Friday, November 12, 2010
Me and Meat
I was raised on lentils, rice, vegetables and Tillamook cheddar cheese. We lived in Oregon until I was ten years old and my memories of meat are: roasts at my Grandmas on Christmas, Ham on Easter, Turkey at my Grandparents for Thanksgiving. It was a financial decision more than anything else. My parents were struggling to make ends meet. They didn't buy meat or processed foods. My mom grew a big garden and my dad fished and hunted when he could. My mom bought legumes and grains in bulk. My dad raised bees for honey. My mom cooked everything from scratch, baked our own bread, made yogurt, canned and preserved fruits and vegetables. So there were many kitchen practices that helped out the grocery bill, but the one I felt that set us aside from what I saw as the "average American family", was that we didn't eat meat.
Once we moved to Alaska our diet began to change. My family still didn't buy meat but my dad hunted more, mostly Moose and Caribou. Living in a small Yup'ik village in south-west Alaska we were served all kinds of new meats; beaver, porcupine, swan, geese, duck, seal, whale and all sorts of fish.
When we moved to Fairbanks and I entered high-school my mom started keeping chickens for eggs and meat. I still don't remember seeing meat in the shopping basket, except the occasional package of hot dogs. Moose took the place of beef. We never ate pork, except in the form of bacon a few times a year. I rarely remember eating steak or ribs. I had my first pork chops a few years ago when D and I bought a half a pig.
Correct me if I'm wrong mom, but it seems like we we only ate meat a few different ways. My mom would cook up ground meat in spaghetti sauce, or season it for tacos. We would eat chicken in casseroles and soup. My dad would slice steak meat thinly and flour and fry it in a pan till it was well done and serve it with ketchup and pan fried potato slices. I grew up fairly grossed out by raw meat. I went through a faze where I enjoyed making stew and biscuits for dinner. I would try to touch the meat as little as possible- or better yet get someone else to cut up the meat for me- handling meat was completely foreign and repulsive to me.
When I moved out of the house the only meat I bought was big bags of frozen chicken breasts from Sam's club. I would microwave frozen chicken breasts till they were cooked through and then chop them up and make peanut, red or green curry or chicken stir-fry. Otherwise I would cook vegetarian meals or buy burgers from a fast food joint.
When Dustin and I started dating in 2001, he was a vegetarian who had also been a vegan for a number of years. We were both working in food service so the majority of our meals were eaten at or brought home from work. We lived off the salad bar at his work. When we cooked meals they were vegetarian, with the exception of occasional Alaskan seafood. Our meals relied heavily on dairy to get our protein intake. For a couple years while we were building our house, we lived off of organic vegetarian microwavable meals (talk about an oxymoron).
For a couple years, up until I was expecting Noah, I managed the kitchen of a small bakery/deli. I ate two meals a day there and usually brought home dinner in the form of soup, sandwiches or salads that I'd made at work. I ate meat at work or when we went out for dinner. When I was expecting Noah I craved meat and unfortunately because I wasn't eating meat at home, I'd break down in town and go through drive-thru's for burgers. I felt immensely guilty for eating fast food while growing a baby, so much so that I remember crying while confessing my fast food indulgences with the midwives. We didn't feed Noah any meat or dairy for his first year. I wasn't sure how I was going to keep him away from meat as he got older and was exposed to meat away from home.
By this time I was staying at home and cooking most our meals from scratch. I tried to get as much protein into our meals, combinations of beans and rice, eggs, dairy and nuts. Our holistic doctor was concerned with our protein intake and had us taking additional B complex vitamins. With our active lifestyle; building our house, raising a baby, hauling water, chopping wood etc. we were always exhausted and hungry. We started looking into local meat options. Dustin went fishing for salmon and halibut. Friends gave us some moose and other local game. After researching Delta Meat and where their animals come from and how they are raised, we bought a beef box. Soon after we started looking for local chicken options but were not able to find any. We began buying a small amounts of meat from the supermarket labeled "organic" and "free range" etc., but the living conditions of the animals and how they were killed and processed, were a big concern for us.
I spent the winter researching dairy goats and chicken breeds. In the spring we bought our first goat kids and laying chicks. By fall we were finally getting our own eggs. By the next spring we had our own milk and cheese. Things just went from there. Next we were raising extra chickens for meat, buying heritage turkey poults and dreaming of pigs, geese and honey bees. I'm still dreaming of geese and honey.
Me and meat have come a long way. It took a while to realize the irony of buying organic fake meat products with thirty ingredients I couldn't pronounce, and thinking we were eating healthier than if we were eating real meat. I do think people can be healthy without eating meat or cheese or eggs, but they either need to live in a city where there are plentiful eating out options, juice bars, Indian food, raw food restaurants and so on. Otherwise you need to be diligent with your menu planning and bean soaking.
If you have been following along you know that we eat a lot of meat now. We are raising all of the chicken and turkey we consume. We had friends raise a pig for us this year. D catches all of our salmon, and friends give us halibut and cod. We are also given moose and caribou. So where does that leave us? Buying the occasional beef steaks or hamburger from our local meat market. We also buy salami, organic pepperoni and organic free-range beef hot dogs. Now I handle our meat with respect, pride and appreciation. I enjoy cooking with meat. This fall I cured and smoked bacon and a ham. I ground pork, caribou and turkey and made various types of ground sausage and links. I was thrilled to have such fresh quality meat to work with.
As a young child I often thought of myself as deprived, me with my brown paper bag lunch with thick brown bread, homemade jam and homemade yogurt. How I envied the kids with cool lunchboxes, bologne and fake cheese sandwiches on white bread, bags of chips, artificial fruit snacks and store-bought cookies. I recall more than once my lunch being viewed with skepticism and the topic of discussion at the table.
Well, what can I say? Sorry it took so long for me to realize that you, Mom, are my hero in the kitchen!