Q&A: Eco-Benefits of Being a Vegetarian?

  • September 26, 2012 9:20 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

I just had a question regarding meat. Everyone always stresses how sustainable becoming a vegetarian is. I obviously understand the animal rights aspect to becoming a vegetarian, I was just wondering if you could explain more of the environmental benefits of not eating meat to me? Thanks.

-Terry

Answer:

Terry,

Thanks for your question. Yes, there are many environmental benefits to giving up or at least limiting meat consumption. It decreases water use, methane production, the impact of growing animal feed, and much more. It’s not an easy thing to answer quickly, but I’ll try to outline the basics below. I urge you to do some reading on your own, too. The production of animals into meat is an amazing system to learn about, with many shocking twists, turns, and revelations.

If you’re into stats and numbers, this site compares water usage for various items. It says that it takes approximately 15415 litre/kg of water to produce beef and only 257 litre/kg of water for potatoes. I don’t know anyone who only eats potatoes, but there is also quite a difference between chicken and beef.

Then there’s methane, a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. Cattle emit 80 million tons of methane annually, according to the EPA. And I haven’t even gotten to feed. Most animals are fed a grim mix of genetically modified soy and corn (neither are great for the environment as they require tremendous amounts of chemical sprays to grow), antibiotics (which create drug-resistant superbugs), and hormones.

All of this said, I am not personally a vegetarian for many, many reasons. Though I eat very little meat compared to most meat eaters I know. I have devoted a tremendous amount of research and thought to this decision and I only ever eat local, pastured, well-raised meat. I go into great detail on how and why to source this kind of meat in two of my books. I wrote  The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat with my butcher. I had interviewed him and his wife previously for  The Conscious Kitchen, which has a chapter concisely detailing meat labels, how shop, and other educational resources.

Keep in mind that becoming a vegetarian doesn’t immediately mean your environmental impact is nil. Many vegetarians continue to eat conventionally raised dairy and eggs–the eco-impact of these is far greater than their local, pastured counterparts. And if all of the soy you switch to eating is conventionally raised and coming from, say, China, that has its own not insignificant footprint. There have also been interesting studies done on the safety of soy-based diets. So all of this is worth considering as you weigh the pros and cons of giving up or eating less meat.

Hope this helps.

Best,

Alexandra

Recipe: Roasted Chicken Times Three

  • October 16, 2011 9:59 am

Hi there!  Glenny here with another post from my kitchen.

As I mentioned before, I plan on visiting Fleisher’s new shop in Park Slope as often as possible.  I certainly do not eat too much meat, but am very happy to indulge in the very good, well-raised stuff when I can.  This past week I stopped by for a whole chicken.  Roasting a chicken is extremely easy, and a great way to make a few meals in one evening.  You’re saving energy by only using your oven once, and you’re exercising some creativity in the kitchen – what to do with the leftovers?  Here is what I did, complete with a basic recipe for your autumnal roast chicken:

Roasted Chicken with Apples and Sage

3-4 lb whole chicken

4 apples, quartered and deseeded (I used Golden Delicious, but almost all will do)

1 apple, chopped into 1 inch cubes

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons chopped sage

2 tablespoons thyme

1 cup white wine (I used a full bodied chardonnay, but a pick your favorite – you’ll be drinking the rest!)

salt and pepper

Prep your chicken.  Season with salt and pepper and put in a roasting pan.  Spread quartered apples around the outside and sprinkle them with half of your herbs.  Mix the chopped apples with a little butter, salt and pepper and stuff in the cavity of the chicken.  Mix the remaining herbs and butter together and spread it both under and on top of the chicken skin.  Pour the wine around the bird, over your apples.

In a 425F oven, cook for 30 minutes, and then reduce temperature to 375F.  Continue cooking for about 40 minutes more or until a thermometer reads 160F and the juices run clear (opposed to red).  Let it sit for about 15 minutes before carving.  Serve with the roasted apples and their juices.

Delicious!  After enjoying this one evening, I still had a lot of chicken left and wasn’t too interested in having the same meal two nights in a row.  So, for lunch the next day it was roasted chicken sandwiches with feta, olives, and market tomatoes.  Followed by a wonderful soup for dinner.  I simply sauteed garlic, onions, carrots and butternut squash in a deep sauce pan.  Added chicken stock, tomatoes, kale, a few cups of farro and the leftover chicken.  Drizzled with homemade pesto, it celebrates lots of flavors; perfect for an October evening.  And the best news?  I’ll be eating that soup for days – this chicken has provided for many many meals.  Easy.

Farro soup, day two.

Fleisher’s Brooklyn Outpost Is Open!

  • October 9, 2011 11:20 am

Another weekend post from Glenny:

This past week Fleisher’s, of Hudson Valley butcher fame, opened their Park Slope outpost!  Bravo Jessica and Josh!  The neighborhood was hungry for well-raised high-quality meat, and I for one will be frequenting the shop.  The space is polished and inviting, bustling with Brooklynites excited about what’s for dinner.  The cases are bright and filled with various cuts of chicken, pork, lamb, and beef.  The smiling employees will be happy to instruct you on any chop, loin, rack or shoulder that is new to you.  And don’t forget to pick up some local cheeses, crackers, and jams to round out your meal.

When I stopped by the shop, I was heading to my family home in the Catskills, so I was interested in buying some lamb for the grill.  I figured it would pair nicely with the eggplant and sunchokes I found at my Greenmarket the morning before.  Besides, it might be getting colder, but I’m reluctant to ditch the grill yet.  Josh suggested the loin and rib chops.  Experiment with seasonings: parsley, garlic, cumin, lemon zest, rosemary, mint, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  On a hot grill, they only need to cook 5 to 6 minutes per side.  They were beautifully pinkish on the inside, full of deep lamb flavor.  I preferred the loin chops, which were a bit meatier and had a stronger, more serious gamy and grassy taste.

Lamb from Fleisher's. Gorgeous, no?

Not much is better than being able to escape the city for a few days, and I must admit, the highlights of the excursion were definitely the meal times.  Even if you don’t have access to a grill, I highly recommend paying Josh, Jess, and their fabulous crew a visit – you’ll leave with a bag full of something delicious (and sustainable) and will definitely learn a thing or two in the meantime.

Recipe: Lamb Meatballs

  • July 10, 2011 10:19 pm

Everyone has things they do and don’t love to eat. So I’m willing to admit lamb doesn’t do it for me. When writing The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat, Jessica Applestone raved about her lamb meatballs (lamb really does it for her) so much we decided to include the recipe (below) in the book. I knew I’d never make them myself, but was looking forward to at least trying them at some point. I got the chance a few weeks ago at an event for the book at The Brooklyn Kitchen. You know what? They were as delicious as Jess said they would be and I don’t even like lamb! Here’s how to make them:

Quick Lamb Meatballs

Ingredients
1     pound ground lamb shoulder
2     garlic cloves, minced
2     tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
2     teaspoons harissa (may substitute a mixture of ground cumin, ground chile and smoked paprika)
1     teaspoon kosher salt
1/2   teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Yogurt Sauce (recipe follows)

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350. Combine lamb, garlic, cilantro, harissa, salt and pepper. Roll 1-tablespoon balls and place on a baking sheet. Heat ovenproof pan over medium heat. When pan is hot, add meatballs and sear on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes total. Transfer to the oven and cook the meatballs for 4 to 6 minutes, until the insides are pink and the outsides are golden brown. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle yogurt sauce over the top.

Yogurt Sauce: Stir together 1 cup plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or mint, 1 teaspoon harissa, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

What You Don’t Know: What Butchers See

  • June 21, 2011 8:49 am

Most of us do not have the opportunity to inspect the entire pig or steer or lamb before we buy our loins and shanks, but butchers do–if they’re cutting whole animals and not just selling boxed parts.  There is apparently a lot to learn about how an animal was raised by “reading” a carcass. Doing this informs Joshua and Jessica Applestone about the animals they carve and sell. I was fascinated by listening to both of them describe what they look for and what it means as I helped them write their book. Here is an excerpt from The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat about Josh’s experience finding pork he felt comfortable selling at Fleisher’s — and eating after 16 plus years as a vegan.

PASTURED VS. ORGANIC VS. CONVENTIONAL

Conventional supermarket pork comes from animals that have never lived or breathed outside a sterile factory farm, never stepped a hoof on the earth, never rooted in the dirt.  Animals that have been bred to live exclusively in confinement are so scrawny that they would freeze outside anyway.  They’re also so delicate that people entering their confinement operation have to wear masks and shoe covers so the animals don’t get sick(er).  To prevent disease outbreaks and to simulate faster growth, the commercial hog industry is said to add more than 10 million pounds of antibiotics to its feed yearly, which is, by some accounts, up to eight times more than all the antibiotics used to treat human illness in that same time frame.

In addition to the antibiotics, confinement pigs are fed cheap crap.  So it should come as no surprise that their meat tastes like it.  Even if you do the research and know something about how your ham was raised and treated, you won’t see what a butcher sees.  We see, for instance, that pastured pigs have clean glands – they’re almost the same color as the flesh.  Glands are the filters for the body, and they reflect what the animals have been through.  On our pigs , they are pearlescent and clear.  On a conventionally raised pig, those glands are brown to black.  One of our colleagues told us this before we saw it, and we didn’t believe him.  Then one time while I was learning to make charcuterie at someone else’s shop, I ran into a gray/black gland.  It was disgusting.  Often these glands are not removed before the meat is ground or processed.  If well-raised and -fed pastured pork isn’t available near you, USDA organic is absolutely a far safer, better bet than conventional.  Always read labels and ask questions; just because something is certified organic doesn’t mean it’s local or that it has roamed free.


Happy Father’s Day: Make Dad The Perfect Steak

  • June 19, 2011 3:37 pm

This is Fleisher’s perfect steak recipe, directly from The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat. Make sure to cook well-raised meat only. You’re welcome!

Unless you pay close attention, grilling is perhaps the quickest way to ruin pastured beef.  It is always leaner than its conventional cousins, requiring a delicate balance of heat and timing, and a lot less latitude as far as cooking times go.  You can’t throw it on the grill and walk away.  Grilling may be sexy, but we beg, we plead, we cajole customers to follow our instructions: pan-sear and finish it in the oven.  Our favorite steak is a dry-aged top sirloin at least 1 1/2 inches think.  With a thinner steak, don’t transfer to the oven.

-Preheat the oven to 300 F

-Bring to room temperature, then salt each side of the steak and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes before cooking.

-Heat an ovenproof pan (French steel or cast iron is preferred) over high heat until it starts to smoke (oil is not necessary, but add a tablespoon of organic canola oil if you like).

-Sear the steak in the hot pan for 2 minutes per side.  (Never use a fork to turn the steak, use your fingers or tongs.)

-Put a splash of olive oil, a pat of butter, a dollop of bone marrow, or a mixture on top of the steak.

-Transfer the pan to the oven.

-Cook for 4 to 8 minutes to desired doneness (it depends on the steak, so go by internal temperature, not time – we recommend 120 F for a perfect medium-rare).

-Take pan out of the oven, place the steak on a cutting board, and let it rest for 5 minutes.

-Slice and serve.

Enjoy!

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat On TastingTable.com

  • June 15, 2011 1:13 pm

Holy lovely review! Thanks TastingTable.com!

A mini excerpt:

“As we read the new book from butchering power couple Joshua and Jessica Applestone, however, the term [rock star butcher] seemed apropos: The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat is at once a political manifesto on the agricultural climate, a memoir and an instructional how-to with lessons on tying roasts and breaking down lambs. Theirs is the philosophy that has spawned a movement of imitators….

….The book is a worthwhile read, providing context for the many practices that have now become ubiquitous phrases on menus; here, such terms as primals and nose-to-tail are explained (and encouraged) through useful recipes and tips.”

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat In The News

  • June 12, 2011 10:22 pm

Feeling grateful for all of the mentions of The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat in the news and on the web! Here are a few recent articles and posts:

Thanks The Denver Post for reprinting the Quick Lamb Meatballs recipe.

The Butcher Blog has a great write-up on their website, including this tidbit I love: ”It’s neither cookbook nor reference book nor memoir nor treatise, but the sum of all these things, making it much more.”

For more reviews, check out Bamboo Magazine, Errant Dreams (who gave the book a 5 out of 5!), Uncrate, and Urban Daddy.

Thank you, thank you!

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat on The Passionate Foodie

  • June 7, 2011 9:12 am

Thanks to The Passionate Foodie for a thoughtful review! Here’s a small excerpt:

It was a real pleasure to have read this book and I highly recommend it. It is well written, fascinating, passionate and educational. Though it has a clear and compelling philosophy, it is not preachy, and thus may be even more convincing because of that. It will also help you appreciate the art of butchery, giving you a better sense of where your food actually comes from. This is a reference guide that belongs with your cookbooks, and one which will help you best choose and prepare the meats you eat.

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat In Wine Spectator

  • April 8, 2011 6:23 pm

How exciting that the Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat mentions have begun! And what a fitting place to kick off the press: in a WineSpectator.com piece about Passover brisket. Check out this lovely recipe and quotes from  my co-author Jessica Applestone of Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats.

“To encourage others to be environmentally conscious in selecting meat, [Joshua and Jessica Applestone] have written a book with co-author Alexandra Zissu, The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy, Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More, which will be published in June 2011.”