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On Few Thoughts on Meat

Last week I attended the Bring Food Home conference in Kitchener, which was very interesting and stimulating.  I pulled over a half-dozen times at least while driving home in order to jot notes and reflections, and even the outline of several dissertation chapters.

There were several talks in particular that got me going, such as the one on the crisis around local abattoirs.  This is a subject that I am starting to explore and I will write more about it once I better understand what’s going on.  In very brief, small-scale abattoirs are held to the same standards as giant meat packing plants, with rules in place that essentially run them financially into the ground.  These regulations are not necessarily relevant to small-scale production, but each plant must be equipped and run like Maple Leaf.  It is my suspicion (and general understanding) that the big corporations have a strong hand in establishing these rules, and that the burden this places on their small-scale “competitors” is not accidental.

Why does this matter?  Well, farmers cannot legally slaughter their own animals (except for a small number of chickens) and so they must take their cows and pigs and sheep to an abattoir to have them killed and processed into the cuts that we take home and eat.  It’s not cheap to transport large animals, and the farther farmers have to travel, the less likely they will be able to afford to keep producing meat that they can sell at their farm gates, and on a small and sustainable scale.  These regulations (and our economic system in general) force farmers to either go big, or go home.

I find it surprising that giant corporations are threatened by small production, but perhaps that’s a sign of hope.  If there is enough demand shifting to smaller-scale, more sustainable and local food production to cause giant agri-business to sit up and take notice, then maybe all is not lost.  This tells me that there is a growing number of people out there who are not only aware of the problems with factory farmed meat, but who are doing something about it by changing their shopping patterns.  Of course I could be wrong – perhaps these corporations simply won’t rest until they control 100% of all production and consumption. Or perhaps the economy is forcing them to stretch even into the smallest niches.  But, cynical as I am most of the time, a small part of me is eternally hopeful.

Today I am doing a bunch of cooking.  I needed to make space in my freezer so pulled out a chicken I’ve had in there for a few months and am attempting to roast it.  The chicken was raised by my roommate, and I even helped to feed it when it was little.  She grew the grain it ate and, with the help of friends, built a Joel Salatin style chicken tractor (a mobile home for chickens so that they can be kept safe while still be out on pasture; for photos and an interesting discussion read this) in which it lived before it wound up in my freezer.  Now I’m trying not to ruin it in the oven.  Cooking meat is so not my forté! (of course, cooking in general is still not my forté – but I’m getting there).

Speaking of Joel Salatin, he was the key-note speaker at the conference. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, be sure to do so.  He’s a wonderful presenter, very gregarious and entertaining.  And he has wonderful ideas to share.  A very innovative farmer, he has some pretty clear thoughts on how and what needs to be changed in order to build a sustainable food system.  His focus is on the producer end, while I tend to think more from an eater’s perspective, so I learned a lot listening to his talk.  If you have a few minutes, here’s an interesting video of Joel talking about his farm, and the very ideas I mentioned above:

*Side note: Good thing my nose is working as apparently my timer is not! (still getting used to using a timer… apparently it is necessary to press “start” to get it to count down).  I just saved my chicken and a pan of root veggies from being singed.  Phew!*

I also have a slow cooker full of stew on the go.  I didn’t intend to make this much food but I defrosted the stewing beef thinking it was liver for the dogs.  This is local, organic, grass-fed beef from Laepple Organic Farm and I just couldn’t bring myself to feed it to the dogs.  I am not much of a meat eater, and this beef, the chicken, and the local (pastured, organic) lamb I bought last fall is pretty much the only meat I eat.  I’d like to feed the dogs the same, but I just can’t quite afford it yet.  Once I have a more steady income and can afford a second freezer, I’ll be filling it with only pastured meat by the half or whole animal.  I would like to eliminate corn-fed meat but that is simply not a financial possibility right now.  I need to feed 150 pounds of meat a month, and my budget allows me about $2 a pound.  For now, they get as much organic meat as I can afford, and the bulk of the rest is at least drug and antibiotic free. That I am able to do so in my tiny budget shows that it is possible if you make it a priority.  (I’ve been long meaning to write  a post on my locavore dogs and cats – perhaps that will be the focus of one of my near-future entries)

Gosh, I have a lot more things I’d like to write about but I fear that I’ve already babbled on too long for one entry.  I’ll try and write again soon about my newly-created second-hand store obsession and my increasingly energetic vendetta against plastics and packaging in general.  In the meantime, I’m getting the hang of this Twitter business and posting little snippets as regularly as I can.  You can follow my twitters in the upper left corner of this blog (or just follow me on Twitter).  Cheers!

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2 Responses

  1. Hi there;

    Not sure about the full accuracy of your information. You can butcher anything you like at home however, you may not resell it as it has not received any level of inspection of either the facilities, technique or disease conditions of the animal.

    As for provincially inspected meat, no major chain of grocery store will purchase it as there is too big a variation in operating standards and they cannot meet the demand by the consumer. . Provincially inspected plants could be described as a custom kill ie. you raise a few beef for the needs of your family and perhaps a few friends or neighbors. Once a year you take the animals for butchering to your specifications. It really has no impact on the mass processors who are eying export markets, further processing……..

    The province has been trying to raise the standards of construction and sanitation for years. They are not demanding the same level as federally inspected facilities- this is an exaggeration. Many Mom and Pop businesses are antiquated and will require such upgrades that they choose to fold. Stainless steel is expensive. Freezers must demonstrate that they are operating in a safe temperature zone require upgrades. All are in the interest of “public safety”. Unfortunately one bad apple in Aylmer has ruined the previous status quo for all involved.

    The place where I take my lambs for butchering faces high wages for staff and long work hours by the owner. He works at the market selling product, and operates a retail shop as well as butchering, cutting and wrapping custom orders . Working six days a week loses its appeal after 20 years. The abbatoir will likely be closed by the time my next lamb crop will be ready for the freezer.

  2. I should have thought to look for other local bloggers at the conference! I have the Joel Salatin speeches posted as MP3s on my “Media” page of my blog. I’ll be adding the rest of my notes and the other MP3s (from the sessions I attended) very soon.

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