I’m a butcher. A butcher who cares for animals, tends to their land, and treasures the food they offer. And I have a message: sustainability will lead to our destruction.
It’s a popular word, sustainability. By definition, to be sustainable means to maintain at a certain rate or level. And our current habits are downright destructive. We need to replace sustainable with the word substantive and make decisions that have regenerative effects on the environment and human health. To eat substantively means to put thought into your purchases; eat to achieve a goal; eat to save the world. To make choices that have a firm basis in reality and therefore are important, meaningful or considerable. The goal of this blog is to achieve the most flavorful food that you can while simultaneously saving the world.
To put it simply, the way we buy meat is absolutely f***ed.
We have a general expectation that any consumer, at any point in time, should be able to walk into a grocery store and find an endless supply of steak, pork chops, and chicken breasts. On top of that, we have an expectation that these cuts should be cheap. This, my friends, is not how nature works. Nature doesn't give us fields of grazing ribeyes or chickens made completely of breast meat. To choose to eat like this is to choose to be a poor steward of our dwindling natural resources.
The reality of the situation is that these prized cuts make up a very small portion of the animal that they come from— 20-25% of the carcass on average. Living on these prime cuts causes the overproduction of meat animals which is a direct cause of major environmental damage. The environmental damage stems from the production of feed crops which has in turn lead to the major destruction of rainforests and other natural habitats for crop land. With only the choice cuts of meat being used, the market is flooded with less desirable meat, corn, soy, and wheat. These are then used to make the overabundance of highly processed, preservative filled foods that fill our supermarkets. These highly processed foods contribute to serious human health problems over the long term. The current mindset is not only detrimental to the environment and human health, it is also incredibly wasteful and disrespectful to the animal.
I’m going to make a simple suggestion: for every serving of prime cuts you consume, eat at least five servings of secondary cuts. This doesn't mean eat the prime cuts from one species and then move to another. It means to take a moment, consider what you're making, and support a regenerative system. In order to achieve this you want to shop somewhere that you can trust. Let us help you. Let us show you the desirability of the lesser known cuts. Farm Field Table doesn't have ribeye or chicken breast available at all times because we believe in minimizing waste and using the whole animal. The reason we believe so strongly in this is the long term viability of the earth for our children.
If everyone in America put this level of thought into their meat purchasing choices, we could drastically reduce the number of animals needed to feed us, the amount of feed required to feed the animals, and reduce environmental strain and pollution.
The following chart shows how many other cuts there are, pound for pound, compared to a prime cut of beef. Round steaks were added simply to show how much more efficient they are. The point isn't to say "don't eat these." It’s to show you how much you're missing. Animals have much more to offer than most people realize.
Ratio of other cuts vs. prime cuts
Ribeye or Strip Steak
Tenderloin or Filet Mignon
Your decisions can help to rebuild or destroy the planet
Raising animals for food can be environmentally regenerative or massively destructive and unfortunately, the meat available to most people in America falls into the latter category.
Big Ag’s demand for price control and product consistency across all geographic growing areas is heavily reliant on one factor— feed. Most often, the feed is made up of corn, soy, and/or wheat which are often planted in mono-crop or duo crop systems, and can be very detrimental to soil health. Poor soil health has widespread negative consequences on the environment.
Once a seed is planted it takes a certain set of nutrients out of the ground. The next season, the ground is tilled up and new seeds planted in the same soil. Since the new plant needs the same exact nutrients as the original plants, chemical fertilizers are needed to keep the plants growing. In addition, tilling the ground damages the soil structure, which negatively impacts water retention and nutrient uptake. This results in plants with reduced nutrition, more drought damage, and lower water levels of ground water. The reduced nutrition profile of these plants also make them less efficient feed sources for animals and humans.
As in all ecological systems, weak plants are prone to attack by pests, weeds, fungus, and disease. How do we control this? Pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Since we already know that the ground is retaining less water, we know that runoff carries all of these agricultural chemicals and nutrients into our waterways, and eventually into our oceans.
My friends, this is not a partisan debate. Nutrient pollution is a problem in 50 out of 50 states. It is causing harmful algae blooms all over the country which disrupts aquatic ecosystems, fisheries, the safety of drinking water, and the safety of recreational areas. It can cause sickness or death in animals and humans. Agriculture is not the only contributor to the problem, but it is a major one that can be controlled. Read more about nutrient pollution here.
Choose Wisely. Eat Substantively.
Be under no illusion. I am not suggesting that everyone switches to purely grass fed and finished beef. While certainly a healthier option and the very best for the environment if pastured responsibly, most Americans do not prefer the flavor. In addition, grass fed and finished beef require much more land/natural resources to raise, and pastures that are suitable for year-round grazing are only available in certain parts of the country. Add in the fact that these animals grow much slower, and you’ve got a recipe for sky-rocketing costs and scarcity. Start by buying animals that are pastured responsibly for most of their lives. For ruminant animals, grains can be fed responsibly but we prefer a finishing period of less than 60 days. Pigs and chickens should be pastured but can eat free choice grains. Look for farmers who use regenerative practices like no-till agriculture, responsible cover cropping, rotational grazing and use few/no chemicals in their process.
My suggestion is that we take the following steps:
- Consider the whole animal when you’re purchasing meat. Living off of the 20% is horribly inefficient and disrespectful to the animal and the environment. Here's a list of beef cuts with approx weights and cooking methods. Print the list and start checking off cuts you're not familiar with!
- Purchase from trustworthy sources. Knowing what type of growing practices are used gives you insight into the environmental impact your eating habits have.
- Eat less per meal, but eat better. It seems counterproductive for a butcher to say this but you only really need to eat 3-4 oz of meat at a time. Fill your plate with a variety of vegetables, legumes, grains, etc. When you buy meat, support those who use practices that you believe in.
- Eat close to home and in season as much as possible. Eating local food is important in terms of limiting environmental impact, improving the local economy, and supporting agriculture in your area. Eat according to the season whenever possible for the best results.
- Make a conscious decision to cook. If you cook once per week, start small and make it twice or three times. If you don’t feel like you have the skills, join our facebook group The Butchers Perspective. There are many professional chefs and talented home cooks ready to share recipes and answer questions.
P.S. A shout out to my buddy Rae Runey for the awesome illustration! Follow her work on Instagram at @arney_art.