I wanted to follow up last week's post about why we no longer eat factory produced meat with a sort of "how to" if you are considering making the change to consuming what we call "happy meat." Switching to a diet that focuses on ethically raised meats isn't as tricky as it might seem -- or as expensive as it sounds. Our grocery budget for three people is about $85 a week and we only consume "happy" animal products (meat, dairy, eggs). Here are some basic tips for eating ethical meat on a budget.
1. Buy local.
When I started doing the research, I was amazed by the abundance of farms within a 100 mile radius that raised pastured livestock. It makes sense though; any time you drive into the Alabama countryside you see cattle cattle and more cattle.
Last month we purchased 1/2 a Berkshire hog from DW Farms in Pulaski, Tennessee, about a 20 minute drive from our house. A half a hog equalled about 150 pounds, which was about three paper grocery bags full. We got a slight discount and the meat came to $3 per pound. We had purchased a chest freezer from craigslist months earlier... only to realize that we could have fit our pig into the regular freezer. No matter, the chest freezer will be necessary in the fall, when we will receive 1/4 of beef from Dove Farm, located near Huntsville.
Some farms have meat CSAs which are catered towards folks who may not have access to large amounts of freezer storage space and can only get small amounts at a time. I worked for West Wind Farms for awhile; they offer a customizable meat CSA throughout Tennessee which is a bit pricey, but has top-quality products. Their farm also accepts EBT credit - something I very much appreciated during my time using food stamps.
There are other meat CSAs I've heard of that are a little more cost-efficient as well. If you're interested and need help finding one, I'd be glad to be of assistance!
2. Adjust your expectations.
If you have your heart set on buying only chicken breast meat, you will be disappointed.
One of the best ways to save money on ethical meat in the supermarket is to consider cuts that you haven't used before. Until this year, I hadn't cooked any chicken meat other than boneless skinless breasts. Since last fall, I began using other cuts. Chicken thighs are only $3/lb and are delicious in pasta meals. Roast chicken is WAY easy - who knew? - and averages about $3/lb - and tastes phenomenally better than any store rotisserie chicken.
3. Know the labels.
Labels are extremely deceptive these days. Finding meat labeled "All Natural" means absolutely nothing, other than that you won't likely find plastic inside it.
Egg labels are especially tricky. It makes me sad when I see people buying "Cage Free" eggs -- I know they mean very well and are trying to make an effort to purchase something better, but in actuality Cage Free laying hens get the same cramped quarters as caged hens. With eggs, you want to look for pastured or free range.
If you want to buy happy animal products, look for the Animal Welfare Approved stamp. This organization has "the most rigorous standards for farm animal welfare currently in use by any United States organization." Springer Mountain Farms, which is carried in Publix and many other grocery stores (they even have it at Waffle House!) provides AWA chicken products at reasonable prices.
If you're looking for beef, products labeled grass-fed are a good bet, being highly indicative that the animal has lived a good life on pasture.
4. Eat less.
The simple truth is that most families will have a tricky time covering the cost for ethically raised meat if they are eating meat with every meal. We are on a very tight food budget that makes it impossible to eat meat with every meal. Luckily, I've had good experience learning to cook delicious vegetarian food from scratch. Since making the switch to ethical meat, we've cut back our dinnertime meat consumption to more like 3 times a week instead of 7.
I hope this is a helpful how-to overview. I'd be happy to answer any questions!
[pastured pigs image from farmlandlp.com]