Happy Cows Come From … Rhode Island?

Remember that documentary Super Size Me, where Morgan Spurlock tells his tale of eating only McDonald’s food for 30 days and getting quite ill? I remember it well; I own the DVD.  There was one line from that movie that changed my life: 1,000 cows in every patty. It comes in the extras, when Morgan is chatting with Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation.  Eric tells Morgan that, according to the CDC, the typical McDonald’s burger patty contains “pieces of 1,000 or thousands of cows.” Thousands. Ew.

That disgusting image is one of the reasons I haven’t eat a McDonald’s burger in over 10 years. I have, however, eaten burgers from Wendy’s, state-run beach stands and the like, and I’m quite certain their ground beef is less than ideal. Sadly, most meat comes from enormous industrial plants that treat their animals with extreme cruelty, feed them food their systems can’t handle, and pump them with drugs to offset the effects. This reality almost makes me want to be a vegetarian (but … bacon).

Thankfully there are a number of small farms in Rhode Island that raise and process animals humanely. The animals are pasture-fed, meaning they graze on grass and other low-lying plants. The cows roam the fields, the chickens run free and the pigs are allowed to forage in the wild, just as nature intended.

Pat’s Pastured and Baffoni Farm are the names with which I’m most familiar, thanks to farmers markets and restaurant menus. Both slaughter their own poultry, though larger animals are sent to USDA-approved plants. Pat’s Pastured products are probably the most accessible, as the farm offers a plethora of purchasing options (trying saying that sentence five times fast).  There’s a farm stand in East Greenwich that’s open Friday through Sunday. They sell their meat at the farmers markets, year-round. They have a winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program in which you buy a share and each month you receive two-dozen eggs and a varied selection of meat. For a more customized menu, you can gather a group of neighbors/co-workers/friends and form a buying club. The minimum is $500 per month and your custom order will be delivered to a convenient location. Farmer Pat couldn’t make it easier to access his chicken, pork and beef.

Simmons Farm in Middletown, Wild Harmony Farm in Exeter and Mission Farm in Wakefield also offer CSA shares of their pasture-raised meat. Alternatively, New England Grass Fed LLC has the option of a “pasture pack.” For $200 you receive 20 pounds of grass-fed pastured meat, which you can pick up at the farm or farmers market, or have it delivered right to your door for a mere $20. They do take special requests and customized orders. Aquidneck Farms in Portsmouth offers something similar that can be purchased online or at the farm.

Others like Sunset Farm in Narragansett, Baffoni Poultry Farm in Johnston and Sakonnet Farm in Tiverton have stands open daily (Baffoni is closed on Sundays). Blackbird Farm in Smithfield and Windmist Farm in Jamestown also have stores with weekend hours as well as an online store. As if the above list isn’t enough, there are other small operations committed to providing quality pastured meats, which they sell at farmers markets and local stores. Sweet and Salty farm in Little Compton even sells grass-fed humanely raised veal, which you can purchase by appointment. I would have thought “humanely raised veal” was an oxymoron, but I’ve been proven wrong.

With so much pastured meat widely available in our small state, why eat anything else? First, though the CSA is convenient, it’s only available during the winter, and shares sell out. This means having to hit your farmers market or local farm stand just to buy meat – not a reality for those of us who are already tapped out time-wise. Second, the cost of pastured meats can be prohibitive. Those CSA shares can be well over $500, a significant amount of money to shell out at once. And the per pound price can be double or triple the amount you’d pay when chicken’s on sale at Stop & Shop.

If, however, you care how the animals you eat are treated, are concerned about the quality of the food you’re eating, and you value local businesses, buying pastured meat is worth the extra money. Instead of buying “cheap meat,” buy the good stuff and eat less. Yes a broiler can cost upward of $22, but if portions are reduced, that broiler can be three meals for a family of four:  shredded chicken and rice bowls one night; chicken tacos the next; stock and soup the third.  Suddenly that $22 price tag doesn’t sound so insurmountable.

No one wants to eat a burger made from 1,000 cows. Nobody likes the thought of cows and chickens suffering their entire lives before we cut them up and slap them on the grill. Luckily we Rhode Islanders have alternatives, and I hope I’ve inspired you to take advantage of some of them.

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