy a cow.

After much review, I decided to go with Ney's Big Sky.  The beef is organic, but not 100% grass fed.  It was a debate, but, realistically, I can't imagine a how cattle could be raised in Wisconsin 100% grass fed.  Because, six months out of the year, the grass is covered with snow.  Not this year, but most years.  So, I went with organic, pastured (meaning they are actually out in the pasture.  Some cattle have "access" to outside and are therefore called free range, but are really just in a barn with an open door.  Cows Steer are not the smartest of animals, and I would not trust them to find their way out of a barn.)  This cattle is grass fed as much as possible, but does receive grain as necessary to supplement their diet.  They do not, however, receive growth hormones or antibiotics, and the supplementary feed is free of animal protein or bone, is free of plastic (really.  Plastic.  Often used as a fiber substitute. Plastic. Think about that next time you're eating a steak...), and and is not genetically modified.

The farm is located in Manitowoc, WI, and I had experience with them in the past.  They have a booth at the South Shore Farmer's Market, and  I have purchased beef, pork, and chicken from them in the past.  And brats.  They have the best brats in the history of ever.  If you are a Wisconsinite, you know what a big deal this is.  I personally prefer flavored ones (cheddar jalapeno, gyro, etc.), but I've been told the plain ol' beer brats are pretty damn good too.

At the start of the year, I purchased a freezer.  And I purchased what I considered to be a shit-ton of meat to fill it.  It was not.  Do you know what is a shit-ton of meat?  A quarter cow steer:

This is what a quarter beef looks like.

Plus this part that wouldn't fit on my table.  I tried to pile it high, but the animals were teaming up to try to knock stuff onto the floor.
I do not intend to eat all of this.  I split the meat with my mother.  Still, though, it's a large amount of meat.  With some vegetables from the fall a few chickens, a little bit of lamb, and a few pieces of pork, my freezer is full.  I'm interested to see if the electricity bill goes down, because it absolutely went up when I got the freezer.

So is it worth it? That is the question of the moment, after all.  That is really the question that this past year... my "one year experiment" is less than a month from being completed...  asks.  Is it worth it?  What I would call "real" food costs more. 

Or does it?

I don't enjoy the math, so I won't sit here and tell you I tracked everything, but I don't feel like my food bill has gone up.  I do have to do MORE shopping.  More looking.  More searching.  More stops each week to fill up the fridge.  Each Saturday: to the farmer's market for meat and whatever fruit/veggies I can find.  To the Usingers factory (yes, the factory) for lunch meat.  To the Public Market for cheese.  To the bakery for bread.  And finally, to Outpost (our local co-op) for whatever else I can find.  Sometimes, I just wander the store looking for their little "buy local" sticker.  I keep hoping for pretzels.  I haven't found any yet.  So extra time, yes.  To the extent that my wonderful husband has started going to the "real" grocery store for non-grocery things, and the non-local things that he or I can't live without (he's not giving up cereal.  Neither of us is giving up orange juice). 

So extra time, yes.  But I don't feel like it costs more.  I prepared, with canned what not, which cost money up front... but not more than what it would have cost me to buy the actual canned goods.

So, is it worth it?  Approximately $550 for beef is a lot, even when split with your mom.  But, it turns out a shit-ton actually ways 120 lbs, which comes out to about $4.50 per pound.  Okay, sure, $4.50 is a little high for ground beef, and super high for nonsense like soup and dog bones, but it's not high for rib-eye, porterhouse, NY strip, or t-bone steaks.  In fact, it's down right cheap.

Why else does it matter?

Only recently, in 2002, with the passage of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, did it become mandatory for the country-of-origin to be indicated on the label of meat.  And, even now, it's not obvious.  Go to your local grocery store and pick up a package of meat.  Try to figure out where it came from.  See how long it takes.  Are you sure you know where you're meat has been?  Does that matter?

(I should note, for those of you who don't know me personally, that I'm an Academic Advisor for a University.  So, while I fully acknowledge this is a rant, it is certainly a well researched one)

In 2010, 2.297 billion pounds of beef were imported to the US.  The US produced 26.41 billion pounds, and exported 2.3 billion pounds, leaving 24.11 billion pounds for US consumption (USDA, 2011).  This means that only 10% of beef consumed in the US was imported, which I say isn't that bad.  And, with country-of-origin labeling required, those of us who want to eat only local beef have the tools and resources to do so.  That is, of course, unless you're eating at a restaurant or purchasing your meet from a butcher shop - they're exempt from country-of-origin labeling.  But 10% isn't that hard to avoid, right?  You've got a 90% chance of getting it right regardless.  It doesn't seem worth spending extra money, time, and/or storage space on on a 10% chance.  Does that matter?

But is US produced beef the same as local beef?  Is there a benefit to knowing your farmer?  To knowing your farm?  Does that matter?

What do you care about?  What do you worry about?  Greenhouse gasses?  Fossil fuels?  How far has your meat traveled from farm to plate?  In 2008, the shipping of food from farms to retail outlets averaged 3,000 ton-kilometers per household per year (Weber& Matthews, 2008).  That means, for each US household, the equivalent of hauling 6614 pounds for 622 miles.  The average food item travels a total of 1230 miles (Cox, 2010).  Now, since I promised a well researched rant, I feel it important to point out that food production takes up far more fossil fuels than food delivery.  In addition to the food delivery, the average household requires 9,000 ton-kilometers per year per household on food production.  This includes shipping of fertilizer, animal feed, and other requirements for growing food (Weber & Matthews, 2008).  So, maybe more important than WHERE your food is grown is HOW your food is grown. Factory farmed beef and pork, for example, require far more resources to produce than family farms.  Better still is to avoid red meat entirely (Weber & Matthews, 2008).  Perhaps I was wrong to purchase this meat.  Perhaps I should have cut red meat out of my diet entirely.  I frankly don't think this is in my best health interests, or my taste interests, although I respect those who do.

Maybe you worry about the safety of your food.  The Air Force Institute of Technology, for example, is worried about the threat of biological terrorism from imported foods - specifically food imported from Mexico (Nelson, 2011).  80% of seafood, 50% of fruit, and 50% of nuts are currently imported, over 50% of this coming from Mexico and China (Nelson, 2011).  Does that matter?

I personally worry about hormones, pesticides, and other things that are fed to the food that I eat.  This is a debated topic, and one for which I recognize it is a challenge to find reliable sources.  I could find plenty of scholarly sources that confirm my point of view.  On the other hand, though, I could find as many - just as good - that oppose it.  The only thing that I can do, then, is think it through on my own.

I start again, with, the notion that you are what you eat.  We worry about antibiotics, and antibiotic resistant bacteria.  And yet our food is being fed antibiotics as a part of their normal care.  Are those antibiotics not going into my system?  Reducing the efficiency of future antibiotics that I may need to fight off infection?  And, we would never consider eating food that we know to be coated in pesticides.  According to documents given out individuals studying to be certified pesticide applicators, consuming pesticides can lead to tumors, cancer, and changes in genes and chromosomes.  But who is washing the pesticides off of the grain fed to the cattle?  Is that not traveling through the cattle, into our bodies? What about growth hormones?  Would a hormone given to promote the growth of cattle not also have the same effect on me?  Does THAT matter?

I want to know what I eat.  I want to know that my food - my food that was once a living animal - was treated well.  Because happy animals taste better.  Because it's better for me.  And because it was once a living animal, and that means something.  I eat meat, but I don't believe in the torture of animals.  Some may say that's the same thing, but I've been to farms where, as far as I can see, the animals seem happy.  Happy is a field.  Happy is room to move around.  Happy is not a factory farm. Does that matter?  I think so.

Rant over. 

On a very morbid side note, I asked the kind people at Ney's some bizarre questions about my cow steer.  He did not have a name, because that gets them too attached to the animals.  I do not have that problem, so I have decided to name him Stewart.  Stewart Steer.  They do number the cattle, and my steer's number was 100626.  I did learn, however, that the number is the birthday!  My steer was born June 26th, 2010, which definitely has gone into my calendar and will be celebrated with steaks and, if I can find one, a cow steer (different shaped?) shaped cake. 

I'm weird.  I know.  I think that matters, too.

Look, references!

Cox, S.  (February 19, 2010).  Does It Really Matter Whether Your Food was Produced Locally?  Retrieved from

USDA Economic Research Service: U.S. Beef and Cattle Industry: Background Statistics and Information.  (May 25, 2011).  Retrieved from

Weber, C & Matthews, S. (2008).  Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States.  Retrieved from

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