Have you been in a restaurant, deli or market in which the sources of its food and beverages are written on a board or printed somewhere? Pretty cool. These businesses are committed to supporting small, independent producers and, in turn, serving quality, fresh products.
It also spares us from asking where this or that item comes from. But when we ask, we get additional valuable information.
So, the next time you’re at the Flint Farmers Market, ask Nick Hoffman of Hoffman’s Chop Shop where the beef in case comes from.
Okay, I’ll tell you as you’re now overcome with curiosity. Most of It comes from a small operation near Yale in St. Clair County. Most of that is from black angus cattle, which seem to be the default breed for ‘eatin beef.
He should go on to say these cows eat grasses from birth, even in winter when the grass is in the form of harvested silage.
He might say that all beef cattle eat grass for six months to a year, but then those headed for the supermarket are “finished” on grain – probably corn and soy – to fatten them before slaughter at 18-20 months. They may have been given hormones to foster growth or subtherapeutic antibiotic doses to prevent disease, or both.
He could add that the grass-fed and –finished cattle he sources live a full two years or longer because, minus hormones and grain, their growth can’t be rushed.
Hoffman might say that grass-fed beef generally is leaner than that from cattle fed grain and should have a finer texture. He may add that some people prefer the flavor of grain-finished beef.
(You can readily see that the Chop Shop’s beef has fine specks of fat, as opposed to the veins of fat, or marbling, in “regular” beef.)
If you’re still listening, he could say that grass-fed beef contains more protective Omega-3 fatty acids than the grain-eating variety, which is higher in the not-as-beneficial Omega-6’s.
You may conclude that the steaks and roasts in Hoffman’s case are costlier than those at the local Meijer or Kroger’s. That may deter you from buying, or not.
You may seek information from Hoffman other than that which I have covered here, or he may say it better than I have or with more depth (of course).
But the point is you are face-to-face and can grill him (pun intended) as long as he’s not too busy or doesn’t get impatient because you asked the same question twice and feeds you an excuse to step away.
If you have been buying the grass-fed-is-better pitch, Hoffman may go on to tout the merits of dry-aged beef, which is pretty much another conversation.
Regardless, what you have done is participated in a process that seldom happens these days. You have found out where this ever-popular bit of protein has originated, how it has been raised and how a retailer such as Hoffman has handled it.
If you buy some of the Chop Shop’s beef and decide it’s better tasting and healthier than the alternative despite the higher price (probably), the decision also may have stemmed from that conversation with the owner.
Looking around you at the market, you see you have an opportunity to engage in similar dialogue with the other vendors. Some of them don’t grow what they sell, but they ought to be able to tell you about their food.
If you take advantage, you are a different kind of food consumer, the kind that eats with a larger purpose.