Over the years, many small incidents and experiences inspired this book.
One such moment came when I read a New York Times article in which the author wrote about not knowing how to cook lamb shoulder from the Union Square Greenmarket. I was struck by how quickly we’ve lost our ability to cook anything more than steaks, burgers, and chops.
A second was the recognition that, years before anyone was talking about locavores or 100-mile diets, nearly all the meat, fruit, and vegetables my family ate came from within a 20-mile radius of our home. I thought this was interesting but not terribly useful for other people, until I began to notice that it was increasingly possible to eat this way nearly everywhere in America, thanks to CSA (community-supported agriculture) shares, farmers’ markets, websites that lead consumers to local farmers, and other direct farm-to-market schemes.
In one year, as I cooked my way through a quarter cow, a half pig, and a whole lamb, I discovered cuts and tastes I hadn’t experienced in years. Here in Vermont, grocery stores and even our local co-ops often don’t stock briskets, short ribs, lamb breasts, pig’s trotters, or pork shanks. It was a treat to cook them and a delight to share their flavors with friends and family.
Those long-simmering pot roasts and braises and soup bases were, for me, the stuff of memory — some of them were the foods I remember my grandmother and mother cooking, and some were the dishes I cooked in the early days of my marriage.
What is extraordinary is that, once tasted, the lovely, honest flavors of pastured meat create instant converts. This was true not just for me, but for my culinary guests as well. People from all over the country who attend my culinary vacations ate these ingredients enthusiastically, saying this was how meat tasted when they were kids! In the past, guests used to have to order meat from my Vermont suppliers, but these days they can often go home and order meats comparable in taste, sustainability, and price from their own local farmers.
This is a sea change, and a promising opportunity both for the continued viability of sustainable farms and for consumers looking for great taste, healthful food, and a chance to support environmental responsibility.
As I began to taste, cook, and source more broadly, I became an increasingly passionate advocate for grass-fed and pastured meat. Although I had been ordering pastured lamb for a very long time, I began to buy grass-fed beef and local heirloom pork in half- and whole-animal quantities, going further in subsequent years to include local poultry and rabbits. Recently I’ve begun raising poultry, eggs, and lamb myself.
Because of my experiences, I wanted to write this book to show everyone how it’s possible to eat healthy, fairly priced, and sustainable meat no matter where you live. Today, all over this country, people can buy traditionally raised, pastured meat from farmers in their state (see Eat Wild and Local Harvest) as well as fresh by mail order in retail portions from such national consortia as Heritage Foods USA.
Consumers can choose meats from heirloom animals or from more familiar breeds, all raised outside and fed a mostly traditional foraged diet. (I say “mostly” because there are some purchased or locally grown feeds and minerals that enhance meat production without adding ingredients that should not be part of a ruminant’s diet.)
I want to encourage others to cook the whole animal, piece by piece, and nose to tail, in ways that honor both the animal and the farmer who raised, it, ways that enhance the vitality of the dinners at your table, the environment in general, and your local landscape.
My other hopes are easily listed. I hope you’ll
Bypassing the industrial food system benefits all of us, allowing transparency along the whole chain, from growers to consumers.
Much like buying vegetables at a farmers’ market, buying meat from local farmers enables consumers to understand how the animal was raised, fed, and processed. In turn, they know much more about what goes into their mouths.
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