Recap: Small Scale Meat Processing Discussion

by Kimi Reid.

The importance of words such as ‘grass fed,’ ‘pasture raised’ and ‘small scale,’ are often lost in a sea of foodie vocabulary, implying somewhat lofty connotations. However, as the American consumer is faced with a plethora of choices, even the most socially responsible individuals need education on the sheer importance of these terms, and their role in the sustainability of our food system.

On January 26th, the doors of Kitchen Kru were opened to a panel of Oregon’s finest small scale meat processors and producers, to discuss their challenges and to explain why they demand our immediate attention and full support.

The discussion commenced with a great explanation from Lauren Gwin, of the OSU Extension Service. She explained that meat production in our country has become increasingly industrialized, leaving our nation’s network of small, independent meat processors to be gradually replaced by huge industrial slaughterhouses. Why is this a problem, you may ask The industrialized meat industry maintains careless ethos, not giving any thought to the environmental, nutritional or inhumane implications of their process.

She went on to discuss how the existence of small, community based meat processing plants have become ‘endangered,’ due to the strict USDA processing regulations, making it more and more difficult for socially conscious farms to financially sustain themselves and their control over processing their animals.

A common thread among the farmers present at this talk was a true passion for their ethics and the genuine care going into raising their animals. These small scale meat processors each introduced themselves and explained their operation, all stressing the importance of creating an infrastructure to enable these farms to exist and eventually prevail over industrialized processing.

Tyler Jones of Afton Field Farm explained that, “the key to really good food is a really relaxed animal,” disclosing how adrenalin and stress have a huge impact on the quality of the meat. Perhaps this is why the majority of these producers’ most recent sales have been to local chefs; those who have a full understanding of the true quality of their product. David McKibben of McK Ranch, talked about the gristle line in an animal, which is “a sign of stress!”

The latter part of the discussion ensued with an extremely informative discussion on the solutions. Bob Dickinson of Dayton Natural Meats, who was the only USDA Processor on the panel, explained how he would like to “see the infrastructure come back, because we currently don’t have it.” This can be accomplished by creative co operatively owned processing facilities, which would create a customer oriented environment and have the consumer back in touch with their farmer.

In order to accomplish this task, these small scale producers need our support, which all goes back to a great question from an attendee, “what has happened to the Butcher Shop in our society .” The answer is that it’s a consumer problem, because it’s not efficient for the butcher’s to buy large cuts of meat from our small scale processors, since the average consumer doesn’t know enough about cuts. Therefore, the sustainability of a local butcher shop has been diminished. This proves that consumer education is needed.

What can you do? Buy directly from the producers and learn how to cook the whole animal. Butchery classes are taught here in Portland at Portland Meat Collective and there are many great online resources as well. Please take a look at Afton Field Farm, McK Farm, Square Peg Farm. These farms offer programs for buying larger shares of meat, and top quality products produced in a realm of socially conscious and farm-to-table ethics.

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Kimi Reid is a socially-conscious chef in Portland, Oregon, maintaining a Personal chef business where she thoroughly enjoys working with clients in the realm of their food preferences, nutritional needs and food ethics. www.chefkimireid.com

Thanks for sharing