Saturday, September 29, 2007

San Diego local meat: It's slim pickings, folks!

Local meat was one of the first things I started looking for back in July when this whole localtarian mission began. I must have spent hours in those first few weeks on the phone with local butchers, stores, and restaurants. I had high hopes, and asked everyone to whom I spoke for local, organic meat. "What kind of meat?" was the regular response, and when I repeated "organic," this is what came next: "We have some natural meat." Natural meat? "What does that mean?" I asked, thinking of how that word has been abused elsewhere in the food industry. No one could give me a satisfying answer.

As I expected, "natural" and "organic" are different things. Marion Nestle in her book "What to Eat" devotes an entire chapter to distinguishing between the two. Producers who label their meat "organic" cannot feed animal products to their cattle, cannot use antibiotics or hormones, allow their livestock to have access to the outdoors, use 100% organic feed, and - most importantly - submit to inspections to verify they are actually doing all these things. "Natural" meat producers, on the other hand, can pick and choose which of these guidelines they would like to follow and then label their meat accordingly, which makes some "natural" meat (minus the accountability step) just about the same as "organic" meat, but other "natural" meat simply "minimally processed."

So with "organic" and "natural" defined, I then realized there was another couple words that I hadn't even known about when my meat search had begun: "pastured" and "grass-fed." Jay over at Casing the Joint talked about the different types of meat quite succinctly a couple weeks ago. The words are often used interchangeable and mean that the animal was allowed to function as they would naturally (generous space and access to outdoors) and eat their natural diet (for cattle, that means grass, not corn).

An example of a local, "natural" meat is Brandt Beef in Brawley, CA (a little less than 150 miles from San Diego). Their "true natural" beef process means that they feed their cattle mostly corn, although they do have some grass in their diet. They are not pastured, but are kept in pens like all other cattle raised conventionally.

The only local, pastured meat available here in San Diego is A&W Emu, something I haven't tried yet, but promise to do so soon. They have a booth at Hillcrest Farmers' Market, but they do not sell their meat there, only oils and other similar products.

The Linkery recently served local, pastured goat for a special meal in August. We took advantage of it (read about our night). Proprietor Jay Porter hopes to have it regularly on the menu by October. He is also looking into suppliers for local, pastured beef, lamb, and pork. Thankfully, he's not just doing this to supply his restaurant, but he has promised to try to make it available for home purchase. It may be a while yet.

I spoke to one of the 4-H advisors here in San Diego County recently about the possibility of some of their groups taking on organic beef for their project this year. The idea was warmly received, and he has promised to get back to me soon.

Finding local San Diego meat is far from easy, unfortunately, and for the time being, pickings are miserably slim.

There are two ongoing threads at Chowhound regarding local organic/natural meat here in San Diego. Find them here and here.


kim said...

ach, that's so unfortunate! I actually was the one (sphex) who started that second Chowhound thread... I've done the "buy a pig" at the Country Fair thing twice, and the quality was AMAZING (although we had better luck with one butcher than another, I'll have to find out which one we liked). Alas, it doesn't last very long.

Brandt Farms sounds like an option, but after "Omnivore" I wish I could find local grass-fed beef. You can, by the way, find grass-fed beef at Henry's, but I doubt it's local.

Thank you for the post!

Jeff said...

Try Palomar Mountain Meats for grass fed beef. They also sell it at Home Grown Meats butcher shop in La Jolla.

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