Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How we afford local pasture raised meat

It's popular to compare prices on "the same" meats and complain about the prices of local pasture raised varieties. Only the rich can afford it, is the cry leveled at local producers.

I don't believe that to be true. I'd like to share how I justify local pasture chickens in our thrifty grocery budget.

1 local pasture raised chicken - 5 pounds at 3$ a pound. (I got a slight discount from my favorite farm because I was picking it up on farm and I didn't want it quartered. They sell for 4$ a pound quartered at the farmer's market.) That's 15$ worth of local pastured chicken.

Roasted Sunday night.  There is something primal about pulling out a whole roasted bird all golden and crispy. Mmmmm. We had half the breast meat, along with the bed of root veggies I roasted under the bird.  Dinner for 3.

Roasted chicken on salad for Monday night.  The other breast half went onto a giant pile of greens Monday night.  Dinner for 3. (No, the 4 year old didn't eat salad, but he did eat chunks of the chicken dipped in ketchup. My apologies to the chicken for that bit of blasphemy.)

Tuesday chicken salad.  I made chicken salad for my lunch on Tuesday. I used a leg and thigh for that. Lunch for 1.

Weds chicken soup. I cut up the other leg and thigh, and tossed it in some broth with an organic carrot, some garlic and onion and spices. Dinner for 1, Lunch for 1.  (Dave was tired of chicken by this point and opted for a different dinner.)

If I had been on my game, and not dealing with a cold-stricken baby and getting the house ready for a 4 year old's birthday party. I could have concluded the week by tossing the carcass/wings/etc into a few cups of water with veggies and making a hearty broth. I usually end up with a quart full of goodness when I do that.

So, from one bird, I got 7 dinner portions and 2 lunch portions. If we divide the cost of the bird equally among the portions we end up with $1.66 per portion.
So, that means Sunday's dinner was $5 worth of chicken, and maybe $1.5 worth of veggies. Making the Sunday night feast a $6.50 affair.
The salad Monday night used another $5 worth of chicken and again $1 worth of veggies, with $.50 of dressing and cheese. Monday's dinner comes in at $6.50, for THE WHOLE FAMILY.
How much would it cost to go out somewhere and feed those two meals to your family? $30 each meal? $40 each meal?

Could you do it cheaper with the bargain birds from the grocery store?
Yes, obviously, if you start with a bird that's only $1 a pound, every portion is going to be cheaper. The nutrition breakdown is going to be worse though. There are measurable differences between pasture raised animals and feed lot animals. Differences in the amounts and types of fats. And differences in the levels of healthful nutrients. (Like vitamin E, folic acid and B-12 as well as more omega-3s.)
If you are buying a bargain bird from the grocery store, you are likely getting a feed lot bird. That bird probably never saw daylight, or dirt or anything other than the cage in the farm. You are also paying for a high % of pumped in salt water solution, meant to keep it "juicy." Also at issue in the last few years is the widespread use of arsenic in chicken feed, which can both promote growth and help prevent disease. This arsenic additive, although not the most toxic form we associate with poisoning, nonetheless shows up in the poultry meat (PDF) and the people who eat chicken products. Despite the less toxic form, no one is arguing that is good for people.
I almost feel like this post is Home Ec 101 stuff.  Not that I was taught anything like this in Home Ec, but I feel like I should have been. This shouldn't be radical or new. This is the way my grandparents probably cooked. Every time I hear someone say that they can't afford to buy quality local meats, I just have to grit my teeth. I know they only say that because they aren't thinking things through. With just a small amount of foresight and planning, I can stretch $15 worth of chicken into 9 portions of flavorful, healthy protein. I don't have to resort to the cheapest bird I can find, and you shouldn't either! -Jennie

1 comment:

Nikki said...

Damn girl, you are my hero. I will roast a whole chicken, eat my fill, shred the rest and make chicken enchiladas, chicken salad and broth with it. I'm glad I'm not the only one stretching things. Although this is only when I cook for myself. The problem with having a large, hungry man around means there are never leftovers or anything to stretch. :)