So as I was pondering the next blog topic, I began thinking about my last crabbing trip. It is a fine Maryland tradition to have these delicious, but disgusting looking, critters steamed and covered in Old Bay. They are synonymous with the arrival of summertime proper and their activity (and therefore “catchability”) increases as the days get hotter. All you need to do to catch them is grab some chicken necks, and use either pots or string to catch your crabs off of a public pier. Success varies, but for the most part you will bring home enough to at least supplement your dinner, especially if you have all day to spend on the water.
Why then, my Maryland friends, are people paying $50 a dozen or more at local restaurants and stands for blue crabs (some of which were sourced in from the Gulf, and passed off as “Maryland” crabs)? I think the answer is, unfortunately, that we have lost touch with our food…the “missing link” in the food chain as we understand it is now the “restaurant or grocery store”. I don’t know many folks that catch their own food, let alone even understand where the food that arrives in restaurants and stores even comes from.
To be honest, I never gave it a second thought before a few years ago. Want steak? Buy steak. Well steak comes from a cow, and if you are buying that steak at a chain grocery store, it most likely came from a cow that lived in a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or some other type of industrial cattle operation. These are not happy places, and happy cows definitely do not come from a CAFO. Being paleo, we do eat a lot of beef at our house and we cannot afford to eat grass-fed beef yet, but we would like to transition to it one day, hopefully sooner than later. I do think about that when I buy our beef, and I wish that there were alternatives that were more readily available and affordable, both for health reasons (grass-fed beef has a much better Omega-3 fatty acid profile) and for environmental/humane reasons.
If you give some thought to where the food comes from, I think the next step is to actually visit where your food comes from. This can actually be a really cool experience, depending on where you decide to go (if you go to a CAFO, it is not going to be pleasant). I know of quite a few farms in the Central Maryland area that have pick-your-own options, and it is pretty cool to go out into a field with the family and grab the fruits and veggies off of the vine or tree, in season, and bring them home to incorporate into your meal. Obviously most of us don’t have the time to do this everyday, but an occasional trip gets you out there to see and experience where it is coming from. Not too long ago we went to South Mountain Creamery, a local farm and dairy processing facility. We were lucky enough to visit when it was time to feed the calves, and got the opportunity to actually do it ourselves! I remember the moment when I looked into the eyes of the animal that was excited to be fed by me (and was ridiculously cute), and realized “one day you will be butchered, and I will eat you”. It sounds harsh, and it is, but we should know that it is harsh. That is the reality, if you are an omnivore like us. The take-away message from the trip was that this is how it should be, in terms of how the animals are raised and treated. The cows at South Mountain Creamery are (quoted from their website) “pasture raised and grass fed right here on our farm. We do not spray the fields with any pesticides but may use organic fertilizers from time to time.” That is why we’re working towards one day being able to use grass-fed pastured beef and dairy products exclusively.
Of course, the most in touch you can be with your food is to hunt, gather, grow, or catch it yourself. There are not many people who have time to do this with all of their food, and we usually see them on some Nat Geo show if they do, but you can certainly do this with some of your food. I know quite a few people that raise their own chickens (I don’t think our Homeowner’s Association would be down with that though) or grow their own veggies, and know a number of hunters and fisherman. I enjoy fishing and crabbing with my family, and we eat what we catch. I will say that it was an enlightening experience the first time I brought home fish to clean. I had to actually watch a YouTube video on how to clean the fish, and then when I was finally ready to put the filet knife to it, it was so recently caught that it jumped, and I screamed like a little girl. Yes, I admit it. I didn’t do a very good job, and subsequently didn’t end up with much fish to actually enjoy, but I knew I would do better next time. The important part was that I got to have my “I see you brother” Avatar-esque moment with my food. It was a real living critter until I plucked it from it’s habitat and brought it to my cutting board. The experience made me appreciate what I have to eat, even when I haven’t been actively involved in bringing it to the table.