Farm to fork ... pasture to plate ... no matter how it is dressed up with attractive alliterations, eating meat involves the demise of what is being eaten. It happens all the time, breakfast, lunch and dinner, in the animal kingdom, in the human realm. That most of us are completely removed from any experience of what life and death is like for the meat we eat speaks to the reason we have massive monoculture factory farms in this country. If we knew the whole story of each item of food on our plates, I believe we would make more sustainable, health supporting choices.
Three weeks ago my fiance, Matt, joined Dan (the sheep herder I intern for) and myself on a work day sorting lambs. Matt purchased a market lamb back in May. A market lamb is a sheep that is younger than one year old, generally a castrated male. It could also be a female whose genetics a farmer doesn't want contributing to their future flock. A market lamb is also by definition destined for the dinner table. By late September Matt's lamb weighed 90lbs and was 'finished.' Finish is the amount of fat cover on the animal and is decided most easily by feeling the loin area on each lamb.
We sorted all the lambs; those under 90lbs got to go back out to pasture. Those over 90lbs were loaded in the trailer and taken to the nearest lamb processing facility about 55 miles away in Dixon.
The next week, we picked up our meat, a freezer full and seasons worth of roasts, racks and chops.
It might be crass to show these pictures. But in this case, the truth is a bit crass. The transition of living animal to "meat" is a reality many eaters shy away from. My point is, I know my dinner's story, from when and where it was born, to where it grazed and lived, to where it eventually met its end. I know it had a pleasant life in a sun soaked pasture, plenty to eat and drink and was well cared for. It is also one of the most local and sustainable options I could choose for my dinner. The purchase of this meat will hopefully help a small-scale, local farmer stay in the business of feeding his community.
I realize not everyone cares to be this involved in the preparation of their dinner but I hope you care enough about what you eat to find out where your food is coming from...check out a co-op, visit a farmer's market, join a CSA and ask some questions!