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Hunting Vegetarians

July 20, 2009

Well that was unexpected.  I was a bit nonplussed to find the monthly “Food for Thought” screening was a documentary about a Bay Area vegetarian who moves to Alaska.  I imagined a whiney piece about how difficult it is to eat low on the food chain in the tundra.  And I said to myself, “What on Earth did she expect?”

My preconceptions could not have been further from the truth.  In the film this lifelong vegetarian is beheading live shrimp, skinning mammals, and shopping for guns.  She even smacks down a group of Alaskan vegans for promoting an unsustainable lifestyle.

I am not so sure how this went over with many of the vegetarians in attendance at this screening cosponsored by the Honest Weight Foods Co-op.  I suspect many of them had the same misconception of the film, although much to their credit, I didn’t see anyone walk out.

One of the topics discussed, which you should know all about as regular readers of the FLB, was the danger of farmed salmon to the wild salmon fishery.

But the overall thrust of the documentary is that eating locally is a more ethical solution than eating meatless.  Especially when that meat lives in the wild and is dispatched with care.
While I enjoyed the screening, the best part of the event for me was the panel discussion afterwards.  Two of the three panelists were local farmers who raise grass-fed and pasture-raised meat.

I think I may be in love with Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm (located in West Fulton, NY).  Don’t tell Mrs. Fussy.  According to Shannon, her family’s farm is no good for raising vegetables.  Given the climate, “the cabbage and carrots are pathetic.”  Luckily West Fulton happens to be a great place to raise meat.

Theirs is a small operation with on-site meat processing.  And I am looking forward to making arrangements to visit the farm to see their sheep, cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys.

Bob Comis of Stony Brook Farm was the other producer on the panel.  He has pasture-raised pigs and chickens in addition to grass-fed sheep.  Oh, and Bob sells leaf lard – which is super cool should you happen to be a baker (which sadly I am not).  As opposed to Shannon, Bob wasn’t born into meat production, but came to it after failing as a vegan.  It’s an interesting story.

We will get into why grass-fed meat is such a big deal in a future post.  I promise.  And I promised Shannon too.  But for now, I still want everyone to focus on avoiding farmed salmon first.  K?

When it was time for the audience Q&A, it occurred to me that this would be a perfect time to get the producers’ opinion on why local restaurants do not have local grass-fed and pasture-raised meat on the menu.

The answers surprised me.

First, the farmers didn’t seem to care all that much that they were not selling to restaurants.  They were perfectly content selling to their local communities.

And they also recognized that given the scale of local sustainable-meat operations a chef who was interested in pursuing it for their menu would need to work with multiple farmers, which would mean multiple invoices, and multiple logistical hurdles.

Still, this presupposes an old way of running a restaurant.  A chef should be able to buy a few quarters of beef from one of these suppliers and run some pretty good specials.  There were some places out west that would do snout to tail dinners, in which every part of the animal was eaten.  It’s not for the squeamish.

However, Shannon pointed out that the CIA in Hyde Park has stopped offering a class on how to break down a carcass.  And local chefs are really only looking for primal cuts these days.  Both Shannon and Bob agreed that restaurants tend to treat them like Sysco and each had stories of chefs requesting weekly deliveries of a single cut that far exceeded their annual production.

Plus, apparently some restaurants have a bad reputation for not paying their bills on time.  And that is difficult for a small farmer.

So chefs, if you are listening, the gauntlet has been tossed.

It would be great to see more restaurants in Albany with restaurant-quality ingredients.  But in the meantime, I am thrilled to learn that we have such passionate and dedicated producers nearby.

I am looking forward to visiting the farms, and reporting back.  And I am keeping my fingers crossed that if one buys direct from the farmer, happy meat will be much less expensive than getting it from the Honest Weight Co-op.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2009 8:35 pm

    I’ve been liking Roma for happy meats lately. Quality is great, and prices are a bit high for me but seem fair. Cardona’s is also great, but sometimes their prices are just too high for me to afford. Co-Op? I’d have to be rich to buy anything other than chicken legs from the frozen meat section (and at ~$2.70/lb, that is rarely).

  2. June 17, 2010 10:48 am

    You can avoid the co-op mark-up by buying direct from the farmer at the Troy Farmers Market on Saturdays. Frank from Sweet Tree Farm is there, and a lot of the beef at the co-op is from his cows. If you’ve got the freezer for it, you can buy a 1/2 steer and end up saving tons of cash in the long run. It’s about $4/pound out here … you can get organic grass fed beef out in western NY for about $3/pound if you look around and don’t mind driving. I just bought a 1/2 steer and split it with my sister-in-law’s family. You don’t even need a massive freezer for a 1/4 steer. A good bit of it will be ground too, but you know that all of the ground beef is coming from the same animal.

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