Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A former vegetarian's take on organic, grass-fed beef

Here's the thing: I'm not a big meat-eater. I went completely vegetarian for a couple of years at the end of high school and the beginning of college. I have since started eating meat again, but not very often, and there are certain kinds of meat that I still steer clear of. For example, I haven't eaten a hamburger in twelve years (and frankly, reading stories like this makes it easy to resist).

I seem to have an innate sense of eww when it comes to meat. Not only do I eschew eating it, I don't even like to cook it. Put simply, raw chicken grosses me out. There was a long period of time where the only chicken I would use in preparing meals for the family came from either a stripped Costco rotisserie chicken or canned chicken. I know that canned chicken is probably disgusting to some of you, but it was how I coped. The further removed it was from its origin as an animal, the more palatable (and cookable) it was to me. I know the new way of thinking is that we need to know more about where our food comes from, and how it gets to our table, but too much of that just makes me queasy.

And yet somehow, the idea of organic meat appeals to me.Not that I'd love to sit down and ponder the life and times of the animal I'm about to cook and eat, but when it comes down to it, I guess I'd rather it have been an environmentally sound one.

Maybe it's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle finally sinking in, or maybe Ithaca's hippie habits are starting to rub off on me, but for the first time ever on Saturday, I purchased some organic meat. Organic, grass-fed beef (a pot roast) and organic chicken drumsticks, to be exact.

We ate the pot roast for dinner last night. A friend had told me that sometimes grass-fed beef tastes "meatier" than corn-fed beef does, so I was a little worried that I would actually prefer the inferior version. But it was delicious. It wasn't a huge difference, but I think I would be able to tell one apart from the other in a taste test. The grass-fed beef was more tender but seemed to hold its shape better in the crock-pot. I'm all for a roast to be fall-aparty, but with a non-organic roast, sometimes it seemed like I was left with a big pile of mushy beef bits on my plate instead of a coherent mass. The grass-fed beef was perfect in every way. So that's a win.

The chicken drumsticks are on the menu for later in the week, and I'm curious to see how they turn out. It might not be as even a comparison as with the pot roast because I'm trying them in a new recipe, but I'll be doing my best to sense a difference in taste.

Now, remember how one of the things that bothered me about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was the author's disregard for the fact that good, responsibly produced food costs more, and not all of us have small families, or two incomes, or a family farm to inherit? Well, organic, grass-fed beef and organic chicken do cost more than the regular stuff. Here's how I'm rationalizing it, at least for now: it doesn't cost that much more (at least not in the quantities that our small family purchases), and we don't eat that much meat. Thus, the impact on our grocery bill should be minimal for this one dietary change.

There is one exception to this, and it unfortunately contradicts both rationalizations: chicken breasts. They are by far the most expensive organic meat and cost considerably more than regular chicken breasts. They are also the meat that we consume most frequently. So I'm not sure what to do about that yet.

What do you think about organic meat? I confess I'm less intrigued by the organic part than by the grass-fed part, at least with the beef. Does it matter what the cow ate, before we ate it? Should it? Have you tasted both, and do you think there's a difference?


Susanne said...

Wow, you do book reviews AND meat reviews! Awesome! :-)

I've never tried organic, grass-fed beef that I know. I'm not a huge meat fan though I eat it a bit more than you, I'd guess. Another way to justify the higher-priced meat: if the inferior meat becomes "a big pile of mushy beef bits on my plate" that you are reluctant or unwilling to eat then you are not saving money by throwing inferior meat away (maybe you forced yourself to eat those mushy bits of meat so my example is irrelevant.)

Let us know how you like the drumsticks later this week.

I've never given it much thought to what the cows eat before I eat them (grass, grain, straw, hormones!!?).

Thanks for the review!

Crys said...

So how are you planning on cooking the drumsticks...or is that too Mormon mommy blogging :) I love meat. Really I do. I don't like touching it raw and I always have an OCD moment cleaning my kitchen after I cook chicken but I still like the way it taste. Which is why I'm having a difficult time with the fact that I want to give it up. All those green house gases, it not being that efficient of a way to use our resources, my pocket book, and my waist line :) I'll be honest though. There were times when I was in Colorado eating with my almost vegan sister that I thought, wow this dish would taste great with meat :)

Liz Johnson said...

Did you know that Costco now sells shredded chicken breast from the Rotisserie chickens?! Perhaps that's your answer for now. :)

We are slowly cutting down our meat consumption, which I'm happy about. But even then, we still can't afford the organic stuff... it's a difference between $1.49/pound and $4.99/pound. I just can't handle that.

karina said...

I can tell a difference between the types of meat. I buy local, grass fed beef (the best meat I've ever eaten) and Amish chickens that are hormone-free. The chicken does cost substantially more if you buy certain cuts, but if you buy a whole chicken you can get it for a really good price. I use the whole chicken a number of ways - either roast the whole thing or cut it up into parts - that way I can still have two chicken breasts, two chicken tenders, and the rest of the stuff. I boil down the carcass and make my own chicken broth and separate the meat from the bones. I use that shredded meat for soups, casseroles, curry, enchiladas, etc. It takes really good. I know it's a lot of work and that you have to touch the animal, but it's really not that big of a deal. Plus, it saves a lot of money!

For the beef, we try to eat it only a few times a month and even then, only use a tiny bit instead of the amount we used to use (like a garnish instead of the main course - when we make tacos we use 1/8th pound of ground beef and add black beans or refried beans to stretch it. It ends up being even tastier). Only occasionally do we eat something like a roast or steak.

I have dreams of belonging to a meat coop where your meat is delivered to you every month. You get to go to the farm and see how the animals live, what they eat, etc.

Bridget said...

Susanne, I always felt that way about Costco produce, too. It was more expensive than grocery store stuff, but it was SO much better and we wasted less as a result.

Crys, the drumsticks are in a chicken cassoulet (crock-pot recipe). I'll let you know how it tastes!

Liz, I did not know that, and it's probably better that there is not a Costco nearby or I would regress to buying it.

Karina, I am intrigued by Amish chickens. I might have to check that out. I am also impressed how you handle the whole chicken. Maybe I can learn to do that, too. Perhaps with some powerful anti-nausea medication.

Another note re: cost. Liz, the prices you quoted sound like the non-organic vs. organic chicken breast prices. Which is why that is one step I haven't taken yet, because, YIKES. Also, to clarify, the only beef we eat is roast, and that's probably 3x every two months, so like I said, the cost difference is negligible.

JackJen said...

I have a hard time eating red meat in general...it just doesn't agree with my body.

...and after spending a summer exhaustively reading a whole LOT of TMI about red meat, we decided not to buy it anymore... (That doesn't mean it's not delicious...cause it surely IS...we'll eat the good stuff at restaurants or if it's served at friends' houses, but we just don't buy it ourselves anymore).

Britney said...

I struggle when cooking with raw meats, too, especially when pregnant and nauseated. That Costco rotisserie chicken method has saved me on many occasions.

Anonymous said...

I prefer the taste of organic meat, too. I think Scott and I are in a similar situation. We don't eat very much meat of any kind, so I figure it doesn't cost that much more for to buy organic meat. Plus, the more I read on the subject, the more I think we may be doing our bodies and the environment a favor.


Kristi Manning said...

I am the same way with cooking meat. It's just really gross. Now that I'm in college and cook my own food, i feel like a vegetarian. The only time i really eat meat is when my roommates cook it for Sunday dinner. One time on Thanksgiving, I walked into the kitchen when my family was preparing the turkey and I vowed that I would never cook a turkey. My grandpa asked me what I would do when I have my own family and I told him that my husband will have to do it. To this day, my grandpa asks every guy friend of mine that he meets if they know how to cook a turkey. I also have this thing where I only eat ugly animals. I don't know why, but the thought of eating a cute little deer or rabbit just makes me sad.

Kristen said...

Well I really don't want to go on a rant about how organic is more of a blanket feel-good term than it is useful on a large scale, but I will point out one thing that bugs me: when people get all smug about having hormone-free chicken. It is ILLEGAL to give chickens hormones and sell the meat in the US. So all chicken you consume here is hormone-free.

Also, I like the canned chicken. It is SO easy when you need cooked chicken in a recipe and don't have time to cook any. Like in a soup or chili for example.

I'm really glad you liked your roast. Maybe this organic vs. non issue is a lot like childbirth options: it would be nice if people were just happy for each other whichever type of food (or birth) they prefer, and it would be nice if everybody had access to accurate, _non-biased_ information from which to decide.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I think meat revulsion is less common among people my age. We grew up just one generation off the farm so everyone seemed to eat meat. Often. Those of us raised Catholic didn't eat meat on Fridays so my Mom cooked flavorless fillet of sole or disgusting fishsticks (what ocean do those swim in?) every Friday, which turned me off to fish (if she had cooked salmon or trout or any decent type of fish it might have been different).

I am glad though that there's so much questioning about our food sources and quality now, because that only improves it for everybody. And now that we are no longer feeding a small army here, I can afford to try the more expensive organic choices.

karina said...

Oops...I meant we buy chicken that is antibiotic-free, not hormone-free. Completely different thing.


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