I told you we would, and we did! We invested in a quarter cow.
We don't eat a whole lot of meat in our household--partly due to cost, partly due to health decisions, and partly due to wanting to be good stewards of creation. But we are in fact omnivores. And we're concerned about the origins of the meat we do eat. As much as possible, we want that meat to come from organically fed animals who were raised without antibiotics or hormones on small local farms. And we want the workers on those farms to be treated well and to receive fair wages. We also care about how the animals were treated. Perhaps this seems strange, considering that we plan to eat them, but we want the chickens, cows, and pigs who provide us with the meat we eat to have led low-stress lives during which they were able to express their chickenhood/cowhood/pighood before their were slaughtered. And we want to know that even the slaughtering process was as quick, painless, and stress-free as possible for the animals.
I know not everyone has the options we have. I'm so grateful that we live in an area where there is plentiful water and space for raising animals and produce--and where sustainable, humane options are so readily available. Local, organic farms (for veggies and for meat) just aren't a reality for a lot of people.
Maybe you're thinking, Yeah, and meat like you're describing is a luxury that only the wealthy can afford! First of all, I'll acknowledge that in the global scheme of things, we're definitely wealthy. And I can almost guarantee that if you're reading this, you probably have electricity and running water, and you eat protein regularly. That means you, too, are wealthy in comparison with much of the world's population. Truly. That said, believe me when I say that our family is not wealthy by American standards. I'm well aware that non-factory-farmed meat is often a more expensive option. Our bank account has felt that. But for us, that has meant a decision to consume meat less frequently (and in smaller servings), not to make what we would consider ethical compromises on its origins.
I feel that I should clarify that when we are guests in someone else's home, we don't grill them on the origins of the food they've lovingly prepared for us, nor do we turn up our noses at it. The guidelines I've laid out above are in place for what we purchase, not for what others generously choose to share with us. It would be rather two-faced, I think, if we professed concern and gratitude for the workers and animals who produce the food we purchase, and yet we weren't similarly grateful as guests at someone's table.
Anyway, in our search for a source for local beef, we found Wilcox Angus Beef, which is within 25 miles of our house. Chris and Lisa Wilcox (yes, they are part of the Wilcox Farms family) raise a small herd of grass-fed cattle on their organic pastures. Each fall, they humanely slaughter some of their herd right there on the farm. Then the meat is transported 25 miles away to The Meat Shop of Tacoma, where it's dry-aged for 21 days and then cut, packaged, labeled, and quick-frozen.
Last Friday, we cleaned out and defrosted our [mostly empty] five-cubic-foot chest freezer. Then on Saturday morning, the four of us drove up to The Meat Shop of Tacoma to pick up our beef. The shop's name is a bit misleading, because it's actually a farm on a pleasant rural road far from downtown Tacoma. A nice, very soft-spoken young man helped us load the boxes of beef into our trunk, and we were off! On our way back to the main road, we passed piglets grazing by the roadside. Literally. When I got out of the car to open Liam's door so he and Annika could get a better look, the piglets scurried back through holes in a fence and into their pasture.
Once we got home, the process of sorting the beef and figuring out how to fit it all in our freezer began. Here's the final product of our organization:
Our chest freezer is in our garage on an awesome platform Steve built (props to him!). The platform is suspended over the hood of our car (it's in the photo--can you see it?). Taking this photo involved me looming over the freezer on a tall stepstool set on our garage landing. Steve stood on tiptoe next to me, holding aloft a bright shop light. Talk about professional photography, huh? Despite our photographic contortions, you can't get a feel from looking at this for how much meat is in the freezer. Each of those baskets is 14x8x6". And to give you an idea of how much beef is in the freezer itself, the bottom of the freezer is a good two feet below the packaged meat you can see. It's going to take us a long time to go through all of this meat. And that's just fine.
Buying this much meat all at once was a big investment, but it truly was way cheaper in the long run than buying individual cuts would be. In fact, if you take into account water weight lost in the dry-aging process, it was way cheaper than buying even an equivalent amount of wet-aged, grass-fed ground beef would be. And only 32 pounds (or so) of this is ground beef.
Last night as we sat down to dinner (which, incidentally, did not include beef), we thanked God for the cow that provided us with the beef that is now waiting in our freezer. Maybe that seems strange. Maybe it seems like we should shelter our kids (and even ourselves) from the truth of our food's origins. Or maybe it seems like if we were really concerned about animals' welfare, we wouldn't eat them. But that's not the decision we've made. We choose to eat meat. But we choose to do it as responsibly, humanely, and sustainably as possible. We don't have it all figured out, but we're trying.