Part three: Using Proteins to Their Fullest
We’re back, and this time we will address how to counter food waste in the animal protein department, a conversation that is more complex than the one surrounding produce waste.
First and foremost, we take a life when we eat meat or fish, a moral quandary for many. Next, animal protein is very expensive, more so when it’s been sustainably raised, or when fish has been wild caught. Muscle meat - steaks, chops, filets, chicken breasts - is the most expensive of all meats. Third, feedlot beef and pork, and mass produced chicken you find at the supermarket is a lot cheaper, but also presents another moral quandary due to the horrific raising and slaughtering practices, and this meat is much less healthy. You get what you pay for. Lastly, cheap feedlot meat production for beef and pork, and the ensuing tremendous increase in meat consumption over the past seventy years or so, are big greenhouse gas emissions contributors, and hence global warming.
Grassfed meat and wild caught fish should thus be considered downright precious and valued dearly! Until the meat industry lobbies pushed all that cheap meat on us, meat was mostly reserved for weekends and special occasions. Remember the Sunday roast? We now know that we need way less meat than we were led to believe, that too much red meat can be downright harmful, and that you should limit your bacon and egg breakfasts. For all those reasons, Marion Nestlé, the eminent food policy professor and author, already said years ago that we should eat meat only in condiment quantities.
Both the cheapness of meat and the removal from the slaughtering process have encouraged the abundant consumption of meat, way beyond our actual protein needs, besides glossing over the fact that we can actually obtain a lot or even all of our protein from plants. When you hunt, as my husband for example does for venison, and you butcher the animal yourself, you honor the life the animal has offered for your nourishment and you make sure nothing gets wasted with all this effort. Most Americans don’t even buy their meat at the butcher shop anymore, where you might see parts of an animal carcass, but at the supermarket, neatly sliced up and plastic wrapped, its provenance abstracted.
A rising awareness brought us the nose to tail movement, an effort to consume as much of an animal as possible. Think oxtail soup, mineral rich and nourishing bone broth, boudin noir (the elegant sounding French name for blood sausage, which doesn’t taste “bloody” at all), headcheese (we Germans love it, with sliced pickles and red onion on a piece of buttered black bread), using intestine for sausage making (edible, unlike the synthetic kind you need to peel off before eating because it’s made of plastic), chicken feet (which I personally don’t like at all), chicken gizzards (which go into my homemade raw cat food), kidney, liver, brain and sweetbreads, which are all edible and considered delicacies elsewhere in the world. When all of this gets discarded, sending a message of lesser value, it becomes a massive case of food waste. In older food cultures all parts of the animal were and are eaten, but I don’t know many American friends who like liver for example.
Now that I’ve gotten all of that off my chest, here are some actual tips besides being more adventurous when going shopping, being aware of the health consequences of eating too much meat, or consuming feedlot meat or fish farm fish and shellfish.
I only buy whole chicken directly from the farm, and one chicken becomes three meals, between the first roasted chicken dinner, the dinner made with leftover meat, and the carcass for broth or soup. You can make stock out of raw chicken bones (setting the bony back aside when doing a recipe that uses cut-up chicken), or using all the leftover bones from your roasted chicken (gnawed bones ok, stock will boil for many hours!). Stick the carcass or bones in a pot with water and simmer for many hours on a very low flame, strain, use or freeze for later. Good for soup, to elongate stews and chilis, or as a clear Asian style broth, perhaps with some rehydrated Shiitake mushrooms, scallions, a bit of soy sauce, a bit of hot sauce or cayenne pepper, a bit of toasted sesame oil. Delicious!
For flavor without actual meat, and saving beaucoup bucks, buy beef bones to make soul warming bone broth. You’ll contribute to the nose to tail movement. And try the “lesser” meats. Organ meats are more mineral and nutrient rich than muscle meat, and there are so many delicious ways to prepare them, besides costing so much less. Sweetbreads sauteed in olive oil and butter are so tender and delicious, same with calf liver, which I serve in a shallot and red wine reduction. When we have venison, I use it the same way I would beef. The meat is very lean, very healthy, and I have never ever found it tasting “gamey.”
In general, we have cut our meat consumption drastically, and I almost never buy muscle meat anymore. We eat eggs on the weekends, and sometimes, I’ll make a vegetable omelet during the week for a very quick dinner with a salad. When we do eat meat, it might be sausage or ground meat in a recipe, liver, kidney or sweetbreads when I can get it, a chicken every few months, some fish here and there, but always, always, always, grassfed or sustainably raised, wild caught for fish, or venison from the woods. Arthur Avenue in the Bronx still has traditional butchers where you can buy such traditional delicacies as organ meats or rabbit. Be adventurous!
Talking about sustainability. Big fish and big meat from the top of the food chain take a long time to grow, and along the way eat a lot of food until ready to be consumed. Shift to the smaller animal proteins, and I’m not talking ants or crickets, as they do in some cultures, or even cicadas (although I signed up this spring with a Connecticut restaurant that was planning to offer a spontaneous cicada dinner if able to harvest enough of them during Brood X emergence this summer), but mussels and clams, smaller fish like herring and sardines, rabbit and squid, eggs and shrimp, the latter only if wild caught.
The problem with fish farms is another subject. And to wind down, what happens to the rest of the lobster when you eat fancy lobster tails? Breaking open cold lobster and finding the beautiful morsels in the head is like a delicious treasure hunt. Lobster bisque, by the way, is made with a soup base of leftover cooked lobster shells. And the traditional recipe for the monumental Southern French fish soup Bouillabaisse, which started as a humble fishermen soup of leftover fish parts, starts with preparing a soup base from fish heads and carcasses you could get at the market for free.
Hence, it makes a lot of sense to eat animal protein sparingly, and not to waste any of it. The "nose to tail" approach is not only friendly to the environment, but makes a economical sense too!
To find out more about Susanne, please visit her website at www.susannemeyerfitzsimmons.com.