update: going somewhat locavore

I've blogged about my decision to convert our home eating to locally-produced, non-factory-farmed meat, but I haven't updated you in a while. This was brought on by my reading about industrially-raised meat, both the cruelty it inflicts on animals, and the extreme environmental damage it causes.

I didn't undertake this as one step towards changing our entire eating habits. We do buy local products whenever they're available - I'll always choose local over the same food from longer distances - but I'm not trying to become a complete locavore. Nor do I intend to go back to being a vegetarian. I've tried it and it's not for me, and I don't feel it's a necessary part of ethical living.

I undertook this change for its own sake, as an end unto itself. Some background is here, here, here and here, in reverse order.

We started out buying locally-raised, organic meat from Beretta Organics at a few stores in Port Credit, walking distance from our old place, but now an extra trip. That was a start, but not really sustainable.

Then I tried placing an order with Beretta for home delivery. This gives you the advantage of choosing from their entire selection, not just what the store happens to have in that day. You're buying it without a mark-up, which in this case is important (more on that in a minute). They tell you what day they're in your neighbourhood and ask you to place the order a couple of days prior. We tried it, and it worked well enough that we bought our second order last week.

The biggest down-side to this is price. Their products are between three and four times as expensive as supermarket-bought meat. Our financial situation isn't great right now - ever since the first law firm I worked for closed, my income has never completely recovered - and it's a much bigger chunk of our budget.

But I've learned that the meat I had been buying was priced artificially low. The true cost was hidden from me. I understand that in order to eat more ethically and feel better about my choices, I need to spend a lot more on food. And I'm fortunate that I'm able to do it. It's been an interesting lesson: "I can't afford it" often means "I don't choose to spend my money that way".

I also see this choice as consistent with my other spending habits. I'll buy one pair of well-made, classic shoes that will last for years, rather than five pairs of cheap shoes that will last one season. In some sense this is a similar idea.

The high price of organically-raised meat has led us to eat beef less often, which is a good thing, both environmentally and personally. Although I don't think beef is unhealthy, we were eating it a bit too often, seduced by our backyard grill. The high prices have also caused me to curb our eating-out spending more than I used to.

There are some other, minor down-sides, which are really only differences. Placing an order large enough for delivery means having a freezer full of meat, which means more advanced planning for meals, a re-tooling of habits. New habits take a while to adjust to, and there are inevitably glitches to iron out.

The positives easily outweigh the negatives.

The meat itself is so delicious. It comes vacuum-sealed, so it doesn't have any post-frozen taste. The chicken is tender and juicy, and has such a "chicken-y" taste. I now realize that the factory-farmed chicken I had been eating is nearly tasteless. Same for the beef and lamb - it's so rich and flavourful. And it's not always the same. That's the point: only a factory can produce a uniform end-product.

I've heard people say grass-fed or organically raised beef tastes bad, even disgusting. I would say it tastes different. Most omnivores are accustomed to eating beef that has had all the flavour leached out. This beef tastes like beef. If you are old enough to remember when eating meat was a big treat, when the "steak dinner" was reserved for family celebrations, this beef tastes like the steak you ate back then, before the corn industry took over the food supply and cows were forced to stand in feed lots and eat corn. If you've never tasted meat that comes from properly raised animals, it might take some getting used to.

Most importantly, my conscience has been freed. I feel really good about removing us from a horribly inhumane, destructive system.

Thanks to Michael Pollan for educating me about this, and Ferdzy for her advice and support in comments.

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