Eating Good Local Meat on a Budget
it’s not always easy, but it is always a good call
Good meat abounds in the Chippewa Valley. But sometimes you have to look for it.
There are the farmers markets, of course. And some of you have friends and relatives just outside of Eau Claire, in the hills and coulees and across the glaciated fields, still working the land, still caring for animals, still participating in the hard-scrabble story of rural stewardship.
Our region has a long-standing ethic of decency, toughness, and ecology that binds us together. But the big-box grocery stores haven’t necessarily caught on. Bright colors, loud signage, rock-bottom prices — and low wages — can easily distract us from purchasing quality products.
Our region has a long-standing ethic of decency, toughness, and ecology that binds us together. But the big-box grocery stores haven’t necessarily caught on. Bright colors, loud signage, rock-bottom prices – and low wages – can easily distract us from purchasing quality products.
We need more markets for all that our farmer-neighbors have to offer – and more education on how buying local meat can be healthy and affordable while benefitting the community and the environment.
This is where places like our little grocery store, Just Local Food Cooperative, succeed. Our sales may account for a small slice of total retail food dollars, but we sell more local and sustainably raised meat than any grocery store in Eau Claire. That’s the truth.
In part, this is because of our standards. All meat at Just Local Food is sourced locally first (within 100 miles of our co-op) and raised in the out-of-doors without antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones. It is good-tasting and good for you. And, as it relates to the title of this article, our meat is fairly priced – for the workers, the farmers, and the eaters.
But how do these prices fit within a budget? Where to start?
If you’re new to all this, and you’re curious, stop in and talk with us. The co-op is a friendly and welcoming place. We’ll gladly give you a tour and meet you wherever you are at.
If you are a convenience shopper and you like cooking to be easy (and delicious), consider a bone-in pork shoulder roast. If you have a crockpot, you can cook your roast from FROZEN. Add a little bit of broth or stock (or a can of cheap beer), turn your thermostat to LOW for eight hours, and dinner will be ready with stunning simplicity. Add salt, garlic, cumin, and hot peppers to taste. Pull your pork with forks and you have the makings of some damn fine tacos. Thinly cut red cabbage, diced onion, a squeeze of lime, grated cheese, and your favorite salsa will certainly add to the experience, but if you can’t wait, go ahead and stand over the pork, fork in hand, moaning freely and without guile as the juices run down your chin.
Pulled pork is one of those gifts that keeps on giving: tacos, sandwiches, scrambled with eggs and bitter greens in a breakfast pan. A bad day quickly disappears when countered with sweet, salty, succulent pulled pork. One hearty crockpot may last an entire week, depending on your household.
If you are a chicken person, get yourself a whole chicken and roast it until the juices run clear and the skin is crispy. A four-pound bird yields one or two nights of chicken dinner, followed by a week’s worth of lunchtime salads. The carcass, of course, should be saved for chicken and dumpling soup – with ample amounts of garlic, onion, carrots, and celery. Make Grandma proud.
Adventuresome eaters might enjoy knowing that Just Local Food maintains a rotating bin of economical organs and delectable weird bits, as we refuse to waste any part of the critter. Cook your hashbrowns in home-rendered lard; do up your own pork liver pâté; roll some kidneys in breading and fry them in a pan; make a big vat of neck-bone soup with chicken feet; braise a velvety beef tongue or sauté some buttery beef heart steak. These things will change your world.
Of course, you may be feeding a small army several times a week, in which case you know that ground meat goes a very long way. Ground pork will always be your most economical option, but we offer plenty of beef, chicken, turkey, buffalo, elk, and lamb, too.
If you’re already planning weekly menus and you have a large chest freezer (or two), perhaps you’d like to buy in bulk.
Meat bundles (quarter and half hogs; quarter, eighth, and sixteenth steers; as well as more creative combinations) are a great way to save money. The co-op receives a discount when purchasing in bulk; the farmer gets paid right away (and doesn’t have to find creative storage space) when selling whole animals; and customers pay less per pound to experiment with new cuts and new recipes often overlooked.
Nobody just eats meat, but meat invariably improves every meal. If you’re willing to prioritize the good stuff, and you take a little bit of time to plan a menu and cook at home, not only will your life be more delicious, but you will find solace having made an investment in our community. Well-raised meat builds soil, improves our water quality, and contributes to rural and urban economies in every possible way.
Be a local food patriot! Eat good meat.
Nik Novak is a writer, teacher, stonemason, farmhand, and a meat-loving storekeeper at Just Local Food Cooperative. He lives in Eau Claire.