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Sustainable Barbeque


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[Moderator's Note: This has been split from the Heartland Gathering 2009 topic. - CH]

I'd like some input on Sunday's breakfast/brunch.  I'm willing to trust the bill-of-fare to our hosts unless someone has a really strong yen for/aversion to anything.  They should have a good variety of the usual heirloom suspects at that time of year.  And, knowing Chef Crum, there will be some Berkshire goodness thrown into the mix.

I'm really sorry to be missing out on most of the gathering, but its for good reason - I'll be in NY helping Big Country with his Beard dinner. I will be back in time for the brunch though and helping Dave with the cooking. The mention of "Berkshire goodness" above reminds me that I'm two months into a lardo cure that should be ready to debut at the brunch. But the mention of Berkshire pork also brings up something that has been troubling me and I'd like to hear what you all think about it...

Why do so many of us who support sustainable local and regional food systems and oppose factory farms look the other way when it comes to barbecue? I love KC barbecue passionately; I think it is a defining characteristic of our city's culture and who we are as a people, and I think it needs to be a feature of the Heartland Gathering. But I'm also increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of recommending CAFO pork to out of town visitors when it is something I would never serve them myself. At Lydia's, Bluestem, the farmers markets you visit saturday, and certainly at the Crum's farm you will be eating humanely raised, hormone and anti-biotic free meats and locally grown, mostly organic vegetables, so why do we expect (and accept) less of barbecue joints? Why do we give them a pass? And Stroud's too for that matter- how good would their food be if they used real free-range birds. How good would LC's and Bryant's and OK Joes be if they served pork from heritage breeds raised naturally on family farms from our region? And how much better would we feel about eating it? Anyway, I've been wanting to say something about this and I hope some of you will chime in with opinions/ideas/solutions.

Thanks to the planners for representing KC so well, and I look forward to meeting you all out at the farm.

Edited by Chris Hennes (log)

"As far as cuisine is concerned one must read everything, see everything, hear everything, try everything, observe everything, in order to retain, in the end, just a little bit!"

F. Point

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I really want to reply to this and i don't know how yet.......I compleatly agree but i cannot throw any of these people under the bus......let this marinate.......morning maybe :hmmm:

“Nobody can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own." - Sydney J. Harris

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I have been stewing about this all day.....

“Nobody can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own." - Sydney J. Harris

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Why do so many of us who support sustainable local and regional food systems and oppose factory farms look the other way when it comes to barbecue?  I love KC barbecue passionately; I think it is a defining characteristic of our city's culture and who we are as a people, and I think it needs to be a feature of the Heartland Gathering.  But I'm also increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of recommending CAFO pork to out of town visitors when it is something I would never serve them myself.  At Lydia's, Bluestem, the farmers markets you visit saturday, and certainly at the Crum's farm you will be eating humanely raised, hormone and anti-biotic free meats and locally grown, mostly organic vegetables, so why do we expect (and accept) less of barbecue joints?  Why do we give them a pass?  And Stroud's too for that matter- how good would their food be if they used real free-range birds.  How good would LC's and Bryant's and OK Joes be if they served pork from heritage breeds raised naturally on family farms from our region?  And how much better would we feel about eating it?  Anyway, I've been wanting to say something about this and I hope some of you will chime in with opinions/ideas/solutions.

Oh man, great question. For me personally, I'm definitely guilty of buying the best/local/sustainable stuff when cooking for myself or a few people, but when I do bbq for a bunch of people I go with whichever store has the best sale on ribs, pork, brisket etc. due to the cost. Excellent topic though.....reminds me of the conundrum I bring up with many of my extremely conservative friends and family who are "Biblical literalists" who rant about how you can't be gay, but will discuss the topic over giant vats of food and conveniently forget about what the Bible says about gluttony...

Back on topic.....trying to figure out what I can make for the gathering in the midst of all this radical job drama and soon to be newlywed madness...... will continue to ponder the "lazy yet tasty" possibilities.....

Jerry

Kansas City, Mo.

Unsaved Loved Ones

My eG Food Blog- 2011

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Just to throw something out here....... maybe at some point we'll begin seeing sustainable/cruelty-free bbq popping up....I only bring it up to include the origins of modern American bbq in the discussion. It was created out of necessity by poor people using some of the tougher, cheapest cuts of meat. I don't have an answer to the main question by any stretch of the imagination, because on one hand I would LOVE to taste some pulled Berkshire pork butt at Oklahoma Joe's, or Go Chicken Go made with Campo Lindo chickens, livers and gizzards. On the other hand, when they passed the higher cost onto their customers, the majority of them would never come back. Plus, when it comes to the sheer amount of product needed to stock their smokers and fryers, could any small producers keep up with the demand?

Until now I really hadn't even thought of this dichotomy.... I don't eat nearly as much as I used to, so now I can afford to buy better ingredients (realistic meal size and portion control being its own subject). And I'm reminded of many discussions I've had with very legalistic organic/sustainable-only Whole Foods fundamentalists where I ask them......how can your logic be applied to the masses of people who are A) WAY too poor to live up to those lofty standards and would have to depend on our non-existent KC public transit to make it to the organic grocer twenty miles from their home, or B) would need a lot of basic cooking/nutrition/healthy portion education to realize that they COULD afford to get onboard if done correctly. This is the midwest, and the gap between the ever-growing sustainable crowd and the majority of people who will always beleve that low cost + huge portions = best value is a chasm that would require the "Billy Graham" of food to build that bridge.

So..... do those of us on the forefront of all things food related give the big bbq and chicken joints a pass? I have no idea....I'm still too pissed about the yuppies driving up the prices of things like oxtails and shortribs to think about it.... :biggrin:

Jerry

Kansas City, Mo.

Unsaved Loved Ones

My eG Food Blog- 2011

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Just to throw something out here....... maybe at some point we'll begin seeing sustainable/cruelty-free bbq popping up....I only bring it up to include the origins of modern American bbq in the discussion.  It was created out of necessity by poor people using some of the tougher, cheapest cuts of meat.  I don't have an answer to the main question by any stretch of the imagination, because on one hand I would LOVE to taste some pulled Berkshire pork butt at Oklahoma Joe's, or Go Chicken Go made with Campo Lindo chickens, livers and gizzards.  On the other hand, when they passed the higher cost onto their customers, the majority of them would never come back.

Absolutely right. Next time you're sitting at a BBQ "joint," look around at the customers. Sure, there are some affluent yuppies in business attire on their lunch breaks, their Beemers and Volvos and Lexuses in the parking lot. Or maybe picking up some ribs and sides to serve later at their backyard party around the pool.

But there are a lot more folks that obviously wouldn't be there at all if the food were much more expensive than it already is.

And I think they'd advise the "food cause" crowd to get back to worrying about foie gras, and leave their barbecue alone.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I'm really sorry to be missing out on most of the gathering, but its for good reason - I'll be in NY helping Big Country with his Beard dinner.  I will be back in time for the brunch though and helping Dave with the cooking.  The mention of "Berkshire goodness" above reminds me that I'm two months into a lardo cure that should be ready to debut at the brunch.  But the mention of Berkshire pork also brings up something that has been troubling me and I'd like to hear what you all think about it...

Why do so many of us who support sustainable local and regional food systems and oppose factory farms look the other way when it comes to barbecue?  I love KC barbecue passionately; I think it is a defining characteristic of our city's culture and who we are as a people, and I think it needs to be a feature of the Heartland Gathering.  But I'm also increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of recommending CAFO pork to out of town visitors when it is something I would never serve them myself.  At Lydia's, Bluestem, the farmers markets you visit saturday, and certainly at the Crum's farm you will be eating humanely raised, hormone and anti-biotic free meats and locally grown, mostly organic vegetables, so why do we expect (and accept) less of barbecue joints?  Why do we give them a pass?

First of all, I'm incredibly pleased to hear about the lardo cure!

Second, ChefCAG, not sure if you're worried about throwing the planners or the local BBQers under the bus, but if it's the former, please don't worry at all, I'd love to hear what you've got to say and have spent plenty of time gazing at the underside of a bus.

Finally, to the question at hand, I take the point, but I freely admit I enjoy a pretty broad food chain. I would (and do) serve CAFO pork to out-of-town (and in-town) visitors. Along with a few racks of ribs, I smoked two chickens today I bought at Hen House. One at $1.69/lb, regular chicken; the other Good Natured Family Farms, $3.29/lb. I planned on reflecting on the comparison in more detail but regardless, I'm just not going to cook very many $16 chickens.

I am moved by Michael Pollan's account of hand-processing chickens at Joel Salatin's farm. And I understand his plea to go meatless more often so the meat you buy can be better. I'm not there yet.

And I don't think it's fair to single out BBQ. The fact is, most restaurants are served by the industrial food chain. I'm not about to give up all the Thai, Chinese, Mexican,

German, etc. restaurants that aren't committed to the principals of sustainable agriculture. There are multiple ways of preserving worthwhile foodways, and I think farming and animal husbandry are among them but not definitive.

There are cultural aspects of food preparation that are worthy of preservation and advocacy, and I'm willing to support those, even when they use factory chicken or pork.

But, I do really appreciate the call to action here, in that I like the idea of being more proactive in encouraging KC BBQ restaurants, for example, to branch out a little. Some friends ordered a whole bunch of wagyu briskets from Arrowhead Meats several years back, and I know at least one made its way to the smoker of one of Chicago's better commercial pitmasters.

I think the idea of talking to some of our local joints about cooking some heritage-type meat is a terrific one, and time allowing, it's something I'll look into. (Or if anyone else wants to take up this cause, please, let me know.)

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I think the idea of talking to some of our local joints about cooking some heritage-type meat is a terrific one, and time allowing, it's something I'll look into.  (Or if anyone else wants to take up this cause, please, let me know.)

You know, this is quite a reasonable approach and suggestion.

And I think it's far more likely to produce results -

Rather than using phrases like: "Why do we support these restaurants?" and "...why do we accept less...?" and "Why do we give them a pass?" and "something I would never serve" - all of which have a militaristic, bullying, 'my way or the highway' tone that I think most pitmasters would find insulting, and which, in the long run, would be counterproductive to your goals.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I had a conversation with a cue chef about this very subject a few months back. He was amenable to doing as much local and sustainable as he can -- part of his marketing is green materials and he gets many of his vegetables from area farms. However, he needs to be able to procure meat products that are consistent in size and quality throughout the year, and as yet it's hard to get both in the volume he needs. For example, he smokes his own chickens, and finding exactly the right size for both preparation and service was very challenging.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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As a backyard bbq guy, at the very least I will vow that this summer I'll do a side-by-side comparison between some of the "good" pork I get from Paradise Meats up the road and your run of the mill Price Chopper 99 cents/lb pork. If nothing else, I'm extremely curious to taste the difference between the two.....because when going low and slow for 12 to 14 hours I'm wondering if there really is a difference in the flavor. More importantly for me, I'm wondering about texture, because THAT is the main difference I find in cheapo vs. premium meats that come out of the smoker.

But I already know that a Campo Lindo beer can chicken runs headless circles around the factory farmed stuff......

Jerry

Kansas City, Mo.

Unsaved Loved Ones

My eG Food Blog- 2011

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A dilemma for us all. Like the rest, I do the best I can. I rarely eat at place whose practices do not favor local, sustainable, but yes, the 'que joints tend to get a pass.

Having worked for a natural foods grocer and sponsored American Royal teams, I am here to tell you the cost of pulling-off something that size with the "good stuff" is staggering.

We had a rep from a major meat supplier on our team for the last 5 years, and he got us top-of their-line product for free. Needless to say, we didn't complain. That said, some of us always knew it was not what it could be and we bought some competition meats from sustainable, local sources. All I can say is, we placed very high in brisket (10th, IIRC, out of more than 400 teams) and the meat we turned in was NOT mass produced. Lesson learned (as if we didn't know).

I don't know many people who would eschew "the real deal" if money were no object. I live for the day when we re-discover that, without the subsidies, tax abatements, and other false economies, responsibly raised meats and poultry (and crops) are not economically ruinous. I think those of us who are able to drive to Trimble already enjoy the benefits without paying the Park Avenue/Rodeo Drive prices. And the local Lidia's serves mostly those products, at a competitive price in this market. Granted, they have other outlets across which to spread costs, etc, but it can be done.

And finally, Howard, bring on the crudo!

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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Just as a data point the North Carolina pitmaster Ed Mitchell is using all organic meats at his restaurant, The Pit, in Raleigh.

http://www.thepit-raleigh.com

Based on the menu I wouldn't characterize it as super-expensive, and without seeing the portion sizes it's hard to tell for sure, but it does seem at first blush to be substantially more expensive than the average North Carolina barbecue place.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Ok, so when I first posted I thought I was speaking mainly to KC residents who were likely to be in to both BBQ and sustainability. A relatively small group of (somewhat) like-minded people. Since this post has found a broader audience and generated a mix of replies, I thought I should respond, clarify, and elaborate on a few points...

First of all, if I've offended anyone (Jaymes) I'm sorry. I tend to get a bit preachy on subjects I'm passionate about, and food is very high on that list. But in this case, I was deliberately trying not to sound judgmental, and I was not in any way trying to tell anyone what to do. Quite to the contrary, I think my original post was clearly in favor of featuring KC barbecue restaurants at the Heartland Gathering, and was asking for other people's opinions, not attempting to force mine on them. But regardless, Jaymes, I hope you don't speak for "most pitmasters" when you say I was "militaristic", "bullying", and "insulting", because they are people I respect very much.

Secondly, a couple of posts have discussed the idea that humanely raised, sustainable meats and produce are prohibitively expensive to most people. This is a valid point under our current agricultural and economic model, but as moosnsqrl reminds us, the factory farmed alternatives are artificially cheaper since they depend on government subsidies and other "false economies". When you factor in the tax dollars you've already paid to these agribusinesses, and the environmental and health costs that we are all going to be paying for for years, they are not cheaper then a local farm. Every dollar you spend in your own community with a responsible sustainable farmer saves you and everyone else money on fossil fuels, health care costs (swine flu anyone?), and environmental cleanup.

Next, people have mentioned the historical/cultural nature of barbecue as a great, delicious and important American regional cuisine. I think at this point it is important to take note that when (for the most part) poor people were developing bbq here - just as they developed coq au vin, osso buco, mole, pho and feijoada elsewhere in the world, they were using 100% local, organic, sustainable meats and produce. It is not a new thing or an upper class elitist thing. It's our history. It is the way animal husbandry and agriculture have been practiced for millennia. I may have the dates wrong, but I think Arthur Bryant's and Rosedale, and maybe other KC barbecue places have been around since the early 1930s. If you ate there then you did not have factory-farmed pork. No one had yet conceived such a thing. So to the purists, the real barbecue is made from real pork. It does not contain hormones and antibiotics. Those pigs lived outside, not in concrete and wire cages, and they ate food that pigs want to eat. And while it was before my time, I feel quite certain that they tasted better. If you don't know your history, you can see the sustainable food movement as a new, liberal, elitist preoccupation, but that's simply not how it is. It is for the people and from the people, and it always has been. When my mother was born and raised in a small village in a third world country in a house with a thatched roof and no walls, she ate "free-range chicken", and "humanely raised pork", and "organic" produce everyday, and she never even knew it. Anyone want to call her elitist???

But enough history, lets talk about the future. I think that we throw around the term "sustainable" a lot without thinking about what it means. It means something that can be sustained, something can last. And the flip side that we don't mention often is that things that aren't sustainable cannot last. They can be propped up for years or for generations, but they cannot keep going indefinitely. And like it or not, barbecue (or any other) restaurants that serve CAFO meat can not last. They depend on 1.) subsidies from a now hugely in-debt government, 2.) dwindling, very limited, and exhaustible supplies of fossil fuels from a region of the world that is volatile and largely hostile to us, and 3.) not insignificantly, the ignorance of a widely educated, good, kind and just people (That's us damnit!). None of these things can last, and when any one of these three runs out, there will not be CAFOs. That may sound dramatic, but I take solace in the belief that time will prove it to be true.

Finally, on to the subject of elitism in the sustainable food movement, and the broader green movement in general. I have already touched on this earlier, and people far more eloquent than me (please read Van Jones, Pollan, and Eric Schlosser) have discussed this in detail. It is a valid concern. Definitely. As a person who deals with people from all walks of life on a daily basis, from the millionaires I cook $42 entrees for, to the immigrant dishwasher I might give a ride home to, I am very much aware of "the gap". I think it is a huge challenge for all of us to make sure that healthy, sustainable, and delicious food is available to everyone. In Jones' book The Green Market Economy he lays out ways to do that. And even in (mainly) rich, white, liberal, Berkley, it is a topic of much discussion. We can't all afford to shop at Whole Foods, or eat at Chez Pannise, not the way things are here and now. But for many people in other parts of the world, whole foods are all they know. And they shouldn't be out of reach for a modern, urban American. And we can change that. And if I come off as preachy or intolerant, or whatever, again I apologize. But I'm everyday people. And I have the burns and cuts and calluses (not to mention the beer buzz and barely constrained anger) to prove it. I worked 76 hours this week and drove home in a 16-year old Honda. And I love, really love, the cooks and dishwashers who do it with me, and the only people I come into contact with often who work harder than me, the family farmers, who make it all possible for me.

That's it. Please take this seriously, because I think it's really important, and I'll take your comments seriously too.

"As far as cuisine is concerned one must read everything, see everything, hear everything, try everything, observe everything, in order to retain, in the end, just a little bit!"

F. Point

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Ok, so when I first posted I thought I was speaking mainly to KC residents who were likely to be in to both BBQ and sustainability.  A relatively small group of (somewhat) like-minded people.  Since this post has found a broader audience and generated a mix of replies, I thought I should respond, clarify, and elaborate on a few points...

First of all, if I've offended anyone (Jaymes) I'm sorry.  I tend to get a bit preachy on subjects I'm passionate about, and food is very high on that list.  But in this case, I was deliberately trying not to sound judgmental, and I was not in any way trying to tell anyone what to do.  Quite to the contrary, I think my original post was clearly in favor of featuring KC barbecue restaurants at the Heartland Gathering, and was asking for other people's opinions, not attempting to force mine on them.  But regardless, Jaymes, I hope you don't speak for "most pitmasters" when you say I was "militaristic", "bullying", and "insulting", because they are people I respect very much.

Thank you for the explanation. I'll admit I did find your initial tone condescending, arrogant and offensive. And disrespectful and perhaps even ignorant of the history of these people and their restaurants. As I read your post, I just pictured myself sitting at the table at one of those 'joints' chatting with one of the legendary, and elderly, pitmasters, something that I've often done. I can't help but imagine how it was for them when they were young, thinking about how badly they must have wanted their own businesses, where nobody could dictate to them, give them orders, fire them on a whim.

So they started out, some of them in pushcarts, or in shacks out behind churches or other businesses, and slowly built up to where they now have earned a good living for themselves and their families, and a great deal of respect, even fame and adulation in the bargain. They took tough cuts of meat that the wealthy eschewed. They built their businesses in the "wrong" side of town, catering to a poorer clientele, often working classes that grabbed some 'cue on the run and got back to doing some sort of difficult, back-breaking, unpleasant, thankless job - a clientele that hardly had time to worry about "sustainable beef" because they were too busy worrying about how to "sustain" themselves.

And to imagine these pitmasters now, taking a break after a lifetime on their feet, or bending over a hot fire, sitting in their restaurants with their aging newspaper clippings clinging to the smoke-stained walls, and you come in and tell them some prettied-up version of: "We've given you a pass for too long..." "We don't know why we 'accept' it from you when we won't 'accept' it from other restaurants..." and "you serve 'something I would never serve myself'" is, to me anyway, offensive to the max.

You do champion a worthy cause, of course. So if this discourse has influenced the way you present it, it will turn out to be beneficial for everyone.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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When my mother was born and raised in a small village in a third world country in a house with a thatched roof and no walls, she ate "free-range chicken", and "humanely raised pork", and "organic" produce everyday, and she never even knew it. 

So, here's a little bit about my background. For some three decades, my father owned and operated a cattle ranch in the Ozarks, a few hours south of Kansas City. He raised Black Angus and Whiteface beef cattle. It was something he absolutely loved and he did quite well at it.

But then, about 15-20 or so years ago, he ran into trouble. Artificial additives like growth hormones, etc., hit the market. Although my dad couldn't exactly explain why - they were supposed to be safe - there was just something about them that he didn't like. He didn't want to give them to his cattle, so he didn't. But when he took his yearlings to auction, he found he couldn't compete with the ranchers that were bringing in fatter, heavier, better-developed cattle due to the artificial additives.

He struggled to compete with them for a time, but finally had to give in. He simply couldn't earn a living at it any more. So he started feeding the additives. But he didn't want his own family eating them, and he always kept a couple of cattle aside for our use.

But he was very uncomfortable selling something into the food chain that he wouldn't feed his own family, so after about three or four years of that, he just completely gave up. He said he was really kind of old and tired anyway, and it was probably time to retire. He sold his herd - except for a few of his favorites that wandered around the back 40 until it was time to go to that great pasture in the sky.

I tell you this so that you understand I am basically on your side.

As I said, you champion a worthy and important cause.

It was simply your tone and manner in how you presented it that I found upsetting.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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