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GRIST FOR THE MILL FALL 2012

Dear Reader,

In high school I went through what I’d call a phase—I tried being a vegetarian. After too much pasta and peanut butter it all broke down, with a boyfriend (naturally) chomping on a perfect-looking, plump, juicy cheeseburger, medium rare. I grabbed the burger off his plate, took a bite and never looked back.

In college I was surrounded by vegetarians. We broke bread (and tofu) together and shared in warmhearted collegiate community. But I also played host to a secret tribe: A few times a year my carnivorous friends and I would gather for what we called “carnivore night.” Away from the vegetarians’ watchful eyes, we’d sear up steaks, eat fondue, even try our hand at a standing rib roast on the grill (which remains among my top 10 home-cooked meals).

I’m still a carnivore—or, more aptly, an omnivore. What has evolved since those covertly carnivorous nights back in college is an understanding of what a diet that includes meat can mean if you don’t consider how and where that meat was raised.  It’s no secret that American meat production has turned increasingly toward concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), whose practices have resulted in enormous environmental and dietary consequences.

If you’re not reading it in the papers or in books, you need simply to Google “CAFO” or “factory farming” to find a host of substantive articles and archives citing the myriad consequences of raising mass numbers of livestock in confined spaces, including but not limited to water pollution, animal abuse, overuse of antibiotics and damage to human health. That kind of meat, I don’t eat.

So where does that put me and my craving for a good cheeseburger? Right back, again, to Rhode Island farms. What a different image is evoked by my farm visits, like one recent trip to see Pat McNiff of Pat’s Pastured. Across woodsy enclaves and wide pasture his pigs roam freely looking for roots and shoots while his chickens peck the grass hunting for bugs. It’s the same for the Angus cattle at Aquidneck Farms, stomping, mooing and chewing through lush, verdant grass—or the sheep and lambs at Hopkins Southdowns, being herded in the classic tradition, through the open fields.

These farmers and others like them in Rhode Island are raising animals on pasture, giving them room to roam and affording us the option to buy meat that has been raised in a sustainable, conscientious way. They’re strengthening our local economy by raising and processing animals for a growing number of eaters, many of whom have grown wary of the recalls, let alone the stats.

Is locally raised meat more expensive? It all depends on how you define cost. Cheap meat brings us right back to the CAFO and none of us really needs that—you’re better off opting for rice and beans. Meat from pastured animals has less fat, more vitamins, better flavor and better texture. I eat less meat now than I used to because I’m more selective about its origins.  Knowing where and how the meat on my table was raised gives me enough satisfaction to last until the next meat-worthy meal, where I am proud to put Rhode Island–raised on the table.

Dig in,
Genie McPherson Trevor


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