A Good Day to Die

Today we took the 6 surviving boys from this year’s lamb crop to meet their end. It is an odd thing to get up in the morning knowing that your primary chore is to usher the last day of a creature’s life, and all I could think was, “what a beautiful day to die.”  At 7:30 this morning we loaded the frosty metal crate into the bed of the pickup while the sun shone brightly in a clear, radiant sky.

Lambs loaded into a truck bed.

All 6 boys finally in the truck.

I’m sure the lambs were pretty pleased with it too until we started loading them into the bed of the truck. We don’t have a chute or ramp set up because this is the first crop to exceed two lambs. Picking up two 80lb kicking, wriggling lambs and putting them in a truck bed is a relatively short, if exerting task, but doing it with six is altogether exhausting. After the first two, my mom attempted to back the truck in closer to the barn gate and accidentally got stuck on the mound of gravel in the drive, incidentally landing us farther from the gate than before. The cold bite of the morning quickly gave way to sweat as we caught, harnessed, dragged, pushed, and heaved the remaining lambs into the bed of the truck.

Pickup truck stuck in gravel.


It’s hard to begrudge them their utter lack of cooperation in light of the circumstances. And though they had no way of knowing what was ahead of them, the wrangling and new truck environment was enough to unsettle them. Even the horses knew something was up, refusing to take their grain in proximity to the lamb truck.

Luckily our neighbor was able to pull the truck off the gravel pile with his tractor in short order. So with a bit of a delay we were off to the processor, a 90-minute drive from home.

“Processing” could be considered a euphemism for the killing of animals, but I actually find it a useful term for the combined slaughter and butchering of an animal. Though there are a few processors closer to us (many people hunt and raise their own livestock out here), we made the long drive today because this particular processor is USDA certified, which allows my mom to legally sell her surplus lamb.

Lambs being dropped off at the slaughter house.

We backed the truck up so that the crate doors lined up with the slaughterhouse gate. The USDA inspector has to watch the unload process to make sure every animal is able to get off the truck by their own motility.

Getting animals processed for legal commerce can be a huge hurdle for small livestock farmers. First, much of the meat industry has been consolidated from feedlot to packing plant, thereby reducing viability of independent processors and farmers’ access to them. Second, USDA meat inspection requirements are based on factory-scale production; for a huge operation, having a USDA inspector on staff with their own separate bathroom (yes, that’s a real requirement) is not a huge expense in the scheme of things, but can be a real burden on small, independent operations. The costs get passed on down the line. For example, at our nearest non-USDA processor, each lamb gets slaughtered and butchered for a flat $50. At the USDA processor, there is a $35 kill fee plus a per pound rate for butchering.

Some small farmers have been able to circumvent these costly requirements by selling live animals to their customers, then rendering them the free service of killing and butchering their animal. The limitations here being that not everyone can or wants to buy an entire lamb or goat or cow at once, and it excludes broader marketing avenues like farmers markets and restaurants that can be the bread and butter of small farm operations.

Over a decade ago, small livestock farmers in Washington state put together a mobile slaughtering unit (MSU), which is basically a slaughtering and butchering facility housed in the back of a semi, complete with all the USDA requirements for commercial processing. Now there are MSUs all over the country, filling gaps in processing services for small farmers where independents like ours no longer exist. Another plus: the animals don’t have the leave the farm, bypassing the sort of stress our lambs endured this morning.

While this is a great and practical workaround, it doesn’t address the larger issues: that the industrialization of our meat supply has separated farmer and processor, has necessitated extensive government oversight to maintain safety, and that the regulatory system favors corporate meatpackers at the expense of small farmers. The regulations in place make sense for factory farmed animals–the risk of disease and mishap abounds–but so does a tiered system for smaller scales of production.

My mother was upset about her lambs being killed today. When she took her first crop in last year, she told the handlers “please don’t hurt them!” The handlers laughed and asked her, “you know what’s going to happen to them don’t you?” But I don’t think it’s a funny thing to say. She has put so much time and care and effort into the breeding, birthing, and raising of these lambs. It  only makes sense to me to carry that into their killing, to want them treated with that same conscientious right to the very end.

Stock Series: Easy Udon noodle soup

Seattle folks are so serious about Pho.  There are at least 4 places within 8 blocks of my apartment where you can get Pho.  I understand the appeal–hot broth, rice noodles, thinly sliced meat cooked right in your soup.  In such a damp, cold city, people are definitely in need of nourishing soups.  But honestly, I’ve never been terribly impressed with Pho.  It’s good, but it’s not something I get excited about.  Maybe it’s all the fennel.  Not my thing.

Japanese Udon  noodle soup, on the other hand, is something I get worked up about.  It just so happens that the sushi joint closest to my apartment, Ha Na, has the best beef Udon I’ve yet had (not that I’m some kind of expert), and it’s less than $7 for a quart.  The thick chewy noodles, thinly sliced beef, and rich salty broth are exactly what I want in a soup.  I tried to replicate it via a recipe I found online, which turned out OK, but not great.  The other night after a late shift at work and short on anything immediately edible, I made a very quick, bare bones version of Udon and was pleased at how satisfying the results were.

The first attempt, complete with green onions and thinly-sliced beef.

I had a little single-serving package of frozen Udon noodles in the freezer, so I started a pot of water to boil while I worked on the broth.  I used a quart of my homemade beef stock, about a 1/2 cup of unfiltered organic Sake, and a few dashes of fish sauce, plus a little extra salt for flavor.  I let it come up to a simmer so the alcohol would burn off, then poured it over the cooked noodles.  That’s it.  No beef, no green onions, nothing extra.  But it was SO good and filling.  The next night I used two tablespoons of brown miso paste instead of fish sauce  with favorable results.

If you wanted to go all the way, you could add very thinly sliced raw beef, green onions, and perhaps some bean sprouts.  My local butcher will slice up the beef for me if I ask them in advance, but if you don’t have access to a full-service butcher, or just want to try it yourself, all you have to do is freeze the meat and use a very sharp knife to slice it as thin as possible.  Make sure to slice against the grain (the “grain” being the aligned muscle fibers), or the beef will be excessively chewy.  I bought some pre-sliced beef from the Asian supermarket that was sliced parallel to the grain and had this exact problem.  The heat from the broth will be enough to cook the meat through.

Of the two types of udon noodles I’ve tried, I definitely prefer the frozen noodles to the pre-cooked refrigerated type.  Both types were wheat noodles, but what I’d really like to use are rice noodles (my roommate was wise indeed when he wrote “rice noodles > all other noodles”).  I couldn’t find any at the Asian supermarket, but it was my first visit and honestly, I was overwhelmed.  Hopefully my next visit will be more successful, or else I might even try making them at home.  How hard can it be, right?  Right?

Stock Series: Stroganoff

When I was a kid I used to make that Hamburger Helper bullshit all by myself and loved it.  One day I realized it was gross and stopped eating it, but it occurred to me that real beef stroganoff is probably worth eating.  A few years ago I tried it and found I was right.  Last week I made stroganoff for the first time with homemade beef stock and it was the best yet.

Beef Stroganoff:

1 package wide egg noodles

1 lb. beef (lots of recipes call for tenderloin, but I’m no Moneybags McGee.  I’ve had delicious results with hanger steak, top sirloin, and stew meat.  When using tougher cuts of meat, it’s important to slice the meat against the grain.)

1/2 – 1 lb cremini or button mushrooms, quartered

1 medium onion, chopped

1 – 1 1/2 cups dry white wine

pint beef stock

1 cup sour cream

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

butter and oil, for frying

parsley, chopped

flour, for dredging

Start a big pot of water boiling for the noodles.  Follow the directions on the package, then toss in a bit of butter and cover while you make the sauce.

If using a whole steak (hanger or top sirloin or whatever), cut into bite-sized pieces and dredge lightly in flour.  If using stew meat you can dredge it and cook it in chunks, but you’ll probably want to slice it up for easier chewing.  Heat butter and a high-heat frying oil (sunflower, coconut, lard, etc.) over medium-high heat and brown the meat on all sides.  Remove the meat and set aside.  Add the mushrooms and let them cook out a bit, then add the onions and cook until most of the water has evaporated and the mushrooms and onions are starting to brown.  De-glaze the pan with the wine and simmer until it is reduced by at least half.  Add the stock and simmer until also reduced by about half.

Mix the cornstarch with a little liquid from the pan until smooth, then stir into the pan until it starts to thicken.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Replace the beef, let it warm up, then turn off the heat and stir in the sour cream.  Test again for seasoning.  Toss with the noodles, garnish with chopped parsley, and eat immediately.

Experiments in Stock

Good broth resurrects the dead. –South American Proverb

Homemade stock is one of a few kitchen staples that is as important to your nutritional needs as it is to your culinary prowess.  Sauces and soups based on genuine bone broth are not only rich and uniquely satisfying, they are basically nutritional gold.  There are hydrophilic colloids in stock that aid digestion and absorption of nutrients.  While it doesn’t provide a complete protein, it acts as a “protein sparer,” meaning that the proteins we do eat are utilized more.  If you can’t afford to eat much meat, making and using bone stock will help you get the most out of what you do eat.  The reputation of the healing power of stock is known around the world.  When I complained to my acupuncturist about frequent colds, she recommended that I start making bone stock to boost my immune system.

I’ve tried making stock from scratch before, but it has never gone particularly well.  The first time I tried beef stock it was watery with a smell so unappetizing I never worked up the courage to taste it.  I poured it all down the sink and called it a bust.  Since then I’ve been too intimidated (and lazy) to try again.  Which is really too bad because I use a lot of store-bought stock in my cooking–lots of sauces and since living in a cold climate, many more soups.  Not only is boxed broth expensive (of course I’m compelled to get Organic, free-range meat broths), the flavor is weak and it is totally lacking in that most important of stock qualities, body.  Body is that luscious mouth-feel you get with perfectly slow-cooked ribs or a rich French wine sauce, and it comes from the dissolution of collagen into gelatin in water over many hours of low-temperature cooking.  Alton Brown did a Good Eats episode on stock, which provides great information on the technique and science behind stock making.

However, I followed the recipe from Nourishing Traditions for my beef stock, plus a tip picked up from Julia Child’s “The French Chef.”  Sally Fallon reckons that you should use different types of beef bones to get a good stock–knuckle and marrow bones for their collagen and rib or neck bones for their meaty flavor.  My butcher was able to sell me some scrap rib bones and a pig’s foot (Julia’s suggestion for when a calves foot proves hard to find).  I roasted the rib bones at 450 degrees until well browned, then added them to the pot with the foot (actually, I never touched the foot, my very very nice friend put it in the pot for me), 2 quartered onions, 2 carrots, 1/2 a cup of vinegar, and enough cold water to cover it all.  Apparently the vinegar helps draw out calcium, magnesium, and potassium from the bones.

After letting it sit in the cold water for an hour, bring it up to a boil and skim off any scum that bubbles up.  Once it’s pretty much scum-free, reduce the heat and keep it covered and simmering for at least 12 hours and up to 72 hours (mine simmered for about 28 hours).  Add a bunch of parsley 10 minutes before you turn off the heat.

Strain it through a colander lined with cheesecloth or something similar, cover it, and let it cool a bit before putting it in the fridge over night.  If you put 8 quarts of piping hot liquid in your fridge, it will warm up the whole fridge rather than quickly cool your stock.  The next day any fat will have solidified on the top and is easily removed.  If you’ve done a really good job the stock should be thicker, even Jello-like.  If it isn’t (or if you want to save space in your freezer), you can put the stock back on the stove and reduce it until it reaches the desired consistency or concentration.  It will last about 5 days in the fridge and several months in the freezer.  I recommend labeling the type of stock and date made so when you find some in the back of the freezer you don’t have to strain yourself trying to remember what on earth it is, or whether it’s still good.

This broth was not like the last one–when pouring it out into little plastic to-go containers for freezing, I was delighted by the syrupy consistency and deep color.  I put about half in the freezer and the used the other half for various dishes I planned to make that week.  Now, a month later, I’m eating the last of my beef stock for lunch.  This month I’ve somehow managed to dodge a stomach virus and all the colds that have been circulating around work continuously.  I credit the regular intake of broth (because it sure as hell isn’t the lack of sleep, stressful job, and questionable eating habits).

Today I’m going to the butcher to pick up a few chicken backs to round out the parts I’ve been saving in the freezer.  Tonight I try my hand at chicken stock.  It is now a personal goal to never be without homemade stock on hand.  At least until this cursed cold season is over.

Burger Quest 2010

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am an enthusiastic lover of beef.  I’m not generally in the habit of eating big meals or large volumes of food, but when beef is on the menu my secret “beef-stomach” is activated, and it is apparently bottomless.  Around the age of 12, I ate an entire 2 1/4 pound porterhouse steak without pause.  Sure I paid for it later in gastronomic distress, but I enjoyed every single bite of it.  To me, the burger is one of the most satisfying manifestations of beef.  But burgers have become so commonplace that it’s easy to forget how truly delicious a well-made, high-quality burger can be.  Maybe it’s something about the fact that you eat it with your hands, face-first into a toothsome, juicy slab of meat.  The melted fat and escaping juices run down your hands and chin, and it feels like this is really eating.  Nothing quells hunger quite like a really great burger.

So sometime around July (prime grilling and burger season) I decided to embark on Burger Quest 2010, to answer that most pressing question: Where does one get the best burger in Seattle?  Sure, I can make good burgers, but I don’t have a grill, and I need to have access to a good burger in case of a beef-craving emergency (yes, these sometimes happen).  At first I simply picked restaurants nearby and those highly rated on Yelp, but I soon realized that to try and sample every burger in every restaurant in this city would take many months of eating nothing but burgers.  My budget and digestive tract certainly could not handle this sort of daily toll, so I eventually set up a couple of parameters.   I would only go to locally-owned restaurants that were either “burger joints” or that used local/grass-fed/organic beef.  After a severely disappointing experience in the U-District (detailed below), I decided to cut it down to just the latter.  To create a point-of-reference between restaurants, I opted for burgers of the nearly ubiquitous “bacon-cheese” variety where choices were available.

Mr. Lu’s Burgers:  By far the worst burger of the bunch, despite the self-ascribed specialty.  Sure it was cheap, but it was hardly edible, never mind enjoyable (and really, what is eating a burger about if not unadulterated gustatory pleasure?).  Though the menu says the bacon cheeseburger comes with cheddar cheese, it’s actually some plasticized cheese-flavored product–you know, the kind that melts unnaturally and hardens with a skin ::shudder::.  The meat is obviously the cheapest: flavorless and dry with hard “bits” throughout.  [Those hard bits are usually errant pieces of tendon, bone, or gristle that got ground up with the meat.  I worked for a farmer who butchered all his own meats; it was from him I learned that this sort of textural problem is a sure sign of poor quality meat.  If you cook up some ground meat with this problem, I suggest you find a new source of ground meat.]  The bun disintegrated within 10 minutes, and the fries clearly came from a bag.  The only good thing about this place was the huckleberry milkshake, but given the quality of the meat, I’m pretty confident the source of dairy is similarly questionable.  Inexplicably, this place has a 4-star rating on Yelp.   My mind is boggled.

Linda’s:  A fun neighborhood tavern, the burger here is much like the rest of the menu: good for bar food but otherwise unremarkable.  According to the menu the beef used in the burgers is Organic, but judging by its perfectly puck-like shape, I’m pretty sure that it’s a frozen patty.  I’m basically OK with that, but could use a little more info on where the meat came from.  The USDA Organic standards for meat are notoriously slack, which means that Organic meat can come from an upstanding family farm or a glorified feedlot operation.  I wondered from which sort of source Linda’s burger meat originated.  I ordered the burger medium, but it came out well done, and was consequently a bit dry.  The cheese was real, the bun held up, the fries were good, and it was reasonably priced.  I probably wouldn’t go to Linda’s if I was craving a burger, but if I were already at Linda’s, I might order a burger.  I’ve had their sliders a couple of times too and somehow I find them juicier and more enjoyable (maybe because they’re not preformed patties?).

Redwood:  Basically the same deal as Linda’s: a decent Organic cheeseburger at a decent price.  At Redwood they’re at least upfront about the fact that they will only cook your burger well done.   I think I liked the fries here a little better than at Linda’s.  Maybe.

Blue Moon Burgers:  Another burger joint, but with a more developed conscience.  Blue Moon Burgers proudly advertises their use of Thundering Hooves grass-fed beef. [ I’ve seen Thundering Hooves products at various restaurants and co-ops around Seattle, and a quick glance at their website tells me their animals are grass-finished (meaning they have never fed on grain).  The farm is in Walla Walla.]  Though they tell you the burgers are cooked to medium as a default, both times I ate there my burgers were definitely well done.  They have an interesting variety of topping combinations and the burgers are pretty solid, but not substantially better than either of the pubs.  The fries were forgettable, but the upshot is that you can get beer or a milkshake, depending on your mood.

The Tin Table:  A New American restaurant that is more upscale than any of the previous establishments.  I went during happy hour and got a few bucks off the price of the burger.  This was one of the few places that managed to get the burger cooked to order.  The components of the burger (bacon, sweet onions, cheese, beef, bun) were all clearly high quality, and the flavor was very good, but it was a bit small and left me underwhelmed.  The shoestring fries were really yummy, but the cocktail I got was bitter and unpleasant.

Skillet: A mobile restaurant with a very tiny menu, including a grass-fed beef burger.  I love the idea of mobile restaurants, but in practice find them rather frustrating.  I was chasing Skillet around for weeks, checking their website repeatedly only to be informed that their daily location had been changed at the last minute, or that the day’s service was canceled, or that they were catering a private event.  I finally caught up with them at the opening party for South Lake Union Park.  The menu advertises grass-fed beef, but doesn’t specify origin.  This burger came with arugula, cambazola cheese, and bacon jam.  The bacon jam is, well, the jam.  It’s sweet and bacon-y and goes great with the other toppings.  The burger was juicy and actually had some pink in the middle, but was more medium-well than medium.  The overall flavor was very good and the ingredients are clearly high quality, but the meat could have used more seasoning and the cheese was overpowering.  I made the mistake of taking it home to eat–the ten minute walk was enough to noticeably cool the burger, and I wonder how much better it might have been piping hot.  Somehow I haven’t mustered up the energy to track down that fickle trailer again.

Tavern Law: One of those speakeasy-style bars with old-fashioned cocktails and an upscale menu.  The burger here was really great–juicy, flavorful, well-seasoned, cooked to order.  I forget what the toppings are, but I do remember enjoying them.  My biggest complaint was that the burger was expensive ($16, extra for bacon) and also very tiny.  You should never leave a burger-eating experience feeling like you could eat more burger.  My cocktail was very excellent; I’ll definitely be going back for more of those.

Quinn’s:  The burger here is a half-pound of near perfection.  First, when they take your order, they ask you how you want it cooked, which indicates to me that they have confidence in the quality and safety of their ground meat.  Now, here’s the impressive part: when it comes out, it’s cooked just the way you ordered it, with a little plastic cow pick in the top indicating the perfect “MEDIUM,” “MEDIUM RARE,” or “WELL DONE,” that you will surely find inside.  The bun and the meat are in proportion, and the bun was up to the considerable challenge of supporting the meat and toppings.  My first bite was a tiny universe of heaven in my mouth.  The burger had that little bit of seared crunch and a slight off-the-grill smokiness, a delectably beefy flavor perfectly seasoned with a sharp cheddar and melty, crispy bacon, and the sort of juiciness that makes my knees weak.  Nothing was over- or under-done, all the flavors were in balance, and the textures played together beautifully.  The fries were fresh, crispy, and tender.  Before I had even started on the second half, I realized that despite feeling ravenous before dinner, I was not going to be able to finish this meal.  So I prioritized the burger and regrettably left most of those delicious fries.  It was a bit of a struggle, and I definitely suffered from food-coma afterward, but I couldn’t bear to leave any of that burger uneaten.  It just seemed wrong.  By a wide margin, Quinn’s was the pinnacle of Burger Quest 2010.

I found out recently (while cruising Craigslist ads for restaurant jobs) that the owners of Quinn’s is going to open up an upscale burger joint sometime soon.  Rejoice!

Raw Milk Series, Part 1 (anecdotal)

So I’ve been working on this post about raw milk for over a week now, and it’s gotten to be sort of painful.  Somehow the length is already out of control but the details are scant and there’s still so much more that should be said.  My friend (and newly appointed Editor) saved my sanity and suggested I break it up into parts.  So here it is, the first in a multi-part series on raw milk.

For the entirely uninitiated, raw milk is simply milk that is totally unprocessed, unpasteurized, straight from the cow to you (well, not straight, precisely, more like by way of sanitized food-grade holding equipment and bottles that are sometimes glass and quaint).  My very first encounter with raw milk was uneducated and borderline traumatic.  An adventurous friend (hippie) had seen raw milk for sale at Whole Foods, wanted to try it, and bought a half-gallon of raw goat’s milk.  We took turns bravely swigging from the carton, only to realize mid-swallow that this milk had passed its prime, and though not rancid, it was intensely goat-y.  I have not been able to eat even the mildest goat-milk product since.  You can perhaps appreciate, then, how reluctant I was to give raw cow’s milk a try, a mere 7 months or so after the Goat Milk Incident.  But I had been gardening, and cooking, and working at the farmer’s market, and learning about nutrition, and learning about the many failings and dangers of the conventional food system.  I was working on a farm in Connecticut for the summer, and more than ever my diet consisted of whole, organic, unadulterated food.  My fellow apprentices were pretty serious about their raw milk consumption and it really became an inevitability that I would try it.  This time the milk was from a farm less than 45 minutes away aptly named Local Farm, and it was impeccably fresh.  Similar to previous experiences with truly fresh, wholesome carrots and tomatoes, it was like I was drinking milk for the first time.  It was what milk was clearly supposed to taste like, and all the milk I’d consumed until then was just a weak wannabe, failing utterly in its attempts to resemble milk.  It’s hard to remember precisely what it tasted like, but I remember being struck by the milk’s simultaneous purity and richness.  So much cream.  Simple and undeniably satisfying.

Later that summer we went to visit that farm as part of a series of field trips to expand our knowledge of small-scale organic food production.  This is the farm I remember most vividly.  It was that it is one of the few farms I’ve ever known to be run principally by a woman.  It was the closest I had ever been to a living cow (they are Huge and sort of terrifying), and I even got to milk one of the lucky ladies by hand.  We learned about the importance of healthy pastures for nutrient-rich milk, how the cows developed a symbiosis with the pastures, deriving most of their diets from the mix of plants, while keeping the fields well-maintained and fertilized.  We learned why raw milk makes sense for small-scale production.  The farmer’s partner told us how, when he started working on the farm many years previous, he thought he was lactose intolerant, but currently drinks at least half a gallon of whole raw milk daily and has never felt better.  Perhaps what affected me most is the obvious compassion, knowledge, and consideration with which this woman ran her farm.  All her cows had names and personalities.  She kept her herd small so she could care for them all personally.  When the cows had calves, the calves were nursed and raised on the farm, and if they weren’t going to become a family dairy cow, she insisted on slaughtering them herself.  This way, she could make absolutely sure that the animals experienced as little suffering as possible, but in listening to her I think there was an important note of closure and responsibility for her as a caretaker of those cows.  Maybe I’m projecting, here, but the idea has definitely stuck with me.  I happily lapped up raw milk for the rest of the summer.

Romanticized memories behind me, I returned to Florida and began to grasp, really, the political dynamics of food (especially the kind of food I had worked so hard to grow and learn about).  Connecticut is one of the few states in the nation, along with California, Maine, Vermont, and my new home State of Washington, where raw milk sales are fully legal.  To me, that means I can buy it at the grocery store or farmer’s market without dire warning labels indicating the dangerous nature of unpasteurized, unsanctioned food.  In most other states raw milk occupies some quasi-legal realm, with sales being legal if and only if they meet some combination of the following requirements: direct, on-farm sales; warning labels; certification; a physician’s prescription for raw goat’s milk only.  In a few states the sale and consumption of raw milk is entirely illegal.  You can check the status where you live here.

In Florida, you can buy raw milk at retail outlets as long as it has a label stating “For pet consumption only.”  This is a relatively minor inconvenience, and I was able to get raw milk at Whole Foods, though sometimes I had to ask someone to get it out of the back room for me because they didn’t want to put it on the shelves.  And more often than not, the milk was already started to sour when I brought it home because who knows how long it had been sitting in that back room.  Tiring seriously of paying over $8 a gallon for sour milk, I searched for a more direct sources and found a local buying club.  This club was run by a couple, real estate agents by day, raw food activists by afternoon (I don’t know what they did at night), who are some of the most enthusiastic raw milk supporters I’ve ever met.  Because of all the hours they spent weekly, organizing and ordering, myself and a number of other grateful renegades were able to order all manner of wholesome, humane, direct-from-the-farm food in bulk, and often at a discount.  Most of this kind of food simply isn’t available in stores, so unless you happen to live near such a farm, or can afford to have perishables overnighted to you from other parts of the country, it’s not always easy to find.  The buying club made it easy and enjoyable to buy real food, and more than that it engendered a little community in a place where individualism and capitalism are mostly unquestioned.

During the short time I live in Brooklyn, I was also the member of a much larger, but also more illegal, buying club.  The laws in New York are a little more strict: you can only buy raw milk on a certified farm, and there must be a sign at the point of sale that states “Notice: raw milk sold here.  Raw milk does not provide the protection of pasteurization.”  (HA!  But more on that later…)  The club, which as far as I can tell had at least a few hundred members, ordered raw milk and raw milk products (cheese, sour cream, kefir, etc.) directly from various cow and goat farmers in New York and Pennsylvania.  The farmers would deliver the goods to rotating locations around the city, and we would collectively pay them directly, so even though we weren’t precisely getting the milk on the farm, there were at least no intermediaries.  The whole thing was orchestrated by the members (volunteering was a membership requirement), with no storefront, no mark-up, and no profit margin.  In true New York City fashion, most of the members didn’t pretend to make it a social event, but everyone was at least polite, considerate, and cooperative.  Which is more than can be said for the rest of the city, even if the spirit was mostly conspiratorial.  I can get into conspiratorial bonding.

Here are some great resources if you want to learn more about raw milk, but simply can’t wait for me to write the next installment (I understand your excitement entirely):

Katz, Sandor Ellix.”The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements.” The Raw Underground. Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006.  161-181.

A Campaign for Real Milk

Weston A. Price Foundation (Notice the quote on the left side of the homepage: “They’re happy because they eat butter!”  Amen.)