I probably eat a third as much meat as I used to. And on the occasions that I do indulge, I eat less of it.
Im reminded of a really good plate of slow-roasted lamb shoulder I had in Seattle. There were about 6 ounces on the plate, and I ate half. It was delicious, and it was enough. This is no longer a conscious thing but a new habit.
The new habits, I suppose, come from new attitudes. The vast majority of Americans still eat meat at least some of the time. Statistically, most of us eat it in unwise, unsustainable and unhealthful quantities.
Im betting that you eat meat more consciously (and less of it) than you once did. The health, environmental and ethical concerns affect the attitudes of almost everyone I encounter. And although our priorities differ, few people I know indiscriminately fill their supermarket carts with shrink-wrapped meat. Not long ago, almost all of us did.
It was never easy to judge meat quality, and that remains the case. The USDA grades meat by fat content, select being the leanest and prime the fattiest.
This is not an adequate system for those of us who consider other things when we buy meat, including at least some assurance the animal was treated humanely.
Humanely means different things to different people. Veal consumption plummeted in the 80s when confinement turned people off. As a result, producers say crates are set to be phased out by 2017. But veal can be as natural a part of legitimate agriculture as any other animal. If you consume dairy, you support veal production.
When it comes to beef, pork and lamb, some people insist that meat come from animals raised on small farms, individually tended; others are interested only that the animals are not raised in confinement or routinely fed antibiotics. Feed is also an issue, because cows evolved to eat grass, not grain.
I feel best when buying from a farmer or farmers representative I know, or think I know. But even this has what at first appears to be a decided drawback: cost.
Its difficult to nail down averages, but commodity meat costs something under $10 a pound in most cases. National brands from humanely treated animals like that from Niman Ranch or Coleman Natural cost maybe twice as much, and meat from local farmers costs considerably more. Its not uncommon to spend $25 or more a pound on beef from a trustworthy source.
The immediate response consumers have to this is ouch. Counterintuitive as it may seem, though, this is good for everyone.
Relatively large-scale sustainable and natural or organic or humane farmers might raise 500 pigs a year they are not getting rich. We want these farmers to earn a living; they are stewarding the land in a manner we appreciate, and they are providing us with the kind of food we want to eat.
All of which may not make up for spending $30 instead of $15. But there are other reasons you can live with these higher prices. Its widely accepted that large quantities of red meat may be problematic, health-wise, and many people have made it a goal to eat less meat because large-scale industrial production is damaging to the environment.
Heres a way to think about it: The price of food in general is what economists call inelastic youre going to eat something, no matter the cost. But the price of any particular food like meat is elastic you will buy less as it becomes more expensive. This is a good thing from nearly every perspective.
I am saying this: Spend the same $30, or $50 or $100 or $300 on meat that you now spend each week or month, but buy less and buy better.
Then cook meat differently. I could offer hundreds of recipes for dishes that take advantage of this kind of cooking. Here are three, which are among my current favorites.
The first is a vague interpretation of fajitas that focuses on grilled vegetables and makes beef a supporting player. A pound or so of tender, fatty rib-eye or sirloin goes a long way here.
The second is a new-age version of a veggie burger (as in half and half, not a burger made from vegetables and grain), which you might also think of as a stuffed mushroom. Its terrific, hearty, unusual and really cool: a portobello filled with sausage and grilled.
Finally, there is an Asian-style veal stew. Its quick to make, combining simple technique with decidedly unexpected flavors and plenty of vegetables. Finding good veal is the most difficult challenge, although tender beef like tenderloin or pork shoulder also works well.
These are good recipes. With really good meat (and less of it), theyre even better. Thats a change in attitude.
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