by Amy Saltzman
“Running around like a chicken with its head cut off” was never just a metaphor to me. I grew up on a farm, and I learned to kill and dress chickens as early as I could safely wield a knife. At five, I thought headless chickens were fun to watch; my cousins and I lined up our lawn chairs to spectate every time my grandma brought out her hatchet. At 10, I was pressed into service. At 19, I became a vegetarian. Recently, my friends have been surprised to learn that this vegetarian is also a member of a meat CSA.
Let me explain: I grew up in Iowa. My mom always grew a huge garden, we had fruit trees, both sets of my grandparents raised cattle, and it was not unusual to buy half a hog from a neighbor or butcher a deer on the kitchen table. While we certainly didn’t produce all our own food, most of it came from this casually local and (sometimes) organic food system that I took for granted. (Make no mistake, though: my parents more closely resemble homesteaders than hippies, and they are meat and potatoes folks.)
As I was growing up, the landscape around my family’s farm was changing. Low hog prices in the 90s drove virtually all independent producers out of business; my grandparents sold their herd of cattle and much of the pasture land was plowed under for planting row crops. Farms in our area got bigger but the county schools got smaller.
I wasn’t constantly observing these changes, of course, but during a summer research gig at Iowa State, something clicked. I interviewed several Iowa farmers about their production systems, and I understood for the first time how contract animal production and vertically integrated grain production had changed the landscape of my home state. Formerly diversified farmers were now rotating “corn, soybeans, and Florida,” and formerly independent hog producers were now contract growers for one of the big four pork companies. Farmers were merely responding to changing market forces (many of which were driven by changing federal farm policy), so I decided that I would not participate in this market. By the end of the summer, I knew enough about CAFOs and animal processing to give up the industrial meat system.
To appease my meat-and-potatoes parents, I said, “I’ll only eat meat if I know where it comes from.” This meant, in practicality, that I became a vegetarian. First as a poor college student and later a euphemistically titled “young professional” in DC, I learned what tempeh was and how to spice up legumes. I ate a lot of farmers market eggs. I still ate meat once in a while – usually while at home in Iowa – but I never purchased meat or cooked it in my home. I was too stubborn to buy industrial meat from the grocery store, but was without disposable income to buy meat that I felt comfortable eating. In the past few years, I occasionally skimmed through Chowhound threads on sustainable small farm meat available in the Washington, D.C. area, but never found the right producer for meat in a small quantity, at a reasonable price, that was delivered locally.
And then, as I was strolling through my farmers market in Bloomingdale last summer, a booth advertising a meat CSA caught my eye. I chatted a bit with the market volunteer, picked up a brochure, and headed to the North Mountain Pastures website when I got home. I liked what I saw – young people raising pastured livestock in a thoughtful and transparent way. I liked the open invitation to “visit the farm at any time” (although, full disclosure, I’ve not yet visited). I liked that meat “shares” came in various sizes, and that they were delivered monthly to the farmers market nearest my house. Although I did not decide to join the CSA right away, I convinced myself that as a slightly-less-young professional, it was time for me to vote with my food dollar for a system I do believe in. I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations and decided that the ~$7/pound price was, to me, worth the cost.
I was a CSA member for portion of the season last year, and I’ve just received my first delivery for this season, which runs from February to June. This month, my share contained:
- 0.9 lbs chicken tenders (strips of breast meat)
- 2.84 lbs pork tenderloin
- 2.41 lbs beef short ribs
- 4 lb whole chicken
I consider myself fairly adept in the kitchen, but since I’ve been a vegetarian most of my adult life, I never really learned to cook meat. My befuddlement is compounded because I often end up with cuts that I would never choose to buy, and find myself googling “beef shank recipes.” I enjoy the challenge, but until I get better at this whole cooking-meat thing, I aim for simple, non-fussy recipes that use things I already have in my kitchen. The following roast chicken recipe was enthusiastically received at a recent Sunday supper club I hosted, and I suspect this month’s bird may meet the same fate. I particularly like this recipe because the bird and the vegetables all go in the same dish, imbuing the veggies with delicious chicken goodness and leaving minimal dishes to clean up.
Roast chicken (for a former vegetarian)
- 1 roasting chicken
- Salt and pepper
- 1 bunch fresh herbs (oregano, rosemary, or thyme work well)
- 1 lemon, halved
- 1 head garlic, peeled
- 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
- Seasonal vegetables that will stand up to roasting (I used 1 large yellow onion, 4 turnips, and 2 carrots, all cut into 2-inch chunks)
- Olive oil
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Remove any chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of herbs, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper.
Toss the vegetables with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top, tucking the wing tips under the body of the chicken.
Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes before serving.
(Adapted from Ina Garten’s Perfect Roast Chicken.)
Amy Saltzman is an avid gardener and cook in DC. She is a member of the Lancaster County Farm Fresh and North Mountain Pastures CSAs.