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

What You Don’t Know: Ground Meat

  • September 27, 2011 10:00 am

Another day, another ground meat recall. Ever wonder what the ^%$ is going on? What is it about ground meat that leads to the worst case scenarios?

I got an answer–and an education–when reporting The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat.

Here are two excerpts from the book to help educate anyone else who might be interested in this monumental waste of flesh.

“Don’t be fooled by meat labeled ‘freshly ground’ at the supermarket. Usually that’s a giant 20-pound chub (or tube) of coarse pre-ground beef they then regrind. That stuff is a gamble. There’s no telling what’s in it–bone chips and shit , at least. And it could also be made from a thousand different animals from ten different countries. Try tracing that.”

“…It doesn’t matter that there are USDA inspectors in every slaughterhouse. They’re not catching the outbreaks and it’s only getting worse. Contamination can come from anything–from feces on a hide to dirty hands to stomach bile that wasn’t properly washed off a carcass.  It takes time to slaughter and clean right. The giant operations rush to slaughter up to twenty-five thousand steers a day. When you see enormous numbers like 143 million pounds of beef recalled, it’s because that’s the “stop number”: that’s how much they grind before they clean or that’s how many pounds ago they tested for pathogens.”

All the more reason to know and trust your butcher or to grind your own meat.

What You Don’t Know: Fat

  • September 7, 2011 10:32 am

When you’re cooking with meat, do you try to use every last morsel?  If the answer is no, you’ll be surprised by the rewards.  I try to waste nothing, whether I’m cooking with vegetables, fruits, grains, or meat.  I should say especially meat. I never forget that something has died for my dinner. Every last bit of that needs to be used. When I discovered, while reporting The Butcher’s Guide To Well Raised-Meat, how many ways fat could be used, I was delighted to also discover how easy it is to render, store, and eat.  Basically I’m talking about potatoes roasted in bacon fat. If you haven’t tried it, do.

Here’s an excerpt from The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat on many other kinds of fats and how to best use them. Do you use any of these? How? Let me know in comments.

Part of the nose-to-tail butchering is coming up with uses for fat, which makes us roughly 15 percent of an animal’s body weight.  Over the years we have gotten pretty creative – we have made beef tallow citronella candles (short-lived – they smelled like a barbecue gone horribly wrong) as well as lovely smelling tallow-based soaps.  But mostly we just make our fat into chunks of tallow, blocks of lard, and tubs of duck fat for our customers to (hopefully) cook with.  Here’s the skinny on what’s what in the world of fats:

Caul Fat is the fatty lining of a pig’s stomach, which looks like a sheet of diaphanous webbing.  It is used to wrap lean meats while roasting; this technique is called barding, and it imparts moisture into the meat as the fat melts.

Duck Fat Is there anything better than duck fat?  Use it to panfry potatoes, like they do in French bistros, or confit a couple of duck legs.  Duck (and goose, too) fat is great, but often hard to come by.

Lard, or rendered pork fat, is nearly 100 percent fat, as opposed to butter, which is about 80 percent fat and 20 percent water.  Though animal fats have gotten a bad reputation as heart-stoppers and artery-cloggers, lard is still well loved among bakers and intrepid cooks who prize its ability to produce flaky crusts and silky sauces.  Lard has a high smoke point, making it exceptional for frying things like chicken.  It’s also healthier than manufactured hydrogenated  fats like most vegetable shortenings.

Leaf Lard is the dry, hard, crumbly fat cap that surrounds the kidney of the pig.  This fat contains the fewest impurities, making it the gold standard for baking.  Mix this with butter (a 1:1 butter-to-fat ratio is good) for the best pie crusts you have ever made.

Tallow is rendered beef, veal, or lamb fat.  It is used mainly commercially to make animal feed, soap, and cosmetics, or for cooking.  McDonald’s managed to piss off a lot of vegetarians a while back by cooking their fries in tallow without informing the public – no wonder they were so addictive after a long night of drinking.  We use lamb fat in our chicken sausages to get that rich, decadent taste that you just can’t get from plain old chicken.  And we also know hunters who add lamb fat to their venison burgers for a more fatty, luscious taste.

HOW TO RENDER FAT

It’s simple to make high-quality lard or tallow that can be used for baking, cooking, or soap making.  Fats should be stored in the refrigerator, where they will last for three months or can be frozen for a  year.  We like to cut our lard into manageable 1/2-pound chunks and freeze it – it defrosts quickly, and does not have to be defrosted in the refrigerator.

-Buy pork fat, beef suet, or lamb fat from your butcher shop or farmer.  Make sure the fat is fresh, clean smelling, and not slimy.  Whatever you render, count on getting a 75 percent return.

-Cut the fat into 1-inch squares and then finely dice it (we run ours through the meat grinder).

-Place the diced fat into a heavy-bottomed pan set over low heat.  Melt the fat, without stirring, until it is literally a pool of oil.  Alternatively, you can melt the fat in a Crock-Pot.

-Let the fat cool until it is still in liquid form but not hot.

-Strain the fat through a cheesecloth-lined mesh strainer.

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat On Civil Eats

  • August 14, 2011 8:50 pm

Many thanks to Civil Eats and Tri-City Herald for the wonderful mentions of The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat!  Here is an excerpt from the Civil Eats article, but to read the entire posts, click here and here.

“Trials and tribulations aside, this book is mostly a lot of fun. Inquisitive home cooks will love the copious diagrams and charts that dissect all aspects of meat animals and meat cooking. The Applestones make a point of encouraging whole-animal cooking, which means they explain how to cook every cut, especially the lesser-known cuts that require slow, low heat methods.”

What You Don’t Know: How To Store Meat Correctly

  • August 2, 2011 8:19 pm

Meat storage isn’t the sexiest of topics, but it sure is useful. So, you’ve gone to the butcher you trust and bought wonderful well-raised meat.  Now that you’re home, you have the challenge of properly storing your purchases.  Follow these excerpted guidelines from The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat and you’ll be golden. One thing not to do? Pick up the phone and tell your butcher something smells funny. They’re pretty amazing people but even they cannot smell through the phone. Some of this information was totally news to me when I started reporting the book. What tricks do you have up your sleeve? For freezer guidelines and more, pick up a copy!

In the Fridge

When you get home from the butcher, loosen the wrapping around the meat, except for chicken, and put it on the plate.  Rotate the meat daily to let air flow around it until you use it.  Larger bone-in pieces can be kept the longest; most processed cuts and grind are good only for a few days.

BEEF

Fresh beef will keep in your fridge for

-2 to 10 days if not vacuum-sealed, depending on the cut.  If it has a coating and smells sour, it’s done.  Discard it.

-2 to 3 weeks if vacuum-sealed.  After that, smell check it.

PORK

Fresh pork will keep in your fridge for

-2 to 7 days if not vacuum-sealed.  The more air you give it, the longer it will last.  If it darkens, that’s okay, but if it’s tacky or slimy, throw it out.

-2 to 3 weeks if vacuum-sealed.  After that, smell check it.

LAMB

Fresh lamb will keep in your fridge for

-5 to 7 days if not vacuum-sealed.  If it gets tacky, has a sour smell, or is otherwise clearly not pleasant, you should not be putting it in your mouth.

-2 to 3 weeks if vacuum-sealed.  After that, smell check it.

POULTRY

Fresh poultry will keep in your fridge for

-4 days if not vacuum-sealed.

-10 days if vacuum-sealed.  Give it a rinse under cold, running water and let it sit on a clean plate uncovered for ten minutes.  (It sounds obvious, but do not use soap on any meat product ever.)  After that, if it smells sulfuric or sour, or if it feels tacky, immediately throw it out and clean the plate and your sink with bleach or vinegar.

Loyal readers will know there is no bleach in my house! I use plant-based dish soap and warm soapy water and sometimes vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat in Edible Manhattan

  • July 19, 2011 7:15 pm

Many thanks to Edible Manhattan for mentioning The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat in their summer issue!  Love this: “…the book is much more than a manual. Simultaneously irreverent, uproarious and informative, it presents jaw-dropping truths about modern meat, laugh-out-loud explanations of offal, and, yes, stuff-your-mouth recipes for dishes like tongue tacos.” For more, see Edible Manhattan – July, Aug.

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: You Can Afford Well-Raised Meat

  • July 6, 2011 10:03 am

One of my absolute favorite things from The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat is where we explain how to afford well-raised meat. So many people lament it can’t be done. I disagree. Here’s how I do it, excerpted from the book. Enjoy!

People often complain that grass-fed and organic meat (and everything else organic) is too expensive, that they can’t afford it, that it’s not for them, or that it’s elitist.  We firmly believe that well-raised meat is for everyone.  If you share any of these concerns, first consider the amount of meat you eat- generally Americans buy and eat too much meat.  You don’t need mountains of sausages or pounds of ground beef to make a sauce.  Reduce portion sizes.  It’s better for you, and it will make well-raised meat affordable.  If you would like to try something like filet but can’t get over the sticker shock, buy 1/4 pound of it and don’t make it the centerpiece of your meal.  Beyond eating less and shrinking portion size, you can also lower costs by buying cheaper cuts instead of rib eyes and strips.  And plan for leftovers – a big roast can be dinner tonight and sandwiches tomorrow.  If you buy smart and cook smart, you can make up the price difference between conventional and pastured meat.  When people say our prices are too high, Jess invites them to throw $50 on the counter and watch her work.  She can get them ten meals for half a bill.  When she first made the claim, I must admit even I didn’t believe her.  But she proved me wrong.

TEN MEALS FOR HALF A BILL

Here is Jessica’s list of ten quick, delicious, easy-to-prepare meals for four.  The meat costs only $50 and change.  If you don’t eat meat every day, that means enough meals for two weeks.

1. Ground Beef (1/2 pound) $3

Beef and Bean Enchiladas

2. Bacon (1/4 pound, or about 3 slices) $3

Collard Green and Black-Eyed Pea Soup

3. More Bacon and Eggs (1/4 pound, or about 3 slices, and 3 eggs) $5

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

4. Sausages (3/4 pound, or 3 sausages) $6

Chinese Broccoli with Sausage and Polenta

5. Chicken Thighs (1 pound) $5

Thai Chicken Stir-fry with Vegetables

6. Pork Stew Meat (1 pound) $8

Quick Pork and Chile Stew with Hominy

7. Stir-fry Beef (1/2 pound) $4.50

Stir-fry Beef with Rice Noodles

8. Whole Chicken (3 to 4 pounds) $12

Roast Chicken

9. Eggs $4

Frittata

10. Roast Chicken Bones $0

Chicken Soup


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!