What’s Your Beef?

Oh, meat!  Why are you such a conundrum?

Meat poses a a bunch of problems for me as a frugal shopper, a budding nutritionist, and an environmentalist.  Financially, meat is the most expensive part of my diet, with cheese a close second.  Nutritionally I am a big fan of the protein in meat, but I’m wary of the saturated fat and cholesterol.  I know that I eat a lot more meat than is necessary – I could substitute beans or eggs for a whole lot of the chicken, turkey, and beef that I eat.  Environmentally, growing animals is a huge drain on resources.  It’s also inhumane in so many situations.  When I see a package of chicken breasts on sale for $1.99/lb, I am torn between the cost (low – yay!) and the knowledge that the only way you can sell chicken for that price is to cram the chickens into sunless warehouses and stuff them full of unhealthy food and antibiotics.  Ugh.  Grocery stores make it so easy for us to forget the connection between the food on our plate and how that food is produced.  Sterile-looking styrofoam plates encased in plastic?  I can’t think of any way to make a chicken breast look less like it came from an actual chicken than that. 

So, when organic meat goes on sale, I get really excited!  Ground beef from Laura’s Lean Beef is on sale here this week.   Laura’s beef is “natural” because the cows are given no antibiotics or hormones, and they are fed a vegetarian diet.  Laura’s website says that the animals are treated humanely.  There’s no way to verify this, of course, and Laura’s beef is unfortunately not organic.  In my book it’s better than the average grocery store meat, but not as good as organic meat.  Two stars out of three. 

One of my very favorite websites is My Plastic Free Life, written by Bay-area blogger and author Beth Terry.  In 2007, Beth decided she was done with plastic – and she really did stop!  Her website and new book chronicle her journey from a plastic-filled life to plastic-free one.  When I first read her blog, I got really inspired to reduce the amount of plastic in my life, too.  I started small, bringing empty glass jars and cloth bags to the grocery store and storing food in my fridge in ceramic or glass containers.  It was going great!  It is VERY hard to eliminate plastic altogether (heck, my shower is pretty much one big hunk of plastic!), but I was just trying to get one simple step down before trying another.  And then… the meat.  How to store meat safely in the fridge and freezer?

Meat is is a tricky category in all kitchens because we are all really uptight about the possibility of getting infected with E. coli or salmonella.  As a result, I think Americans tend to err on the side of caution by storing meat in sealable plastic bags and by washing down countertops with germ-killing solutions like diluted bleach.  I am totally on board with these precautions, because food-borne illnesses are really serious.  Add to that the recent deaths caused by Colorado canaloupes contaminated by listeria, as well as the frequent reports of contaminated beef, spinach, and more – well, it’s pretty easy to become paranoid.  I certainly am!  But I am still interested in a better way to store foods that doesn’t involve toxic plastic. For the record, I still use plastic, and I just bought some plastic storage containers the other day.  In theory, though, I am opposed to plastic.  In theory!  That counts for something… right?

I felt a little better about my plastic use after seeing a picture of Beth’s freezer early on in her plastic-free days.  She had given up plastic bags, but she was still using old plastic cottage cheese containers to store foods.  Her answer to storing foods in the freezer without plastic?

Stainless steel containers.  Stainless steel is safer than plastic because it doesn’t leach chemicals, and more convenient than glass because it’s pretty much unbreakable. You can buy stainless-steel  containers in all shapes and sizes, which is great.  They’re very expensive, though – $17.99 for a six inch round container?? – which is not so great.  In the long run it will obviously save you money because you won’t be buying plastic bags month after month.  For investment-averse people, however, it will be nerve wracking to shell out a bunch of money for expensive stainless steel.

How about you?  Do you have qualms about using plastic for storage? Do you have feelings about organic vs. non-organic meat?  Is there a tipping point, price-wise, where you’ll go for organic rather than conventional?

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