One of the questions that was asked many times in the letters from our ninth grade pen pal class was: Do you eat your animals?
The answer is yes. We raise our pigs and chickens for the sole purpose of meat production. After our cows have lived long productive lives on our farm they too are harvested for meat. To many this may sound brutal, mean and unpleasant. As farmers we recognize the cycle of life. We provide our animals with a caring and healthy living environments. Daily, we provide them healthy foods, clean water and protective and natural living areas. During their lives, they provide us manure to fertilize our fields with. At the end of their lives, they provide us with healthy and nutritious meat.
I can hear the ninth graders now: ewww, gross, I am not eating meat again, etc. Our culture is so far removed from production agriculture that we no longer want to know about the animal before it became our hamburger. Right now I am reading this incredible book by Ann Vileisis titled Kitchen Literacy. This book takes a historical look at the food culture and norms in the United States starting back in the early 1700’s and ending in the present.
Prior to 1850’s it was very common place for everyone to know exactly where their meat came from. It either came from your own farm, your neighbor’s farm or your town butcher who knew the animal’s life history. It was a source of pride to know exactly what you were serving your family for supper. Home cooks wanted to know an animal’s health history, its living conditions, the type of feed it was fed and how it was slaughtered. All of these factors affect meats nutritional value and taste.
So what changed all this? Around the 1850’s more and more people were living in cities due to massive immigration and the industrial revolution. For the first time, animals had to be sent from the Great Plains to feed the people in the major cities on the East Coast. Since cooks still wanted to know about they animals they were buying meat off of, butchers would buy live animals at auctions. These animals had to endure 2-3 days worth of travel by train in tight compartments without food or water. They usually lost a couple hundred pounds through the trip and ended up with bruises and cracked ribs. Home cooks did not approve of this meat.
In 1857, the first refrigerated freight car was invented. This allowed for meat to be slaughter in the Midwest, then individual meat cuts sold on the East Coast. Even though the meat was higher quality, this method was not adopted by home cooks until the 1880’s. Cooks still wanted to know about the animals and held that information sacred. In the 1880’s Gustavus Swift started marketing his Chicago Dressed Beef and priced his so low that customers started to notice. Even with tough opposition from butchers and others, within a few year even the go-to homemaker magazine Good Housekeeping was recommending Chicago Dressed Beef.
Swift Brothers company prided themselves on producing a product at a low price and in a efficient fashion. This was the first time in food history that consumers were being told to buy for a low price and not worry about quality and only worry about efficiency. No longer did the steak on our plate have a previous life or history. It became a perfect looking prepackaged form that no long had any connection to the animal it once was.
Today in our culture, we are more disconnected than ever from our food source. Many people barely think beyond the grocery store when asked where their food comes from. This is why it isn’t surprising that some people will pay nearly double the price just to know the story of their food. Our family believes it is important to tell the story of our animals. They live honorable lives and are one part of many in the circle of life.
Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, http://www.zweberfarms.com