Thursday, August 20, 2009

Locally delicious or how much do you know about your meal?

I just finished the most wonderful meal. It was simple, quick, inexpensive and sooo delicious. Now, I have to admit that part of the reason it was inexpensive was that my mother had given me some of the ingredients most of which were bought from local growers at the Milton Farmer's Market, but even if I'd bought them myself they wouldn't have cost much. I sauteed some onions, added lean ground beef which I seasoned and browned, then threw in some fresh peas and chopped red pepper. I served it with some of my mom's delicious potatoes baked with cheese and onion. Nothing fancy, extravagant, or high in fat or calories. My 3-year-old said, unsolicited, "mama, I like this burger." My husband said, "I could finish everything that's left, it's so good." I was proud.
So, what's the big deal? First of all, most of the ingredients (onions, peppers, peas, beef) were locally grown/raised. Second, and perhaps most important, the beef was grass-fed. What's the difference and/or who cares? Well, until recently, I would have said the same thing. Lately I've been reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals", by Michael Pollan. I'd done some research and decided that it was a book I needed to read. That is a huge understatement. I'm about halfway through and if I had all the time in world, I could have read it all in one sitting it's that fascinating and spellbinding. (Granted, not everyone is as interested in where their food comes from, but he is an excellent writer and the book is anything but dry.) I can tell you this from my reading so far: just about everything we eat is made from corn. Really. Unless you grow your own organic vegetables and eat whole foods, chances are excellent that corn factors prominently in your diet and your body. But, as I say so often in my blogs, that is another story.

Back to the beef. You know how you sometimes see or hear "grain-fed beef", as if it's a good thing? It's not. Turns out cows don't eat grain. They eat grass. That's what they're supposed to eat. Cheap, easily grown, subsidized corn had to be used somehow and without getting into details, it fattens a steer up quickly, and humans are forcing them to eat it. Because it goes against their physiology, we have to devise all kinds of clever and ingenious ways to keep costs low and keep them alive until slaughter. Antibiotics, feedlots, e-coli, and hormones are a part of our supermarket beef because we are feeding cows something they have not evolved to eat.

All this brings me back to my meal... I was at Whole Foods in Oakville (great place, but not quite as good as the Organic Garage - a few blocks away) yesterday and spotted a package of grass-fed lean ground beef. It comes from Beretta Organics, a family-run farm located outside King City, Ontario. A little more expensive, yes, but there is another way of looking at it: regular supermarket beef is underpriced and unnaturally cheap. It didn't cost the world, by any means, so I snatched a package and was super-excited to try it out. The verdict? Mmmmmm. Ground beef never tasted so good. My husband said "it has a different texture!" True, it was not chewy, but instead tender and oh so savoury. I can only imagine what a grass-fed steak would taste like.

Having children has changed me, hopefully for the better. It has opened my eyes to so many things, including what I put in my body and how I feed my family. I am also much more sensitive to injustices and the more I learn about how food animals are treated, the more I am upset by it. I strive to grow better, buy better, cook better, and eat better. I live in the suburbs, but I still have a strong urge to grow my own foods and support better practices for growing and for raising animals. It's a process and it has take me years to get here. I have miles to go yet. I remind myself that I am a role model for my children and that I can make a difference by teaching them my values. I am nourishing not only their bodies and with every meal, I have another opportunity.

Want to know more about grass-fed beef? Try these links:

Want to locate a source near you? Go here to find local sellers in Canada or the US:

Hamiltonians can find info at the Hamilton Local Food Directory:

Other informative Books to try:
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan