As some of you know, I’m currently finishing up Uncle Dave’s Cow (coming this fall from Skipstone), a book on buying meat the old-fashioned way: one animal at a time. It all started with a quarter of a beef and a freezer and I’ve never looked back. The Girls are now quite used to my odd phone conversations about goat slaughter, Tweets about sausages hanging in my basement, and frequent journeys to pick up butchered animals. I’ve beenwriting studiously, making the case for why this is the best way to buy and consume meat and can cite all the stats on pastured meat and omega-3 levels.
But do you want to know the best reason you should buy a whole animal? People. People who grow food and animals by and large are nice. People in general, actually, are nice. Watching political debates and reading the newspaper, even going to “community” meetings it can become all too easy to focus on some of humankind’s worst behavior.
This past Wednesday, I was grumpy. I had already had a hectic morning and now I had to traverse three freeways to pick up half a pig. I was supposed to meet Martin between 1:00 and 1:30 outside Seattle in an Embassy Suites parking lot. I couldn’t even get excited about the meat, which usually would have done it, because while I would soon have 60 pounds of delicious, local pork, I lacked a working kitchen in which to cook it. (Note to future self: Remodeling your kitchen while writing a cookbook is a bit shy of bright.) No, the very idea of tromping through drywall dust to fill my freezer with meat I wouldn’t taste for months did little to feed my immediate-gratification-seeking spirit. As of this moment, it was getting late and I was lost. I drove in circles in a sea of strip development looking in vain for Martin’s van. If all this sounds like a drug deal gone bad well, it had started to feel like one.
I finally spotted him, pulled over, and opened up the back of my SUV. He hopped out of his truck smiling and holding out his hand. And you know what, he was lovely. We chatted as I nestled pig parts into my ice chest—about the book, about my brother who had picked up the other half of the pig at their farm, about their pigs and chickens and cows and the meat birds they planned to add to the mix. He told me how they were expanding the operation to add thousands more chickens, but all in a huge solar-powered cold frame so they could run around and eat grass year round. He gave me a complimentary dozen eggs to try. We talked meat. Knowing I was curious as to how his Berkshire pig would taste in comparison to plain ole pig, he said this pork should be especially tasty as the pigs had been fed apples from a place called Johnson’s Orchard near the farm. “Johnson’s!” I exclaimed, excited because the orchard is just minutes from where I grew up. Every year in late summer I still go and buy boxes of fruit to take home with me. I still had jam I’d made from their peaches. I felt less than six degrees now separated me from “Handsome Trotter,” the name my seven-year-old had bestowed upon the pig I was packing into my car.
I drove away smiling like I’d just scored some E, already planning how I would cook this apple-fed piggy and buoyed by Martin’s infectious positivity. Martin used to be an architect, he told me, but he loved working outside. More than that, he loved getting out there and talking to people about his farm’s products and how they were produced. He really did. And now, not only did I feel great about eating the meat, I was glad my dollars had gone directly to support their farm. People. They’re even better than pigs.