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How to eat meat with less guilt

Learning to deal with a whole animal or large cuts of meat in the kitchen requires ingenuity. (Photo credit: USDA)

Learning to deal with a whole animal or large cuts of meat in the kitchen requires ingenuity. (Photo credit: USDA)

If we’re seeking truly good and honest food, we know we must cook more. We must be thriftier. We must learn to depend on ourselves again.

We not only need to cook more often, but we need to eat everything we’re provided. The whole plant. The whole animal. Our selective use of food resources in [North] America is so appalling that it’s hard to find adequate adjectives for it. And the ripple effects are endless, in the economy of the home, in our collective health problems, in our growing hunger problems, in our frenzied food production (more, more, more) and in our food waste management.

Guilt free meat eating

A new approach to honest eating requires that we change this trend. Restaurants shall face this challenge, too. If there is only one hanger steak per beef carcass, it should not be a regular on the menu. Let’s have better training in whole-animal butchery, so that we can feel comfortable seeing something like herbed broccoli raab + date & sassafras sabayon + lamb on a menu, and not need to know what the cut is, because the cut doesn’t matter. The cut is whatever the chef needed to cook to make best use of the lamb’s carcass.

The fact of the matter is that poor land management and lack of attention to animal welfare has been bred in part by gross, disproportionate demand for rare muscle commodity. The industry and business of the external economy are built to respond in a language of brute efficiency, not complex consciousness. It takes people to manage business consciously, all across the supply chain.

Get creative

In your home kitchen, learning to deal with a whole animal, or larger cuts of meat than retail-size ones, will require ingenuity. You’ll end up with rich stocks and meat that is best used for seasoning other foods. As you explore new ways to cook familiar cuts and venture into unfamiliar creations, your mind will begin to unfold with ideas about pairing the meat with fresh vegetables, what fruit you may add to your porchetta, or what herbs to try in the next sausage.

You’ll also find that meat is not always the main focus. Yes, you’ll have some meat-centric, traditional American meals with those hunky ribeyes and roasts, but sometimes you’ll get as much if not more nutrition and satisfaction if you let meat take back stage, using it to flavor, nuance and support the other food groups. If you can change your mindset about how to cook meat and what a meal looks like, you’ll make excellent use of the whole animal.

Taking it further still, your ability to work with animal foods more competently will also change your desires about working with animal foods, which is a winning situation all around. For example, the muscles in a beef carcass that you may not be aware of are now generally being processed into ground beef, a product we can all understand and afford. But if you learn to use the animal differently, you may find a way to eat those muscles differently, pay the same average price per pound of beef, but endure one less repetitive meal. And your farmer may have a greater chance of profiting off of one animal. This is just one example of how your cooking bone is connected to your buying bone, which is connected to the way your community looks, feels and functions.

Meredith Leigh has worked as a farmer, butcher, chef, teacher, and non-profit executive director. Her recent book, ‘The Ethical Meat Handbook‘, is a practical guide to home butchery, charcuterie and getting the most from the meat we eat.

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