I live in the state that has the highest level of Covid-19 infection in America, amongst meat packing plant workers.
Meat has always been one of those things that I just don’t think too much about. I have six people to feed: my husband and I, our fifteen-year-old daughter, my husband’s parents, and a friend who lives with us.
It’s easier and, to be frank, cheaper to just pretend it’s not an issue.
We’re not vegetarians and it’s expensive to buy the fancy organic, locally raised stuff — so I just buy grocery store meat and, like I said, I just don’t think about it. At least, that’s been my policy all of my adult life.
Now, though? I can’t not think about it anymore.
Because people are literally dying so that I can have cheap meat. And the news is full of information about meat packing plants that I really can’t unsee. And in a time when it can be so hard to know what to do to help, this is one place where we can make a difference.
So, my family isn’t buying meat or eggs from commercial plants anymore.
Full stop. We won’t be requiring anyone to work at a commercial meat or egg packing plant to feed us anymore.
The first thing I did was reach out on Facebook to see if anyone knew of someone who might have backyard-chicken eggs to sell. I found a woman who offered to deliver a dozen a week to me for $10 a month.
Score! That’s about $1 a dozen more than grocery store eggs, but super affordable and well worth it.
Plus the egg lady is a writer, which is a double score. We’re going to be friends, I can feel it.
Our freezer is full of meat right now — we’ll finish eating that. When that’s done, we’ll start buying meat from a butcher in the next little town over that sells locally raised meat.
This is far, far more expensive than we’re used to. It’s going to mean a shift from the idea that we can eat meat as the main part of every dinner to meat being something we think harder about, and manage a little differently.
It’s going to take some work to make this shift.
When I took a look at our grocery pick-up order, my husband had added sandwich meat and hot dogs to our cart. I told him we had to take them out and it took him a full minute to process that ‘meat’ doesn’t just mean roasts and chicken and steaks.
We wanted to grill steaks for Mother’s Day — a tradition in our family. That’s what led to today’s trip to the butcher. Instead of $5 or $6 per pound for sirloin steaks, he paid $15 a pound.
So we got one two-pound steak for the six of us, instead of six half-pound steaks. It still cost twice as much as we’re used to. Meat will be a treat — a few ounces of taste on our plates, instead of the half-pound center of them.
And steak will have to be something we save for special occasions, instead of something we grill every week all summer long. We’ll add more vegetables to fill our plates.
And that’s okay.
It’s healthier, for sure. And it’s the way, perhaps, that things should be.
I’m unwilling to require people to work in dangerous conditions so that I can buy cheap meat to feed my family. Maybe meat isn’t supposed to be that inexpensive. Maybe it never was supposed to be.
It goes deeper than meat, of course. One thing I’ve learned in the last couple of months is just how interconnected everything is.
I’ll be paying more attention to local food sources this summer than I ever have before. Because it’s not just trendy or healthier — I believe it’s going to be essential. There are already reports of food supply chain problems that have not been a problem before in my lifetime.
We don’t have a local CSA available to us. But we have local farmers. And I plan to purchase bulk produce when I can to preserve for the winter. I practiced with strawberry jam and pickle jalapeños today. I was able to buy several pounds of cucumbers at a good price this week and I’ll be pickling those next.
If you want more information about food and food supply chains, the best book I know on the subject is Independence Days by Sharon Asktyk. I highly recommend it.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation, Rebel Nation, The Astonishing Maybe, and Center of Gravity. She is the original Ninja Writer.