Today’s LA Times headlined a report in which the “State urges schools ban suspect beef” due to allegations that a National School Lunch Program Supplier was sending out beef from weak or ill cattle. The Humane Society had video taped workers using forklifts & water hoses to move the ill and weak beasts to their final death march. It seems that there are some people who have become so calloused that this sort of messed-up treatment of animals doesn’t bother them. Then on the opposite end there are those for whom the awareness of such poor ethics toward the beef we eat will make them swear off meat all together. Outraged by the atrocities they perceive, they vow to never touch any beef ever again. I can’t fault them for their reactions, however I feel that their decisions to swear off beef is excessive due to the fact that there are two vastly different ways of raising cattle. There is feed lot cattle and then there are naturally raised cattle. I can almost guarantee that this tainted beef was from the former, and for our state to be using beef from these type of businesses (I can not consider them ranches) to feed our children is sickening. The thought of it makes my stomach flip and my nerves bristle. However, to assume that all cattle is raised the same is too much of a generalization to base one’s feelings about eating beef. Allow me a moment to share the perspective of one who grew up on a cattle ranch.
“Susie” – Dad’s Current Cow Dog
Growing up, we ran thousands of cattle on tens of thousands of acres. That may seem to be a huge ranch to some, but it is actually considered a smaller ranch. I’ve witnessed every part of the bovine’s life from before they were born until after their death. Ours were not feedlot cattle, wallowing in their own shit, fed whatever cheap grains would make them grow enough, and never seeing grass except for maybe across the road. Our cattle spent three seasons being shuffled from pasture to pasture, casually grazing their fair days away then during winter they were fed alfalfa hay cultivated from our land. Now don’t be misguided, their lives weren’t without some trauma. They were branded and tagged, steers were castrated (without any anesthesia, ouch!), we’d lose a few weaker cows or calves to coyotes or the occasional cougar, and there was times of foul weather to deal with. But in reflecting upon their lives, I would say they were provided for better than what Mother Nature usually issues for it’s critters. There would almost always be some late fall calves that we’d nurse in a side room of the house because the elements were too harsh and they probably wouldn’t have survived otherwise. In spring there would be the ones that were hand-fed every day because their mother’s didn’t make it through birthing. I can still smell the sweet, warm formula that we’d mix & feed them, even though it has been about 20 years since I’ve experienced it. With these naturally raised cattle, there was a dignity and compassion to their lives. Yes, eventually they would be sent off and slaughtered, but is that much different than how most any creature in Mother Nature’s kingdom meets it’s demise? Most don’t die of old age, you know.
I, of course, enjoy eating beef. However, compassion in life is important to me, and I want to know that that which has given up it’s life for me to consume has been shown compassion the way that our cattle were. I do not want to support someone who has helped bring a life of misery to nature’s creatures merely to turn a profit (ie. feed lot cattle barons.) It doesn’t matter if the meat is cheap and on sale and monies are tight, as I would rather less frequently eat properly raised beef than more often eat that which has been shabbily raised. I want to know where my beef came from. Now, there are those who don’t believe one should take the life of any creature for our own gain. I have no qualms with their views because I believe we each have to decide in our own hearts what we view as moral and then act upon those beliefs. However, we also have to understand morality is a matter of perspective and opinion, and allow for each other’s differences of view point on morality. I won’t preach my morality to someone & I expect the same in return. What I do have issues with are those who are ambivalent to or participate in that which they view as immoral. To see something as bad, and to still continue to do it or just choose to ignore the foul deeds are lowly acts of mankind. Going to the supermarket and buying the cheap beef even if you know it comes from a miserable environment is as bad as those who raise the cattle merely as a commodity without care or compassion. If you don’t know where the beef you are eating comes from, find out. Only you are responsible for eliminating your ignorance. I hope someday our societies will someday progress beyond this sort of floundering, but for today I pray that we each as individuals chose to make the choices we feel are right within our hearts.
Getting back to the beef, for me these choices mean finding naturally raised beef. Usually it isn’t the cheapest out there, but it is worth it. Beyond the conscience, it just tastes better and is more tender. I usually won’t buy the best cut except for special occasions, but even the lesser cuts of meat can be fantastic. By learning a few techniques for sauces or using some different cooking techniques, a cook can create a wonderful meal without a huge cost. Buy the lesser cuts of a quality steer, and you can eat like a king without ransoming the kingdom.
Whiskey Flat Iron Steaks
The flat iron steak come from the shoulder of the steer and usually tends to be fairly inexpensive, yet it is very tasty and considered to be the second most tender cut (tenderloin being #1.) This recipe can work with many other cuts from hanger steaks to filet mignon. Try substituting different alcohols and use different stocks to see what you like the best. Find some naturally raised beef and enjoy.
2 flat iron steaks
1/2 c beef stock
1/4 c + 1 T whiskey
1 T butter
1 T cream (optional)
fresh cracked pepper
1. Heat a solid saute pan until it’s smokin’ hot. Turn down the heat to medium-high, sprinkle pan with sea salt & fresh cracked pepper, then place the steaks on pan. Sprinkle top of steaks with more sea salt & pepper. Cook each side until done to your preference, usually about 4 min. each side for medium rare. Try not to burn anything on the pan as that will later ill-flavor the sauce. (meat cooking tip: every time you cook meat, press it with your finger to feel how much it is done. The meat firms up the more it is cooked. You’ll soon be able to judge the meat perfectly by touch)
2. Remove the steaks from the pan and put aside to rest. (we prefer to tent it with aluminum foil & place in a slightly warm oven.) Add stock to pan and scrape all the tidbits leftover from cooking the steaks. Pour in the 1/4 c of whiskey, put the pan back on the cooktop and reduce the sauce until it coats the back of a spoon. Be careful towards end because the sauce will go from runny, to perfect, to burnt in a very short time. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the remaining 1 T of whiskey, 1 T of butter, and 1 T of cream (optional). Season to taste with additional salt and fresh cracked pepper.
3. Pour a spoonful or so of the sauce over each of the steak and enjoy.
Try your hand at similar sauces using cognac or brandy, or make a sauce using the same techniques with red wine, although I would probably leave out the cream for the wine variation.