September 4, 2008 in Voices

Where’s the beef? It’s in my freezer

Cindy Hval Staff writer
 

My husband, Derek, came home from work a few weeks ago and announced, “I bought half a cow.” When he saw my horrified look, he hastened to add, “Don’t worry, I said I wanted the smallest half.”

In an effort to cut our mounting grocery bill, Derek decided to purchase beef in bulk. Of course, I had a few questions. Half a cow? Which half? The front half or the back? And who has the other half?

Rising food prices are no joke when you’ve got four sons to feed. There’s not one vegetarian among us and meat isn’t cheap. At my local grocery store ground beef ranges in price from $2.79 to $3.29 per pound. And if we get a hankering for steak, a family-pack of T-bones costs $8.99 a pound.

We eat several meatless meals each week, but our boys like their beef. And Derek, being a true hunter and gatherer, was determined to make sure his family gets their Sunday pot roast. The cow, which is actually a steer, was raised by Kelly Beechinor of Elk. He raises eight to 13 head of cattle each year and sells the beef to friends and family members.

This means our family of carnivores is now also locavores. A locavore is someone who tries to eat only locally grown foods. You can’t get more local than cattle raised in Elk, Wash. According to the Green Living Tips Web site, “The locavore movement also believes the distance our food travels means we are separated from the knowledge of how and by whom what we consume is produced, processed and transported. By focusing on obtaining local foods, we gain more familiarity with it.”

In the interest of familiarity, I called Beechinor to learn more about our beef. He said he typically buys the steers when they are 6 months old and newly weaned from their mothers. “They weigh around 600 pounds,” he said. Then they live a life of bovine bliss, eating shucked corn, grain and all the hay they can nibble. Basically, they lie around and eat and sleep.

When the cattle reach 12 to 16 months, it’s time to call Reedy’s Custom Meats, also in Elk. They do the messy work. Beechinor said they come out to his property and slaughter and skin the cattle, and take what isn’t edible to the rendering plant. It was at this point in our conversation that I realized I was becoming more familiar than I wanted to be with my food. Hearing about a cute little fellow being hand-fed is one thing. But I’d begun thinking of our steer as Buddy. It’s probably not a good idea to name your food.

Reedy’s ages the beef about 12 days, and then they package it according to their customer’s wishes. When they’d done their work, it was time for me to do mine. I had to decide how I wanted 298 pounds of beef divided. How many pounds of ground beef? In what size packages? How many roasts? What about those T-bones and how about some stew meat? The helpful folks at Reedy’s talked me through the process.

So on a sunny Saturday afternoon we took a scenic drive to bucolic Elk to pick up our meat. Our 8-year-old son, Sam, came along for the ride. “I’ve never bought half a cow before,” he said cheerfully.

I must confess, the sight of Reedy’s mobile slaughtering truck parked just outside the building gave me pause. But soon my mind was on other things. Derek paid for the beef, and he and Sam started tossing steaks, hamburger and roasts into the boxes we’d brought with us. The meat was carefully labeled and fully frozen so there was no worry about spoilage or confusion as to what parts were which.

Another plus to the locavore lifestyle is being able to support local businesses. Reedy’s is a family-owned business that’s been in operation seven years. Ed Reedy helped us load the meat into our car, and his son, Ryan, offered helpful information. In addition to beef, they slaughter hogs and smoke bacon and hams for their customers. They make sausage, jerky and pepperoni as well.

Soon we were on our way home. “I wonder what our cow’s name was?” Sam queried.

“Buddy,” I said with confidence.

After filling our freezer with 298 pounds of beef, I found myself wondering what the bigger half of the steer looked like. I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder stocking provisions for a long winter. We may not be able to afford milk, bread or produce, but by golly we’ve got beef. And if anyone wants to know where the beef is, I’ll be happy to introduce them to Buddy. He’s what’s for dinner.

Contact correspondent Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com.

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