"Living backwards!" Alice repeated in great astonishment. "I never heard of such a thing!"
- Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
As I listened to Ross and Eliza’s interview on Robb Wolf’s podcast, there was a particular moment that stood out. Discussing the differences between pasture raised livestock and factory farmed food, there was a comment made about the irony of referring to CAFO livestock as “conventional”. That in itself is nothing new or profound of course, but it started me thinking about how subtle changes in terminology can transform important areas of our lives.
Why do we refer to CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) livestock as conventionally raised? Yes, that is how most animal protein is raised in the US, and increasingly so in the rest of the world. But factory farming is anything but normal. It is in fact, the exact opposite. Any rational person would agree that animals should not come from factories. By referring to factory farmed food as conventional, a butcher shop which focuses on whole animal butchery of sustainably, responsibly, and respectfully raised livestock, suddenly becomes a specialty store. And to me, that notion is utterly insane.
How backwards have things become that we think of real food as a specialty? As a special treat? Humanely raised livestock raised on real pasture/the correct biological diet is only special because it’s so hard to find. Because we as a society have strayed so far from normal. But it shouldn’t be special. Real Food is what should be normal. Our little butcher shop isn’t a specialty store. It’s a grocery store. A grocery store that does something rare: we sell Real Food.
Buying meat from a real butcher shop means that you’ll have to look elsewhere for produce and possibly grains and bread. (We’re proud to sell bread from Saxapahaw’s Village Bakehouse.) Grocery shopping at more than one place can be time consuming. I understand that. My wife and I both have full time jobs. And we have two young children at home. There’s never enough time and in many ways it would simplify our lives to buy all of our food in one place, at one time. But when I think about the importance of food quality and nutrition, especially with regards to our children’s growing bodies, buying the best food we can from the best sources isn’t a luxury. It’s a way of life; to us it’s just the right thing to do. The best part? It doesn’t have to be expensive.
The butchers at our shop love what they do. They love talking about the farms that raise our animals. They love talking about different cuts and the best ways to cook them. They are a great resource. They want you to talk to them when you’re in the shop. They want to suggest meals for one or for a family gathering. And they’re happy to put it all together for you over the phone, so that when you’re in a hurry it’s ready for you when you come into the shop.
The payoff for this is huge. We cook more and spend more time together at dinner as a family. By talking to our butchers about what is fresh and what they recommend, our dinner menu is constantly varied and inspiring. Unsurprisingly, the more we cook, the better get at cooking. Most nights I’d confidently put our dinner up against the same dish served at a restaurant.
When we have friends over for a cookout they often tell me that the hamburgers we just grilled are some of the best they have ever had. They inevitably follow up with the same question: “What do you put in your burgers?” Sometimes I see the lightbulb go on when I tell them, with a huge smile on my face, “nothing but freshly ground grass fed beef.”
Last weekend while on a family road trip, I had an eye opening experience. The kind that can only come from the brutal honesty and simple world view of a child. We stopped for lunch at a family friendly chain restaurant. Our 3 year old son saw a page of steaks on the picture filled menu, and immediately wanted one. I wasn’t about to order him a $20 entre, so in the interest of an easy lunch, I ordered the steak for myself and told him I would give him some. When our food arrived, I cut up a bunch of small pieces and put them on his little plate of mac ‘n’ cheese. He put the first bite in his mouth and chewed slowly, before taking it back out. “Daddy,” he said, “this isn’t steak. What is this?”
Never have I been so proud to see my son not want to eat his meal. His palate literally did not identify this food as steak. What simple and profound proof of the solid difference between factory farmed meat and the Real Food that he is used to.
Now, when I walk through big grocery stores, I find myself offended at the messages that the products are sending.
Chickens and their eggs raised on vegetarian diets? Chickens aren’t vegetarians! Vegetarian chickens are sub-par, deprived chickens! That shouldn’t be a selling point.
All natural meat? Antibiotic Free? Why is 100% meat and meat free of drugs considered a premium product? How low have we set the bar?
Some of the higher end grocery stores have committed to being more transparent about the sourcing of their animals. Yet most of the meat in the butcher case is advertised as having come from the lowest end of the spectrum. It’s really no different than the meat that goes to a fast food restaurant.
Let me tell you something you already know. You deserve better.