Cheap Meat at What Cost?

Cow Stand Up

For a couple years now, I’ve had a geeky, unrequited crush on Michael Pollan, a food writer — and, I recently learned, brother of actress Tracy Pollan. In buzz-building for his newest book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, he wrote an intriguing article for the New York Times Magazine that traces some environmental mysteries to common but unsustainable food practices.

One of these traces a fairly recent antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria to the widespread use of antibiotics used to keep disease and death at bay in overcrowded slaughterhouses. In short, these meat farms can’t exist without the use of heavier and heavier antibiotics, and $1.69 a pound ground chuck can’t exist without these overcrowded meat factories.

So where does that leave someone looking to make a reasonably priced bolagnese sauce?

As I see it, you have a few choices:

  • Ignore the issue, and keep buying the cheap chuck. The more I learn about food and our food supply, the less this has been an option for me and Phil.
  • Buy antibiotic-free at the supermarket. New food consciousness has given us some mainstream choices in our food supply, and one of these is national producers offering antibiotic-free, sometimes organic meats available in nearly any supermarket. The prices can be steep, often around $5 to $6 per pound for ground beef, but if you’re looking to shed the drugs, they’re a good option. You can make up the difference in your food bill in other ways.
  • Buy from local farmers committed to raising antibiotic-free meat.Last summer Phil and I bought a freezer and stocked it with half a dozen local, free-range, antibiotic-free chickens, and a quarter of a grass-fed, antibiotic-free cow. It felt very Laura Ingalls Wilder to stock up for the winter; this year I’m sending Phil into the big woods to shoot a bear for our winter eating. Anyhoo, the quarter cow cost $3.75 a pound, which included ground meat, New York Strip, roasts, soup bones, and a plethora of other cuts I don’t remember. When we buy just ground meat from this farmer, it’s about $3.50 per pound, or a couple dollars less than the supermarket antibiotic-free meat.
  • Get your protein elsewhere. Beef, pork, and chicken are great sources of protein, but so are beans, some grains, and dairy products. Even if you’re a happy carnivore, if you can’t afford the more expensive antibiotic-free meat and antibiotics concern you, check out a great vegetarian cookbook like Super Natural Cooking or How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Or check out a vegetarian blog like 101 Cookbooks.

I’m all about saving money. Believe you me. But I think it’s important to strike a balance between values and a checkbook balance, and for me, looking for alternatives to cheap supermarket meat is one area where I’m okay with the budget taking a backseat to other issues.

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2 responses to “Cheap Meat at What Cost?

  1. Michael’s school had to toss some of that meat. We try and buy the stuff at the grocery. With just the two of us, it isn’t cost effective to buy a whole bunch of meat and freeze it–we still couldn’t eat all of it.

    I would like to find someone/s to go in on that with us, that would be great. Glad you are back to blogging. 🙂

  2. Or just do what I did. . . marry a hunter and eat venison in lieu of beef. We just polished off a dinner of meatballs in plum sauce–delicious.

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