We've already discussed why animal products are an important part of a healthy diet, but there is a caveat: for optimal benefit, the meat, eggs and dairy should be pastured. Foods from pastured animals are much higher in many desirable nutrients like omega-3s, Vitamin E, Vitamin A and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). Sadly, pastured meats, eggs and dairy have a reputation for being outrageously expensive.
While I've definitely seen my share of overpriced "backyard eggs," ethically raised animal products aren't just for the people who can drop $7 on a dozen eggs without thinking twice. In fact, I would argue that most meat is too cheap. Industrial meat conglomerates are producing meat at a scale that allows them to offer meat at prices low enough to nudge out competitors, but do so at the high cost of quality and ethics. Pastured meat on the other hand is gentler on the land, better for your health, and can be surprisingly cost-effective, especially when you consider the increased nutrition you're buying.
So if you're trying to put more pastured meats into your diet, but aren't sure where to start, we've got you covered.
1. Buy directly from the farmer
Now there's an idea! Buying any food directly from the farmer is an increasingly popular way to eat. It's much easier in the warm months, when you can buy local produce from farmers markets or invest in a farmer's harvest through Community Supported Agriculture, but you can buy directly from animal farmers year-round. While many livestock farmers maintain a steady income by selling to farm-to-table restaurants and grocery stores, going directly to the farmer for eggs, milk and meat is mutually beneficial. You're likely getting a better price than you would at the supermarket, and the farmer is getting the profits he would normally have to share with the retailer.
Look for local farms that have drop-off points or buying clubs. But not all animal farmers that sell meat directly have buying clubs, so just give them a call. For starters, check out our Virtual Farm Tours, which all include direct-marketing animal farmers that serve Southwestern Pennsylvania.
2. Buy quarters and halves
If you decide to buy direct, you can save even more money by buying in bulk. A lot of farmers sell the equivalent of quarters and halves of cows and pigs already butchered into manageable cuts. This is not a cheap purchase on its own, but it will last you many meals. You can also share the package with a friend or a neighbor.
Most of the meat you buy from a farmer is already frozen for you. This is because many farmers who sell to families and individuals don't have a guaranteed customer at the time of slaughter and so don't know when the meat will be sold. Freezing it allows them to meet demand throughout the year. But freezing is especially handy when buying such a large portion, as you can put it all in your freezer and use it at your leisure.
The important thing here is to think ahead. For one, if you don't have a lot of freezer space, you will want to share the purchase with someone. Second, factor thawing time into your plan for dinner.
Buying in bulk can be a great way to eat healthy, save money and support a local farm.
3. Avoid the cuts of meat that are in high demand
Well-known cuts tend to be expensive because they are in high demand. If you buy a quarter or a half, you will likely get some of these cuts, but if you're just browsing the pastured meats at your supermarket, prepare to be shocked at the cost of a grass-fed New York strip. Roasts are usually a budget-friendly option when it comes to cost per serving. (One exception is the rib roast.) Because roasts are tougher, and usually larger than single-serving steaks, they should be braised for a couple hours. It may not be a quick meal from start to finish, but it will afford you leftovers that can easily be reheated in the braising liquid.
Buying whole birds, or bone-in cuts, is another way to save money per pound. While the bones may add weight, they also impart flavor to the meal, and can be made into stock after dinner.
Buying offal, especially organ meats, is another delicious way to eat ethically and affordably. In our latest blog post, Tim shows you Three Organ Meat You Should Be Cooking at Home.
Eating good meat shouldn't bankrupt you. Knowing how to save money on pastured meats provides you with a sustainable, ethical and affordable source of tasty nutrition.
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