Saturday, July 16, 2011

Meet the meat

(Vegetarians may want to skip this post. It is meat-heavy.) (Not in a graphic ‘here’s how to butcher a cute little bunny rabbit’ kind of way, but definitely in the ‘so much frozen meat that it makes one a little dizzy’ way.)

ANYWAY…the meat…has arrived.

Holy. Smokes…has it ever arrived.

Our processor this year was Swingle Meat Company, out in Jackson, California. This is a bit of a hoof (ha! meat! hoof!) from our neck of the woods, but, my usual / preferred butcher for some reason had decided not to do beef this year…I have no idea why not, but, it left me in a bit of a pickle, you know? Suddenly I’m confronted by a bunch of different names, most of them places I have little to no knowledge of at all, all of them further out than my usual place…I was walking around like an idiot tugging on the sleeves of other custom-process bidders asking, “Where are you sending your stuff, and why?”

And of the people who actually had an opinion (you know, other than ‘because they’re closest’ or ‘I dunno, I just picked one’), Swingle had the most enthusiastic endorsements.

And man oh man, they are not kidding when they say they are a carnivore’s toy store. Wow. Seven kinds of bacon, venison roasts, buffalo sausage, fish, fowl, pancetta, beef bacon…pretty much anything you could think of (and more than a few things you couldn’t before you saw it there), they have it.

And also, they had my meat.

Minivan Full

…yeah, um, wow. Per my invoice, this is 1,116 pounds of meat, right here; two hogs, one lamb and a steer. And that’s not counting the roughly twenty pound turkey and five pound rabbit that already arrived ‘under separate cover,’ so to speak.

It took me almost two hours to get this all packed away to my satisfaction. Which by the end was a lot less about “perfect order” and more about “getting it put away somehow.”

New chest freezer: Packed to the very rim.

full chest freezer

Upright freezer: Also packed. (There is also still quite a bit in here from last year, plus cheese, bread and a shelf and a half worth of this year’s garden produce.)

Chest freezer

And the freezer of the garage refrigerator:


PLUS ALSO, the kitchen freezer is likewise completely full-up.

Extra packed


This should be about it for meat purchases until September 2012 (our county fair is moving its date from June to September next year…interesting call, but right now I’m rather relieved because honestly, this seems like more meat than we could possibly use in “only” a year).

There is a big old cooler full of things I’m going to be cooking up tomorrow, too – a bunch of soup bones that will become canned beef stock, some of last year’s ham slices that will be made into a couple kinds of soup…sausage and beef stew meat…stuff that really needs to be used up quickly.

As I’m totaling up the costs, I’m reminded again that this is definitely not the cheapest way to get meat. My final out of pocket for each pound of beef is coming out to about $3.70, $5.50 for the lamb, and $3.25 for the pork / bacon / ham / etc.

Mind you it isn’t bad, but could I do better by trolling the loss-leaders at the supermarket and so forth?

Yeah. I totally could. Especially on that pork…sometimes it seems they’re practically giving away anything that isn’t bacon, you know?

But of course…this isn’t just meat for me.

It’s one of those statement-y kind of things. It’s one of my efforts to…I don’t know how to put this exactly. (Yeah, this is hard to express for somebody like me, who isn’t particularly given to Causes or getting all emotional about things.) (But I’ll give it a shot.)

In my view of things, life is a precious, sacred, holy kind of thing.

And children are…well, they are life’s giggles. They are everything we hope and dream for our species. They are our next, our greatest treasures, our gift from and to the world.

And food…ah, food. It is an amazing, marvelous thing; it is a joy and a wonder. It is so basic, so necessary, so every-day, so magical, so varied, so absolutely spectacular.

This way of buying meat brings those things together in a way that is almost unbearably satisfying for me.

When I wander out to the garage to take one of these packages out of the freezer, it’s a kind of worship. It is tinged with sadness and gladness, with pride and sorrow, with sacrifice and gain.

All I have to do is remember that day, as we sat in the heat watching the kids trotting their animals around the ring; remember the tears as the realization sinks in that this is it, the pig is going to slaughter now and there is no reprieve for him…the beaming smile at getting a good price for the lamb…the confident way that little tiny girl held up that big old turkey. The note from our steer-raiser about her college plans and next year’s project.

I get to be a part of all that; I get to be the difference between profit and loss, I get to be the person who will directly appreciate and respect what they’ve produced.

Bacon becomes something a little more than a delicious breakfast treat.

It is a rare and holy gift. A thing to be appreciated and respected – not just eaten hand-over-fist in a mindless, emotionless rush so I can get back to whatever-all else was on my list for the day.

A life was given for this; for my nourishment, for my pleasure, for my family to thrive. A child came of age, learned what it is to be relied upon for everything, learned what it is to love and nurture…and then to let go.

And, now, I can’t really say whether it is really a difference in taste, or if like so many other things, the flavor is influenced by my own beliefs and feelings – but I would swear the dinner this meat makes will simply taste better than the average store-bought roast or rib. It is more tender, more succulent, more flavorful.

It makes hymns of our meals.

Which is, I think, worth a little extra for each pound.

Hallelujah, amen.


Anonymous said...

It's also about meat that was raised with real care and attention and not simply stuffed on cheap corn in a feedlot. Had I the mouths to feed and freezer space, I'd do the same thing. As it is, I co-op 1/8th or a grass-fed steer every year.
Maybe you should think about a smoker for some of your porky products?

Rena said...

that's it, I'm sold. I need to find a friend or two to go in on a cow with me, or at least a pig. I don't have the freezer space otherwise.

Or perhaps I should come to your house with a lot of dry ice and help you create some space in that freezer. ;-)

PipneyJane said...

I hear you. And I totally agree.

(I am so envious of your freezer space, although how I could fit a chest freezer into this house, I don't know.)

- Pam (Carnivore)

Hester from Atlanta said...

What an amazing way to look at gratitude and feeding your family and yourself. Blessings - Hester

Lynn said...

You can truly shop your freezer! That would be so dreamy...

I'm wondering about nuts and bolts. Do you keep an inventory of what you have and what you've used? Or is there a map of what's stored where? Do you have a backup generator?

Kaviare said...

Totally worth the extra. No way can you buy that from the supermarket.

I have a question. I'm going to invest in a freezer, for the purposes of food economy. I live alone and I have a garden, and a full time job, and I'm just not going to be able to preserve everything, but I WILL have time to freeze it. It also means I can freeze meals, and buy in bulk. I can't decide between a chest and an upright. Do you have any opinion? From what I can tell so far, an upright is much more convenient but also more expensive. I'm trying to decide if the reduced running costs are worth the inconvenience of a chest freezer - especially as I have a decent sized freezer in my fridge already.

Mother of Chaos said...

Kate - Oh, man...there are good things about both kinds. I love my upright freezer for the easy-access and ease of seeing what-all I have in there, but I have to admit I was really happy to get a chest freezer at last.

The way I'd call it is this: An upright freezer is great if you're going to be cycling things through fairly quickly, and you have lots of things that are shaped more or less the same (e.g., that fit nicely onto the shelves). They ARE less efficient at keeping things cold, lose more coldness upon each opening than a chest freezer, and are usually-but-not-always self-defrosting. Which is *awesome* and all except for the fact that this automatic defrosting also contributes to freezer burn. WHICH WILL BECOME YOUR SWORN ENEMY.

It *hurts* when you take out your "beautiful" green beans only to find that they have become shriveled, gray little worms.

But if you're getting awkwardly-shaped roasts that are going to want to tumble out onto your foot every time you open the thing, or you're expecting that some of the things you put in there won't be coming out any time super-soon, it's my opinion that you're better off with a manual-defrost chest-style.

Kaviare said...

Thanks! That's pretty much decided me on a chest freezer. I was leaning towards it but what I was missing was the actual 'how much of a pain is it to use' information.

With the freezer in my fridge, if I get one with a tray or something in the top, access shouldn't be a problem. It WILL mean I'll have to be more organised so as not to forget things in the bottom, but that shouldn't be a problem, right? RIGHT?

Jenn C. said...

I'm curious how one would go about finding this type of auction. I've never seen anything like it, and would be really interested in checking one out. I've looked a bit online and not found anything so far for Mass. Any tips on where I might try looking?

Mother of Chaos said...

Jenn - try checking with your local 4-H or FFA group.

Here's the 4-H directory:

And the FFA:

Even if your local clubs aren't doing something like this, they can frequently be the link you need to get in on the action...they know a guy who knows a guy, know what I mean? {wink-wink, nudge-nudge}

Mother of Chaos said...

@Kate...hee...see, this is the part where I assume a Noble Expression and say, "That's darn right! With proper inventory management, you will NEVER EVER forget something on the bottom!"

...and while I'm doing that, I shall quietly kick the cube steak from 2006 (!!!!) that I found lurking waaaaaaaay in the bottom of the drawer of my *upright* freezer while cleaning it out in preparation for this latest round of Madness...(um, oops?)

Tara said...

Fabulous post! I've recently begun challenging myself and my family to eat as local as we can, but haven't found something that *feels* as respectful as far as meat goes (because, yes, we are all emphatically carnivores). I don't know if something similar is available to me in my area (I'm from Montreal, Canada), but I sure hope so!