Local Food Albuquerque
Eat Less meat, eat better meat
Grass-fed meats are tasty, planet-friendly, and worth seeking out. For details, research on the health and environmental benefits, and an extensive list of producers, go to www.eatwild.com. This site also has info on cooking grass-fed meats, which is different from cooking feedlot meats. For a few local producers that I buy from regularly and can heartily recommend, see below.
It's essential to know your producer, because the terms "grass-fed" and "pastured" are not legally controlled, and I've seen them used in dishonest ways, since these meats command a premium price. Talk to the producer, ask questions, visit the farm yourself if possible, and don't believe a "grass-fed" tag in a commercial meat case unless you've looked into it yourself. If you want grass-fed meats for health reasons, it's important to know that even a short period of corn-finsihing greatly lowers the omega-3 level of the meat, so only deal with a grower whom you trust.
A trip to the Santa Fe farmers' market is an easy matter with the new Rail Runner, which stops right beside the market. All steak-lovers should take the ride and try out a ribeye from Pecos Valley Grassfed Beef. They use Scottish Hylander and Hylander cross cattle, and the steaks are remarkably good. Talk to Rick at the booth and get a little advice about cooking them if you haven't grilled grassfed steaks before, and then get ready for a treat.
Kenny and Brenna, our local Fishhuggers, are at the Los Ranchos farmers' market on Saturday and the Corralles market on Sunday. They offer wild-caught sustainably fished Alaskan salmon, halibut, black cod, and shrimp, and a full line of 100% grass-fed beef. We eat many of their products regularly and can vouch for their deliciousness. You can contact them at www.fishhugger.com. They spend the winter in Phoenix, so check them out in the spring and summer.
Chicken: Pollo Real
In Socorro, Tom and Tracy Delahante raise chickens on pasture in a system of moveable yurts. They taste like the chickens that ran around my farmyard back when I had a farm, which means that they taste like real chicken, with none of the soggy pallidness of so much "free-range" chicken which never really makes it outside, and certainly never eats grass and insects. Pollo Real offers two grades of chicken: the American, which is merely excellent, and the French Red Label, which is meaty, firm, wonderfully flavorful, and everything a chicken can be. Unfortunately they no longer sell at the Albuquerque farmers' markets, but their chicken is worth a trip to the Santa Fe Farmer's market with a cooler and some dry ice. It's offered fresh or frozen in vacuum-sealed bags, and you can choose whole birds or parts. Periodicvally I buy 10 pounds or so of backs and necks and make "beyond organic"stock in large quantities for use in soups, sauces, and all kinds of other things. La Montanita Co-op carries the whole birds fresh, and the Rio Grande location has the parts as well. You can find Tom and Tracy and read more about their operation at www.polloreal.com.
There is a lot of talk these days about whether people should eat any meat. This is a matter of personal choice, and there's enough self-righteousness in the world already without any of us feeling superior or looking down on others for making different food choices. From a health perspective, there's no reason not to eat some meat if you want to. Too much meat is unhealthy (both for you and for the planet), but a small amount is not, especially if it's pastured, grass-fed, or sustainably fished. As far as the ethical issues involved in meat-eating, well, I've been a vegetarian and I can assure you that there are ethical issues involved in being vegetarian and vegan, too. Ironically, a moral issue in non-use of any animal products is: what will happen to the animals if nobody preserves them because there's no market? For eons we have shared our lives with animals, and along the way we've bred some beautiful and rugged breeds and evolved a complex interdependency with domestic animals. Now many of these lovely breeds are becoming threatened, endangered, or extinct. Just read the frantic efforts of wonderful groups like the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy to save them, and you'll realize that the only way to protect them for the future is to raise and harvest them responsibly. The market for full-sized cows, pigs, and sheep as pets will always be minimal, so support farmers who raise these splendid animals, and you'll help livestock genetic diversity be maintained. You can also tailor your meat purchases to support sustainable and planet-friendly practices.
To grow your own chickens and eggs consider a portable coop which is the best-designed I've seen, The Green Egg. This coop has an open bottom so it can be moved around to fresh ground regularly, accomodates four adult hens comfortably, is beauifully constructed, but is lightweight and can be moved by one person. It can be delivered and assembled for you, too. You can arrange to see it or order your coop from Gary at 505-977-7581 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The James Ranch in Durango is actually a cluster of family businesses in the exquisitely lovely Animas Valley, offering grass-fed beef, pastured pork, cheeses from 100% grass-fed cows, and other goodies. We make a yearly trip to Durango and haul home a few coolers full. If packed with some dry ice, they make the trip back to Albuquerque with no trouble. Visit them online at www.jamesranch.net, and remember that every penny you spend there is supporting this beautiful land and keeping it organic and out of the hands of developers. As a bonus, it supports your own health and puts delicious food on your table.