King Solomon’s Beef

This weekend, Uncle Bob and I were talking about the prices of different meats.  I was trying to explain the many benefits of buying local, grass-fed meats versus Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) raised meats.  Uncle Bob could only see the bottom-line price and he said I’d “been had” by my local farmers.  They’d ripped me off.

I felt guilty, thinking that I was spending money unwisely.

Grass-fed local meats are almost always more expensive than CAFO meats produced by giant food factories.  There are certain “economies of scale.”

Government farm subsidies, too, are invisible to the consumer.  Joel Salatin, a controversial farmer, wrote a piece addressing just one reason why small farming operations are at a disadvantage when trying to compete with industrial farmers.

Salatin addresses “foodie guilt” too.

Making good decisions about spending money is complicated.  Sometimes I feel like I’m banging a soundless drum, trying to encourage my readers to make wiser and healthier decisions about the food they eat.  Is my soundless banging falling on deaf ears?

My friend Janet sent me an e-mail recently and it warmed my heart.

Hi Julie-Ann,

I was reading 1 Kings 4 this morning and came across something that made me think of you.  Verses 22-23 “Solomon’s provisions for one day was thirty cors of fine flour and sixty cors of meal, ten fat oxen and twenty pasture fed cattle, a hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks and fattened fowl.” 

Isn’t it interesting that pasture fed cattle is mentioned? 

I guess there is something to this grass-fed beef.

Word.

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3 Responses to King Solomon’s Beef

  1. Loosehead Prop says:

    I don’t want to sound combative, but, well… you know me.

    I was completely disappointed in Salatin’s post because he didn’t address any of the points Comis raised (although at least two commentators did, way way way down in the comments, look for the comments by Paul Nehring and Mason). I have raised my voice here before that American prices for local farm foods are outrageous, and at least Comis is willing to admit why: the farmers are charging extortionate prices to make up for their lack of production. (He has much, much more to say on this, buried deep in the comments: http://www.ethicurean.com/2009/03/31/unfair-fare/comment-page-1/#comment-117871). We saw the exact same thing in that pricing list for the Bowdoinham coop. The vast majority of those prices were obscenely high because they were boutique foods sold to a crowd with too much money in its pockets. $5/dozen for eggs is simply ridiculous. And if grass-fed beef is more than twice as much as CAFO beef, something is wrong there, too.

    As for Salatin’s complaint about government regs, that cuts both ways. Current zoning regulations are what make possible $5/dozen eggs. In England, where anyone can grow their own chickens, they do. It’s impossible to drive down a road without seeing stacks of eggs on the front step, honor system, at a price consistently under $2/dozen. Not supermarket prices, but good local eggs at a price 40% what the boutique layers want here. In southern Italy, where there are no regulators and anyone can grow anything they want anywhere, a head of lettuce might set you back thirty cents. Government regulations cuts both ways.

    Reading Salatin’s foodie guilt piece, points 1,3,4,5, and 6 are all valid, but they will fall flat on their face if point 2 isn’t corrected. If, as Comis argued, these boutique farmers are either unwilling or incapable of “scaling up” their farms, then all of the rest of these points just won’t matter to most Americans (although the first point alone is enough for me to sink as much as I can into high-nutrient food). In his comment Paul Nehring claims to be selling his pastured beef for 20% above local supermarket, that sounds about right. Uncle Bob is your barometer on this one, and he’s an accurate one.

    Finally, Salatin mentions a Colorado group that raised funds to buy 40 CSA shares for poor families in their community. Now that is something that can be done anywhere, regardless of hanging beef prices.

  2. Loosehead Prop says:

    It looks like I scared off your readership with my comment. I had hoped someone would engage and make it a discussion. I remain disappointed with Salatin’s post because he entirely avoided any discussion of cost management with that anti-regulation rant. His point was valid, but not pertinent to the discussion. The comments I referred to were from two other farmers who wrestle with these price points. And when it comes to beef, among the costs that kill them are transportation to and from the slaughterhouses, which happen to be “organic.”

    There is an abattoir in Florida near the Georgia border. At first glance they are an exact model of the Salatin system, but they’ve been doing this since the Civil War (or as they call it, the War of Northern Aggression). They make clear that they only grow cattle to keep the abattoir busy. They exist to slaughter and prepare other people’s cattle, not their own, which they only manage so that the abattoir stays busy during down times.

    One other observation by the farmers in the comments seems to me very insightful. He complains that the bones, organ meat and other components of the pasture-fed cow are not bought by all those boutique food buyers out there, and hence are wasted (probably sold for animal food of some sort). That’s a significant portion of the weight of the animal, and would go a long way toward improving the overall profitability of the cow.

    Which leaves me wondering whether Maine’s grass-fed cattlemen wouldn’t be better served with a mobile abattoir, and why, if these buyers of grass fed beef are at all serious about improving the quality of their nutrition, there is no market for the organ meats which are the single most nutritious parts of the cow.

    • Dear Reggie,

      On behalf of my readers, please accept apologies on a lack of response to your provocative points. These are “meaty” topics, to be sure.

      In The Town That Food Saved there was an older couple who operated a mobile abattoir, i.e. slaughterhouse. The author expressed concern that this particular component of meat processing, on a small scale, was disappearing. Truly, where does one go to learn how to become a butcher today? Animal slaughter happens in some invisible, government-certified location in Arkansas or Minnesota. Let’s not talk about it and just wrap that ground hamburg up in plastic, please. The same disappearance could also be noted on the use and preparation of “variety meats” and bones. The Paleo crowd may help revive these byproducts.

      I bought some beef bones last night at Bisson’s Meats in Topsham, a family-owned farm market. They were inexpensive and I’ll roast them and then make beef broth with them. It’s easy enough. The recipe in my old-timey cookbook for “Liver a la Bourgeoise” looks tasty, too.

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