During a pork roast dinner with my parents on the farm 15 or so years ago, my father issued one of only two edicts I recall him ever uttering.
Yuck. “This pork doesn’t even look like pork,” he said with more sadness than anger.
“I don’t want the other white meat; I want the other red meat. From now on we buy all our pork from Miller’s,” a local butcher who bought hogs from Dad’s cousin Jimmy, “because we know it.”
And so it has been ever since for the original slow food Lutherans, my parents – at least when it comes to pork.
But Dad’s buy-local order wasn’t without precedent. Years before, his other edict centered on food, too.
“Store-bought” chicken was banned from the Sunday dinner table because “these big factories,” he explained, never cleaned the mass-slaughtered birds to his satisfaction.
Since we didn’t have any cousins who raised broilers, shortly thereafter Dad went to his buddy’s feed store in town and bought 100 mail order chicks for us to raise right, butcher correctly and consume weekly.
Red meat. Over the last five or so years, I’ve kindly suggested a similar proclamation to the lovely Catherine: I will buy the red meat for our table since I’m the only one at our table that eats red meat.
And yet, at least once a month, some supermarket “meat specialist” puts some cleverly packaged, corporately named cut of beef or pork in her path and I end up with an oddly shaped slab called flat-iron steak or anemic pork chop so pale you could read a newspaper through it.
It happened again last Saturday. As I unpacked the groceries she bought that morning, a single, shrink-wrapped rib-eye winked at me from the bottom of the paper sack.
Hmm, you fell off the meat wagon again, I sighed.
“I know, I know,” she said in an already prepared defense, “but it looked so good I couldn’t pass it up.”
A real steal. Having pinched the beard off Lincoln pennies for 31 years with her, I knew exactly what had caught her eye: its price, a bit under $4. These days, a rib-eye under $4 is a real steal.
It’s also really small, less than a half-pound, and, just as the tiny print on the label confirmed, its grade was “select,” not “prime” or “choice.”
“Select” is USDA’s code for “Hello, sucker” – beef from the bottom half of the global barrel.
My grumbling about another roll-the-dice rib-eye grew when a package of four, pre-fab, ghostly pink burgers popped up in a second sack. Sunday night found the suspicious rib-eye still cooling in the refrigerator.
“You’re really not looking forward to that steak, are you?” Catherine asked.
My eyes remained fixed on my choice, even prime, crossword puzzle.
Lamentations. “It’s just so hard to buy meat,” she went on. “I mean, you’ve told me over and over that prime is best, choice is next best and select means ‘keep walking.’ But ‘select’ sounds better than ‘choice,’ doesn’t it?”
Thirty-two across: upscale pancake. Crepe.
“I told some friends a couple of weeks ago what you always say about the quality grades,” she continued on her solitary road, “and they e-mailed the other day to say they looked for them when they went shopping and couldn’t believe how hard it was to find ‘choice.’ They said they never knew the difference.”
Forty-four down: Heineken bottle symbol. Star.
Thanks. “They also asked me to tell you thanks.”
Twenty-eight across: pub pastime. Darts.
“You’re right; since you are the one eating it, you should buy your meat.”
Ninety-two across: sublime. The lovely Catherine.
Hey, when she’s right, she’s right.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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