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How Do I Make Meat Choices?

September 17, 2012

The comment section of my friend Ryan’s recent Eatocracy blog has yielded questions. Lots of questions – and some of this are generating blog ideas for this week! Why – not just because folks are talking about it, but because it’s good – and valid – questions that maybe we can shed a little light on.

Many folks are concerned with buying meat that is safe, free of hormones and healthy for their families. We all want that don’t we?! Step by step – safe is a big concern. We can’t go out and dress out animals with dirty knives, sell to you and say “well it’s yours now!” Well, we could – but we won’t! Hormones added to rations aren’t used for poultry, or rabbits. That is normal to be “hormone free” – although to be totally honest ALL life including plants has hormones. Cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock has hormones. So from a hormone standpoint we can say all day long but until or unless you trust me, at the end of the day you’re still going to have questions.

Is it safe – in most states to sell *meat* you have to be licensed and inspected. In other words, I can sell you a hog but not 10 pounds of pork chops – *however* if going to a properly licensed and inspected facility such as John’s Custom Meats, they take our work and make it your dinner. This means I can sell a half of a hog, you tell them how you want it cut up and you get the meat, safely processed according to sanitary standards. This is much safer, and with the proper equipment more efficient, than us trying to cut it up for you. Many talk about the farmer and the store but forget that important in between step and places like John’s allow those of us with small operations the chance to sell direct to you, the customer. Without them, we have no market, as those seeking volume don’t want to mess with small places. And small places may be hundreds of animals, but not the large volume needed for restaurants and grocery stores. A poorly run place can take the best, cleanest meat and undo our hard work. A big reason for selecting land in Kentucky is having that resource of someone reliable, someone who will do ‘the deed’ quickly so the animal doesn’t suffer and deliver the best cuts of meat they can.

In volume, I don’t know of a way to follow the animal to the freezer at the store. We know what batch, and sometimes what individual, we sell you but that’s more difficult for someone selling 800 head or more, which combine with equal amounts from a dozen farms. I can only say what we do – and that is aim for the best, most traceable system we can do, down to the ground they were housed on.

This isn’t to say that the large farms, processors and the markets they serve are bad. They are tested at multiple points through the process, much more vigorously than if you take in animals for processing at a small place yourself. There are different requirements for different markets. We sell direct for several reasons. The breeds we use aren’t commercial. We like to know where our meats go and hear feedback. That helps us do even better next time! The big questions continued – topping with this:

The big businesses, and mainstream brand names that sell at most grocery stores, seem to be the easiest way to buy meat, although I’m not sure it is the healthiest. What would you recommend? Are smaller farms subject to less regulation/demand and who do they sell to?

Now I could say all kinds of things here. I could say yes of course others are bad and buy from us – which many farms do! And many folks believe it. The truth as we see it, and I’ll go into this a little more tomorrow, it’s a choice. The meats are tested for contamination and deemed safe. Many of the recalls are because testing showed a possible problem, not that there was a problem. Many will say that studies show small farm or pasture raised is healthier, and it seems for every study there’s another saying it’s not true. Bottom line – it’s a choice. It’s your food choices whether to buy from us, a place similar to us, the grocery store or a big box store. It’s all choices. If it bothers you to not have knowledge of where and how your food was raised – that’s why we’re here, and we’re not the only ones! If convenience and price alone are your purchasing requirements, then like the majority of Americans buying at the grocery store, most of the time the food IS safe. In sheer volume the amount of food sold that is safe is staggering for 308million + people every day.

As a smaller farm we *don’t* have the volume needed for restaurants. We don’t have 18-20,000 chicks on hand growing for a few Chipotle restaurants, let alone the volume required for larger chains. We survive because of those who do care about where their food comes from and want to know. They want to know how it was raised, and while not doing the work themselves, be assured the animals were well cared for according to their needs.

We can, here, legally sell eggs from under 2,000 hens direct from the place without inspection. That means you must pick them up, or we deliver to you. We cannot go to farmer’s markets, sell to stores or other options without being inspected. Small farms don’t face some of the same requirements – if someone has 300 pigs in a pen and the rains wash the manure contamination into a creek, you don’t hear much about it. If a large farm – well many claim on a regular basis they ALL contaminate, which just is not true – and they have tests to prove it.

We, too, have much at stake with food safety and like the large operations strive every day to produce safe, healthy food. We eat from the same sources as our customers do, which is a pretty big incentive to do it right! We welcome questions and concerns, and believe in what we’re doing. We believe that there are people who care enough to choose us for their food options, or someone like us if they’re out of our area. We believe the meats at the grocery store are safe, but embrace everyone’s right to food choices.

Even if they’re different than ours.

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