Monday, November 16, 2009

Beefing Up

Why is it that for most people, chicken is a comfort food but beef isn’t? This doesn’t ring true to me. Perhaps because I grew up in Texas and learned early on the miraculous ease and flexibility of cooking with ground beef. Beef: it’s what was usually for dinner.

Is it because a chicken is less intimidating than a cow? If that’s the theory, then the theorist clearly has never been chased by a crazed chicken attempting to peck his hand off to get to the bucket of corn. He also has probably not spent hours watching the long-unmoving ruminant bodies sway across a swath of land, or peered into those warm, lucid brown eyes while rubbing the stiff but soft bovine ears.

I’d take a cow over a chicken any day.

(And don’t even get me started on goats. Fortunately, goats have never been considered comfort food for anyone outside of Ethiopia so it’s really a non-issue.)

Is it because chicken is often less expensive than beef? Because if that’s the reason I better reevaluate my comfort foods list. Right after mac’n’cheese I have caviar and truffles.

Is it because in days of yore, all the warm, cozy, peaceful wholesome places had chickens running around in the backyard? Because I’m not sure that’s even true.

In any event, I need not worry. We now have enough beef to produce many, many moons worth of comfort food.

The obvious practical question here is, why? In response, I have several answers, and I’m sure that other people (C included) could provide several more. Hear me out:

1. It is better for us.
It is better for the cows.
3. It is better for the environment.
4. It was on sale.

With regard to reasons 1-3, I’m a little uncomfortable sounding so granola. I don’t normally buy organic and we’re (clearly) no vegetarians. I don’t drive a hybrid and we occasionally eat instant ramen noodles for dinner. That said, as a gardener, a pet owner and a mother, I can’t avoid the obvious connection between wholesome foods and wholesome beings. As a Christian, I can’t avoid the stewarship responsibility we have to take care of the earth.

I’ve been reading recently about the realities of corn-fed beef and it is pretty sickening, both from an animal-welfare perspective and a human-health perspective. When an animal is made to only (only!) digest grass, (that’s why they have those extra stomachs after all), it seems to me they should be fed … GRASS. Feeding cows corn makes them sick and miserable, and requires them to be pumped full of antibiotics. In turn, we as the consumers are then forced to feed our families sick, miserable and drugged up meat. In this context, maybe beef isn’t such a comfort food after all (although I doubt chickens are much better).

Economics (mostly tax-subsidy policy) has made it so that corn-fed beef is pretty much the only thing normal people can afford on any kind of regular basis.

Which brings me to reason #4: There was a sale!

As a result of all the rain we had this year, the grass grew like crazy, which in turn made the cows grow like crazy and many of them came to weight before they were expected. I worked out that with the price they were offering, it was actually cheaper for me to purchase a half steer from this free-range, grass-fed farm than it would be to buy store bought beef through the winter.

I gave my pitch to my trusty companion C, who immediately agreed to split a half steer with me.

So, as of last Tuesday, I have about 200lbs of happy beef that was raised practically next door!

I even got the offal. What is offal (other than awful)? At our un-adventurous table, it’s going to be the choicest doggy treat on the market.

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