Wednesday, November 25, 2009
What food really costs
So last Friday was "turkey d-day" here at the farm. Yes, THAT day. I never quite know what to call it. Most people say they are "processing" birds, but really we are butchering them. Another semantic adjustment to help our little psyches from wholesale collapse, I guess. I do end up saying "processing" to our customers. I don't want to shock them or fill them with horror, but we are killing the birds for the human's dinner. Slaughter, prepare, carve, cut up, dress, cut, clean, joint are all synonyms for 'butcher'. I suppose it doesn't help that the word means both "to kill for food" and "to kill cruelly". Perhaps 'dress' is the best word? We dressed the turkeys. Well, we did that after we slaughtered them. But 'dress' sounds very classy.
So last Friday my friend Mary and I dressed several of the turkeys that Barry has been raising since April. Luck was on my side in that Barry got a last minute emergency landscaping job and had to be gone for the day. I think that really was the best thing. He has gotten very attached to the turkeys. He knows each by their personality and says they all look different. Hmmm.
The day was long and difficult. Mary and I are both animal lovers, and we recognize clearly what it means to raise and kill an animal. We don't like to do it, but we must do it. And we do it with as much grace and respect as we can muster. Quick, clean and humane are right up there as well.
Turkeys are big birds. Even though ours are Heritage Blue Slate turkeys, and don't get as big as the supermarket birds, a couple of the toms were pushing 20 pounds. It took us the best part of a day to dress just half our turkeys (we saved back six for a breeding trio and Christmas dinners). I have a new respect for my grandmother and the other women who kept their families fed. They did what we did, often alone, and without electricity or refrigeration.
We sold all our turkeys, but had one whose owner 'forgot' to pick up theirs. It was a 15# tom, great for a large family. I suspect from our conversation that the customer did not expect the turkey to cost as much as it did. We charge $7.00/lb for our turkey. Yes, that is a lot of money! But guess what? The turkey you buy at the store for $.69/lb is NOT the turkey we raised, nor do we want it so. We aren't trying to market to everyone, but to people who really want to know exactly where their food is raised, how it has lived, how it was killed and that it is a sustainable piece of agriculture, not the current industrial monstrosity in which we are trapped. Our turkeys really DID lead happy, free lives on our pasture. They got to mix with chickens and ducks and humans; they ate organic grain and bugs and grass; they were talked to every day by a Welshman; they were slaughtered quickly and humanely and the only traveling they did was from the pasture to our refrigerator. For all you who "just want food, not philosophy", go to Publix or Kroger or where ever. I love knowing where my food comes from and how it was treated. That $7/lb will pay for their upkeep and some of my labor. What kind of pay out do you think that $.69/lb turkey gives to the farmer/processor/packager/store? You have to raise a LOT of turkeys at that price to get any return. Millions of turkeys, I think. I'll stick with what we are doing, even if it ends up that we are the only ones who eat them. I like the cost factor for me better.
Oh, and in case that isn't enough--this was THE BEST tasting turkey I have ever cooked. I have heard the same from a couple of our customers, too. There is not comparison between what we have raised and what you can get for super cheap in the store, both in style and taste. That makes it all worth it for us.