I killed a cow yesterday. Well, someone else killed this free range (“never in a feed lot”), kosher, “cruelty free”, antibiotic-free, organic-fed cow back a bit, but I stripped it of its remaining dignity in my kitchen.
I’m not a vegetarian, although I cook and consume little meat. Meat is expensive and, well, rather yucky looking when raw. It’s land-intensive to raise and is high on the food chain. Why use animal flesh for protein when I could eat a plant product, which is not yucky looking at all before cooking and uses less land resources when farmed correctly. It’s not about animal rights for me (although I do think animals raised for food should be treated humanely). Humans have hunted and consumed animals throughout our history: we have the teeth and digestive tract to be omnivores.
Most of American’s meat (and food in general) comes from factory farms, huge, energy-consuming, fertilizer using (which takes energy to create), water draining, soil sterilizing, wasteful behemoths that replaced most of family farms that sustained this country with real food until a handful of decades ago. There is dissention about which is more sustainable, a carefully run (responsible) factory farm or a small, traditional responsible (and perhaps organic) farm: while the factory farm may ship that corn 2000 miles to your supermarket, the use of fuel per pound of food may be less that what you pick up at the supermarket. But at the farmer’s market, I know my farmer. She updates me on what’s growing and what’s not. Local climate conditions and daily weather influence the bounty or dearth of corn, watermelon, greens, and carrots. I eat what’s growing at the time (at least in the summer and fall), and I know the story behind the food.
I haven’t tried a family farm for meat, and my CSA doesn’t offer it. I’m a rather lazy cook, and remembering to defrost a roast or fryer means I had to plan dinner for today by last night. Not gonna happen. Did I mention the yuck factor? While I know any food can carry nasty bacteria, raw and undercooked meat carries a large load of the baddies. While I clean with some pretty gentle homemade cleaners most of the time, meat clean-up calls for the big guns with long names I can’t pronounce. Finally, I just don’t care for most meat. My sons avoided meat due to texture sensitivities for the first five years or so of their lives. I’m sure they’re low exposure to it contributed to their rejection. Now, both claim to love the stuff, although aside from the occasional chicken nuggets eaten out, the rare chicken entrée at home (generally when we have company), and nitrate-ridden salami from the meat a produce store to which we generally don’t go, their meals are largely vegetarian, if not by their choice as much as by mine.
I’m not particular about their meat consumption, and they rarely ask about it at home, but after a recent veggie burger meal, they professed their desire for REAL hamburgers. You know, the kind with beef. I gamely agreed to pick up some ground beef on our next shopping trip. They cheered.
The red meat section mystifies me. I grew up with ground chuck (poor Chuck!) several times a week, but all the labels at Trader Joe’s contained just fat content information and none of the ground cow names of my childhood. I took the middle ground: 10% fat. At home, looked up recipes for hamburgers — not the fancy ones where you add stuff in, just burgers in a frying pan. I found out quickly I should have bought the higher fat stuff — my low-fat beef was likely to dry out. As instructed in the Joy of Cooking, I handled it minimally, flipped only once (5 minutes on medium high), and didn’t squish them with the spatula. Ten minute in, he blackened outside contrasted sharply with the red interiors. Certainly not up to the minimum temperature for killing the bad guys. I turned the heat down a bit and stuck on the lid (works to melt the cheddar in grilled cheese, after all) and set the timer for two more minutes. Still pink and cool. Three more cycles and they were done on the inside. Gamely, the boys and I put them on buns, loaded on the catsup, and dug in.
They were awful — inedible, really. Black and rock-hard exteriors gave way to a slightly moist, bland interior. So we ate the condiment-soaked buns and discussed the failure. I suggested trying again with fattier beef, but the boys decided they’d had enough of the hamburger experience (minimal, and largely fast-food related). Perhaps they recognized my limitations, or perhaps their hamburger interest is more a reflection of what they think they should like, being American kids and all. Who knows. I’m sticking to my largely-meatless cooking for now, but if you have me to dinner, cook what you like. Even a hamburger.