I bought a pork shoulder on sale the other day at Safeway. I’m not supposed to be shopping at Safeway for our meat anymore. My son’s teacher at Merritt College showed his students a video of factory-farmed animals, and my sensitive, almost 19-year-old son came home traumatized.
This boy is the epitome of cool when it comes to most things. Only a few people know he has more than a single sensitive bone in his body. When he first learned of the history of slavery, he was stunned, then aggrieved. He came home from school and asked me about it. He had trouble processing the information. He found a National Geographic map or giant infographic of some kind depicting the history of slavery in the United States, hung it on his bedroom wall, and studied it. He was about 8.
Also around that time, he saw an article in the New York Times about children in India living atop a mountain of garbage and sewage, combing through the detritus for tiny pieces of toxic metal from discarded cell phones and motherboards. I saw him take in the images. He asked me about the article. I began to read it to him, glimpsed his anguished face, and stopped.
So, no, I’m no longer supposed to be buying just any meat. My son wants nothing to do with factory-farmed meat. He’s vehement about it. He says he wants to be a vegetarian (and did as a child too), but he’s already almost freakishly thin.
He’s always been so, the only kid at family camp seized by hypothermic cramps as he tried to swim across a frigid, snow-melt river. No one else was troubled, but we all had a protective layer of fat, even if only a slight one. I’ll never forget the metallic taste of alarm that flooded my mouth as I watched him stall in the middle of the river. When he finally emerged from the water, he was blue and shaking, his eyes bright with fear.
Just as I’d nearly made it through the meat aisle, the tag on a big, hunky pork shoulder jumped out at me — $1.99/pound. Before I knew it, I’d grabbed the beast and popped it into my cart.
This morning, before leaving for work, I googled NYT pork shoulder and found Sam Sifton’s recipe and article for Momofuku’s Bo Ssam, a very simple Korean recipe of “meltingly tender” pork showered by heaps of kosher salt and granulated sugar, left to marinate overnight, and then slow-roasted at 300 degrees F. for six hours.
Then you cover it with brown sugar and a little more salt and roast it again for 15 to 20 minutes and serve it shredded, wrapped in lettuce leaves accompanied by hot sauces and kimchi, rice, and “some oysters if you wish.” (Oh my, I do wish.)
Talk about intriguing.
I’ll make it tomorrow. I’ll pop it in the oven before leaving for work and have my son take it out after six hours. We’ll see how that goes. Should be fun. Will he eat it? I don’t know. I guess it depends on how hungry he is. How fresh the awful images from the teacher’s video remain. How fragrant the pork is, how melting. We’ll see what happens.
I don’t mean to defy my son. I agree with him. The factory-farmed meat scares me too. What are these animals filled with? How sick are they when they’re killed? Are they laced with hormones? With antibiotics? Did they suffer? What does a lifetime of stress hormones do to meat? What does it do to health? Is it wacky to think they might confer something to our own bodies? Something that goes beyond chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics? Something on an energetic level? Something that conveys dysfunction to our own cells? I don’t know, but I don’t rule out the possibility.
But, I lapse. We’re not wealthy. I can’t always frequent the best butcher in town, and even if I could, I’m not convinced their meat is any better. How do we know their product comes from so-and-so ranch, other than the fact that it’s marked up three times higher than look-alike items in the garishly lit stores? There’s no way to know. And imagine the markup if they pull these shenanigans. It’s hard to believe there isn’t some of this going on.
My friend Linzer-torte (not her real name), however, told me of Stemple Creek, a ranch on the Pacific Coast in Marin County where you can get 100 to 110 pounds of steaks, roasts, ground beef, short ribs, and stew meat that you don’t have to be afraid of or feel guilty about for about $795 — about $7.20 a pound, plus a one-third portion of the offal (heart, liver, tongue, oxtail and cheeks).
I can’t imagine buying $800 worth of beef in one fell swoop. It seems a little decadent. But the truth is, I’d save money and get a better product. That’s clear. I’ll have to buy a chest freezer from Costco for about $109, but I think it’s time. We’re ready for a freezer full of grass-fed, sustainably- and humanely-raised beef and lamb butchered just for us. And how.