Meals in 2018 are a simple process. Pick your poison – fast food, sit-down restaurant, ready-made meals at the grocery store – and you’re golden. Food today comes in outrageously simplistic packages from pre-cut, pre-peeled, pre-packaged apples to sliced-and-diced, single-serving pickles.
Whatever you want is available, effort-free. This includes meat, which can be purchased as an entire roast, cubed for stew, or ground for tacos. Meat is sold pre-seasoned, pre-mixed with veggies, and pre-cooked. And now here we are with an entire generation believing meat comes in Styrofoam, plastic-wrapped packages rather than on the hoof.
It isn’t that people no longer eat meat; they do. In fact, studies from multiple sources show only 3% of Americans are vegetarians and approximately 0.5% are vegan (one study carried out by a vegetarian group claimed 6% of Americans are vegetarians; even that is an unimpressive number). Psychologists also say even those numbers are inflated due to the disconnect between what people claim to eat and what they actually put in their mouths. You get the idea. We are a nation of carnivores, hear us feast.
Friend and fellow outdoor writer Kevin Creighton recently went on his first hog hunt, after which he posted the following observations on Facebook:
Watching the skinning/quartering process is essential to the experience… It is my sincere belief that Americans have no idea the amount of effort needed to raise the food we eat, which is why we have a problem with obesity. All it takes for us to eat is money. A hunt will set you straight in such things right quickly, as you’ll soon find out it takes WORK to stalk, shoot, quarter, and then butcher a hog.
No truer words. Over the years – okay, decades – I’ve received a substantial education in the time and effort required for not only a successful hunt but the processing of meat after the shot’s fired.
As a self-taught hunter I discovered early on the dedication and skill it takes to process meat with the smallest loss possible of edible meat. I’m faster today than I was back then but it still takes an enormous chunk of time to get meat squared away. It also takes quality knives, an awesome meat grinder – God bless Weston – and a Foodsaver. Oh, and Leggs Seasoning. Yum.
In the last two weeks my Weston grinder and I have churned through five feral hogs, a handful of turkeys, and a couple of deer, the latter of which have been frozen awaiting my attention since December. Because it isn’t the skinning and quartering that’s such a chore, it’s the meticulous removal of slippery silver and numerous layers of tendons and fat.
Never have I been more grateful for the quality and power of my Weston Commercial Meat Grinder than after seven hours of nonstop slicing, dicing, and grinding (only to hit “repeat” the next day). Grinding by hand or having a lesser-quality electric grinder crap out mid-process would be more than my black heart could take.
The haters who are so easily angered by images of hunting have a major disconnect in their brains regarding where their plastic-wrapped meat comes from. They don’t understand how much healthier a free-range, wildly-organic – see what I did there – deer is compared to their farm-raised cow. Even so-called organic farm animals can’t hold a clean-eating candle to the awesomeness of the meat I cut from a stack of feral hogs last week.
Think on this: butchers and grocery stores charge extra for what they label “grass-fed” beef. Wait, what? Don’t cows eat grass normally? Well, yeah, but the majority of meat in grocery stores is from feedlot cattle.
Say hello to genetically-modified grains, antibiotics, and heaven knows what else. That’s why so many people fork out an average of $3 more per sixteen-ounce package for the grass-fed stuff. Studies show grass-fed beef is lower in fat and cholesterol because, guess what, cows wandering pastures and grazing are leaner, healthier, and far less likely to get sick and need staggering doses of antibiotics.
You know what’s even better? The meat from deer, hogs, turkeys, and other animals running quite literally wild and free. There’s a catch, though: you have to go out and shoot them and process the meat.
I have a theory, and it’s one I suspect many of you will agree with. People are lazy. We as a culture view hard labor as abhorrent and feel the idea of bloodying our hands and wrenching our backs in order to put a meal on the table is horribly vulgar. Better someone else do the dirty work even if it means our food is not as healthy, right? Wrong.
Teach someone how to process a deer (or a hog, turkey, duck, antelope, bear; whatever). Teach your kids to do it; don’t stop at taking your kid hunting, teach them to process the meat, too. I beg you.
When I’ve casually asked friends and colleagues whether they process their own meat from hunts or pay someone else to do it, most of them admit they don’t do it themselves. The excuses range from how long it takes to their simply not knowing how to do it. They’re just excuses, though.
Time can be taken and skills can be learned. Because, guess what? A sad number of meat-processing places for hunters don’t give you your specific animal back. They hand over the estimated weight from already-processed meat. (Plus, when the zombie apocalypse hits, you want to be able to eat that deer you hunt with pointy sticks, don’t you?)
Take some pride in your hunt and do it yourself. It’s well worth the work. It’s worth it to me, anyway. Not much is more satisfying than watching red ropes of meat fall from my grinder – okay, so it’s even better when it’s finally sizzling in a pan. Use the #fieldtoplate hashtag properly by doing it all yourself, beginning to end. I’m calling you out. Do the work. You’ll be glad you did.