When did you last eat a piece of chicken? Do you remember the taste? The texture? Did you enjoy it? If you’d asked me a few years ago, my answer would have been something like “Uh, I think there was some on my pizza last night…” or maybe I’d recall the spicy taste of the fast food chicken sandwich I had for lunch. That was before I learned where our food comes from, before I learned the true price of the 99¢ chicken sandwich.
Now I only eat meat that I purchase from farms that incorporate good animal welfare and environmental sustainability practices. Most of my home-cooked meals are vegetarian or include some seafood. At restaurants, they all are. I thought it would be hard to reduce the amount of meat I was accustomed to eating. I thought that I would miss it. What I found out is that I’d really been missing out all along.
The last time I ate chicken was at Adagia – a high end Berkeley restaurant known for sourcing local organic ingredients. Usually, I would still opt for a vegetarian dish, but I was enjoying an evening out with friends and decided to take them at their word. I told the waitress to bring me whatever the chef thought was the best dish on the menu. The whole chicken breast I received was cooked perfectly: moist and tender with a slightly crispy skin. I savored every bite. I remember it not only because of the friendly company, lively discussion, or fancy ambiance, but because I so rarely eat meat. I have a new appreciation that, I think, is more appropriate given that an animal had to be killed for me to consume that wonderful meal.
These feelings have changed the way I experience home-cooked meals as well. My husband and I pay a lot more for each cut of meat we buy, so we take extra care in preparing them. Rather than carelessly throwing some “weekly special” ground beef into our pasta sauce to add a little protein, we make a date night out of preparing and eating our dinner. We chop vegetables while discussing our day, pour some wine while the aromas from the stove or oven begin to permeate the house. It’s a time to reconnect and relax. And when we finally sit down to enjoy our dinner, the care we put into the meal really comes through.
This week we have the special opportunity to host a Thanksgiving dinner for our friends and family. At a time set aside for gratitude and appreciation, we feel strongly about how this meal should be created. Our turkey was raised on a pasture, cared for by Bill and Nicolette Niman, the original owners of Niman Ranch – and the people responsible for the good reputation that perhaps no longer applies. BN Ranch worked with Marin Sun Farms to make ethically-raised heritage turkeys available to the public.
We picked up our turkey at the Marin Sun Farms booth at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco on Saturday along with beef bones we used to make broth and chicken livers for my mother’s traditional stuffing. We also bought mixed greens, squash, potatoes, and other root vegetables from Heirloom Organic Gardens, and Brussels sprouts, apples, and turnips from various other vendors from farms located within about 100 miles of the city. Eggs and additional veggies were delivered in our first CSA box from Eatwell Farms. We rounded out our list with a trip to J.E. Perry Farms, then Trader Joe’s, and finally to Safeway for cornstarch and allspice berries.
When we sit down for our Thanksgiving meal tomorrow, I’m sure we will feel grateful for the many good things we are lucky enough to have in our lives. Moreover, we can thank the farmers responsible for providing us with such a bountiful harvest. We can thank them because we know who they are and how hard they worked to create this food. And isn’t that the true spirit of Thanksgiving after all?