How to Order a Side of Beef

Don’t be cowed by buying meat in bulk – check out this advice from an artisan butcher and our readers.

Photo by Adobe Stock/nadianb

I was cleaning up my knives after a presentation at the Texas Mother Earth News Fair when an elderly man approached the stage. He smiled up at me and said, “Nobody’s ever going to do the stuff you’re telling them. They’re too lazy.” I remembered his face from the audience, smiling and nodding as I butchered half an animal from nose to tail, explaining the workings of the muscles, the different types of fat, and the value of the bones, feet, and organs.

He went on to tell me, “When I was a boy, we were in the meat club. Once every month, somebody would slaughter a beef. After it was cut, everyone in the club would take a piece or two. There was a record of what you had received every month to make sure you got a little of everything before the year was over. Everyone shared, everyone worked, and everything got eaten. But nobody thinks about it like that anymore.”

I told him I thought that was a great idea, and that because I was talking to someone who could remember it happening, then it’s probably possible to keep the practice alive. To which he said, “Bless you, darlin’,” and then disappeared into the crowd.

Maybe he’s right, but it seems to me there’s too much at stake to be lazy. What we need is for our meat to have a good life, a good death, a good butcher, and a good cook. It’s a tall order, considering the obstacles toward affordable, environmentally friendly, low-stress production and processing. Plus, there are added impediments in affordability and culinary aptitude. We need buy-in from everyone, from the farmer to the guy at the grill. How do we do it?

Buying meat as whole as possible, or in bulk, is the first domino in a chain reaction that leads in a positive direction. Buying in bulk drastically reduces the cost of production, which in turn alters the price the farmer has to charge at the point of sale. It also rewards a growing cohort of artisan butchers who are aiming to bring thrift, ingenuity, artistry, and quality back into the meat supply chain.

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