Monthly Archives: July 2013

Shortening the Food Chain, part 2: Meat from Our Backyard

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WARNING:  THIS POST MIGHT BE A BIT GROSS.

Of the 11 chickens we got from friends who moved away, two are still living, three died of old age, four are in the freezer and two were tasty.

 My husband and I butchered the six who have been or will soon be dinner, one at a time.  He broke their necks, killing them quickly, then cut off their heads.  We held them over a trashcan while their wings flapped and toes twitched, then hung them up by their feet over the trashcan and let them bleed out.  Next, we plucked them.  (Plucking chickens makes a sound like Velcro.)  I saved some of the feathers, which are very pretty.

Dealing with raw chicken from the supermarket has never been my favorite activity.  Cold, squishy, possibly laden with unhealthy bacteria…bleh.  Eviscerating a chicken that was alive a few minutes ago is absolutely, positively worse.  (And I was just assisting!)  We feed our chickens well, judging by the layer of fat Husband has to cut through to get to the body cavity.  Make me think about what a surgeon would see if I ever need an operation.  Ew.  The crunching of the neck as we cut it out is an unpleasant sound, but the weird sucking noise as he pulls the intestines out is really gross.  He can get everything out easily except the lungs – he can’t see them (they are a color he can’t discern), and they need to be kind of scraped out from between the ribs, so since my fingers are smaller, that’s my job. Oh joy.

After the birds are gutted, we wash them well, then refrigerate them to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days.  This allows the muscle tissue to relax, making for more tender meat.  (Though our birds are so old, they’re bound to be tough anyway.)

 This is a disgusting post, and I apologize if I’m offending anyone, or grossing anybody out.  Why are we doing this if it is so nasty?

Because we know what our birds ate, and it wasn’t ground up waste parts of cattle raised in CAFOs (“Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations”).  We know that we scooped up their poop 3 times per day, so they weren’t lying around in it.  We know that they were not confined to cages too small to turn around in, stacked so close together they had to have their beaks cut so they couldn’t peck each other through the wire, or be given antibiotics to keep from getting sick, or other drugs to keep them calm.  We know that the water we used to wash the carcasses was not contaminated with fecal matter from carelessly butchered chickens.  We know that our birds’ manure is safe to spread on our garden, and will nourish the food that feeds us, and the vegetable scraps that will feed the next generation of birds in our coop. 

Some parts of this journey are not been particularly pleasant.  We know what those unpleasant parts are, and they don’t scare us as much as what we don’t know for sure about the packaged meat at the supermarket.  That’s why.

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Just Some Cuteness

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I love that my kids make to do lists for me to find and envy. I posted one of my daughter’s awhile back; here’s one I recently came across that my son wrote:

To do
have Breakfast
exersise get
Dressed Pick up Legos
go to shwirch
have Lunch
go to Doctor Mary’s office have Lollipop
go home take out Legos
play with Legos
Put away Legos
have Dinner
Play out Doors
go to sleep

🙂 “Have Breakfast,” “Exercise” and “Get dressed” were crossed out. “Shwirch” is our shortened version of “School-work-church,” since I was homeschooling him at my work, which happened to be at our church. The Drs. office visit was for his sister, so that was really all about getting a lollipop from the snack shop there.

I’m thrilled that he included “put away Legos.”  And I’m really going to start putting “play outdoors” on my to do lists.

Making a Better World: Shortening the Food Chain, Part 1

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We Alaskans like to believe in the image Outsiders have of us as self-reliant hunters and gathers, living off the frozen fat of our outdoor icebox.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many Alaskans who live a subsistence lifestyle, and even more who depend on hunting, fishing and berrying for a part of their yearly food supply.  Plenty of us, though, do most of our hunting in the aisles of the local Safeway or Fred Meyer store, where “local” usually means from Washington state or Oregon.
Both Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver (deep bow to the high priest and priestess of locavoria!) cite the statistic that most food products eaten in the US have traveled an average of 1500 miles from place of origin to place of consumption.  I wonder if that average includes (and is therefore skewed by) the many, many miles almost everything in our grocery stores has come.  It is nearly 2000 miles just from Seattle to Fairbanks – and if it’s Iowa corn or California strawberries, it’s coming a whole lot farther than that.
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan describes the tortuously complicated length of the industrial food chain, and how and why shortening that chain is in our best interests, as individuals and as a society.  Though The Omnivore’s Dilemma traces the chains leading to four specific meals, there are two general types of food chains:  1. food going from point A to point B;  2. food A being processed into food products B, C, D, etc.  Shortening the first type means:  less fuel spent in transportation and refrigeration; more biological diversity, since varieties don’t need to be selected for ease of shipment; better taste and nutrition – foods are picked when ripe, not ripened chemically or on the road (Kingsolver calls shipped produce “vagabonds who wasted their youth in a boxcar”); and more peace of mind, since any disruptions in the food distribution system become less problematic when you can walk between points A and B.  Shortening the second type means, again:  less fuel for transportation, refrigeration and processing; more biological diversity (because processed foods contain so much corn and soy, US farms are producing more and more of these two crops and less and less of everything else); better nutrition, because eating whole foods equals consuming all the nutrients those foods contain, not just those that Science has identified as important or beneficial this month; and more peace of mind.  If you are eating un- or minimally processed foods, you know what you’re eating. (For the most part, anyway.  Did you know that the wax that makes apples and cucumbers shiny is a corn product?)
So, how do we, as non-subsistence-living Alaskans, shorten those food chains?  There are certain things we are stuck with (or stuck without, I guess), for instance staples like wheat flour, COFFEE, sugar, COFFEE, tea, COFFEE and CHOCOLATE.  Those things just aren’t produced here. (I guess, wheat flour and tea could be dropped from our shopping list.) Much as I’d love to follow Kingsolver’s example of consuming only locally produced food (with a few exceptions – each member of her family got one special food during their year of locavory), I don’t think that’s realistic for Fairbanks. I don’t think it is, but I don’t know for certain, so this year, I’m investigating local food sources. Next year, maybe, will be our as-complete-as-possible Animal, Vegetable, Miracle year.  So far I’ve found:

There are also options like buying a whole hog or cow from a 4-H member, a barley flour processor in the Delta area, and friends who hunt or fish :). And of course, there’s the “grow your own” option – which has its own challenges in the Land of the Midnight Sun (aka the Land of the Extremely Short Growing Season).

That’s actually a longer list than I’d expected (Yea!) and this post is getting long, too, so I’ll finish next week.

What do you get locally? If you’re in Alaska – what’s your favorite local food source?