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?