Where does dinner come from?
This week, I took a challenge, to try organic chicken and grass-fed beef, instead of my usual whatever-is-on-sale kind.
The challenge forced me to shop outside of the supermarket and look at other ways food is grown, processed and packaged. My friend told me that organic and grass-fed is better for us, more sustainably produced, and TASTES BETTER.
But, when I went to the several stores I visited to buy these meats, I found a lot of stuff. For chicken, I found normal, organic, free range, free roam, and all natural. I had to look some of these up:
Normal. These chickens are housed indoors, on rice hulls in large chicken houses. They are, and fed corn and soybean meal with vitamins and other nutrients. I was surprised to find out that no hormones are allowed with chickens for food. They live to be 5-6 weeks of age before becoming meat. The problems with raising chickens this way is that they are kept in crowded conditions. They can be burned by ammonia waste and grow very quickly, so moving around or standing gets difficult.
Free range. These chickens are bred to grow more slowly, have more space, and are raised outdoors so they have more interesting environment, and can move around more.
Free roam. This is apparently the same as free range. I guess I got to try this twice.
Organic. These chickens are raised similarly to free range chickens, but have limitations on food additives and medications that can added to their food and water.
Natural. This is chicken that is minimally processed. It can be made from conventionally raised animals, but often the chickens are fed with a diet of food with fewer additives.
I bought chicken drumsticks and bone-in breasts from these sources, coated them in a simple marinade, and roasted them in the oven. I didn’t notice much difference in the tenderness or size of the pieces. The flavor was also very similar when they were hot out of the oven. I noticed that the organic chicken breasts had more flavor when I ate them as cold leftovers.
For beef, I found normal, organic and grass-fed. (I thought I would have found grass-fed organic, but did not).
Normal beef for meat is raised partly in a pasture with grass and hay, and fattened in a feed lot with a grain diet. This allows them to get larger faster that animals fed only grass.
Grass-fed beef stay on the pasture and eat grass for their whole life.
Organic beef must be born and raised in an organic pasture, eat an organic diet, and have unrestricted access to being outdoors.
I bought three kinds of meat as round steaks, broiled them and seasoned with salt and pepper. I noticed that the grass-fed beef was leaner. They were all three about the same tenderness. The organic and normal beef tasted pretty much the same, but the grass-fed beef had a different taste completely. I expected it to taste beefier. It was more flavorful, but not more of the same flavor as the normal beef. The meat tasted fresher, although it was not any fresher from the store.
Overall, I would eat the grass-fed beef again just for the taste. The cost is at least double the normal beef that I bought, but it goes on sale sometimes. I like the idea of eating fewer additives. The organic chicken I got from Trader Joe’s was more expensive, but not ridiculous. I will look for it and buy it when I can.
The best part of this challenge was shopping in a butcher shop. I got to ask questions about the meat, I got exactly as much as I wanted, and when I got it home, it had minimal packaging.