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The Mystery of the Travelling Beef

It was a dark and stormy night... wait.  Stop.  Food blogging.  Start over.

It all started with a pound of beef...


You see, I have this membership to a local food coop.  Let me clarify.  The coop, which is dedicated to providing organic food, is local.  The food--not necessarily.  Don't get me wrong.  The quality of the food is superb; the standards impeccable.  And they do occasionally get local bread and cheese... and chicken*.  All the birds I've gotten from them so far have come from Tahlequah (have fun pronouncing that if you ain't from 'round here).  But when I inquired as to where their food came from, I was told that most of it comes on a truck from Colorado, and they (the Colorado distributor) get it from, well, wherever.  I dealt with it for awhile.  It was winter and the deals were sometimes pretty good.  Better than Whole Foods prices (at times), anyway.  

But, then, a few weeks ago, I got this beef.  It was 100% Organic Grass Fed Stew Meat.  So far so good.  (By the way, if it's "100% Grass Fed," does that mean it's grass finished?  Enlighten me, if you know.)  And then, out of what has now become habit, I looked at the Country of Origin label.  Ahem.  ... Uruguay.  

Yes, you heard me right.

Uruguay.

No, I'm serious.  Here, look.  

Exhibit A
Beef from Uruguay
Do you know where Uruguay is?  It's in South America.  On the Eastern coast of the continent.  

Exhibit B
Thank you, Terri, for finding this fantastic image for use in this post.  Your Google powers remain unequaled.
I'm sure all of our readers are well aware that we are in Oklahoma, USA.  North America.  Officially.  

Now, I've mentioned before that I don't, by any means, buy everything locally.  I buy olive oil and bananas and many other things that aren't from "'round here."  However, ... Uruguay?  We have so many great ranchers within our state, many of whom raise their cows purely on grass, and hay in the winter.  And even if our coop was unable to find a cattle rancher willing to supply them, surely there would be one in a neighboring state, at least.  But this stew meat, this modest 1 lb. package of grass-fed beef, was from a country so far away that I had to consult Google for its exact location (geography never being my strong point).  

I took it upon myself to look up the distance between Uruguay and Tulsa.  According to happyzebra.com, the distance from Montevideo, Uruguay to Tulsa is 5,500.4 miles.  For a more conservative estimate, the distance from Salto, Uruguay to Tulsa is 5,258 miles.  But wait--let's look back at that label up there, shall we?  Notice the small print at the bottom?  It says, "Distributed by Albert's Organics, Bridgeport, New Jersey..."  And don't forget that truck from Colorado. So, if these are all the stopping points, our beef had to travel from Uruguay (city unknown) to Bridgeport, NJ to Colorado to Tulsa, Oklahoma.  This meat has literally spanned two entire continents to get to me.  

I feel... a little sick about it, to tell you the truth.  A little "spoiled American."  A little ashamed.

Now, as I said, I got the Beef from Uruguay in my coop share bag a few weeks ago.  What was the fate of the grass fed Beef from Uruguay?  What do you think?  I threw it away?  Well, hell no.  Being a responsible consumer is about being responsible.  There was already enough waste associated with the now famous (just ask Terri--it's become a regular joke between us) Beef from Uruguay without adding insult to injury.  So, two nights ago, I decide it's time to pull that stew meat out of my freezer and make, well, stew with it.  I mention this (via email) to Terri.  And do you know how she responded?  I kid you not, with an actual beef stew recipe from Uruguay!  Look, look, look!  Uruguayan Rice and Beef Stew  

This, people, fills me with endless glee.  If I have never said it before, I will say it now.  Terri is a Googling phenomenon.  

My grass fed Beef from Uruguay was thawed and ready to stew for last night's dinner.  I did, in fact, follow the Uruguayan Rice and Beef Stew recipe.  If you ever try it, I'll tell you it's not like regular stew and it is definitely carb-heavy.  It calls for 2 cups (uncooked) rice plus two potatoes.  There is very, very little liquid left by the time it's done cooking.  Mostly, it's a very moist, tomatoey rice dish with some chunks of beef and stuff.  And, to tell you the truth, it was a little bland.  You'll notice there are absolutely no herbs or spices (unless you count garlic and onions) in this recipe.  I'm sure if I were Uruguayan, I would've got the technique down and it would've been fantastic.  Instead, I just added some extra salt and it was fine.  But, I must say, the beef itself?  It was excellent.  Richly flavored and not at all tough.  There is something to be said for grass-fed beef.

But now I'm left with some leftovers and a feeling that I should do something more to honor our local cattle ranchers.  I'm going to have to say something.  This coop... it could do so much better.  They're a very small operation and, as such, presumably have control over who they do and don't order from.  It's a cooperative, after all.  And they really should be buying locally wherever they can.  There really isn't any excuse.  There are other coops in town that do supply purely local products.  This one should follow suit... or at least attempt to get closer.  

This is hard for me, though.  I'm Ms. Encouragement, typically.  I'm the one who wants everyone to feel good about themselves and never wants to hurt anyone's feelings.  But, in this way, I can attempt to make the tiniest difference.  So I will.  I will send an email to those who run this little coop and I will be so, so nice.  I will include several helpful links for local ranchers they could, perhaps, contact for their meat supply, and I will hope they understand and see what good they can do.  They are, after all, in a position of power--buying power.  And their power could go a long way toward helping our local ranchers and farmers survive, and cutting some serious carbon miles while they're at it.  As I said, I truly believe they mean well, this unnamed cooperative.  But this... this is all wrong.  

I'll let you know what response, if any, I receive from said nameless coop.  You may be witness to my first real step towards advocacy.  This Beef from Uruguay may have created a monster.

*The eggs, however, were coming from Colorado, if I remember correctly.  Wherever they were from, it wasn't Oklahoma, so I stopped getting the eggs.  There is no shortage of pastured eggs in Oklahoma.

Laura  – (April 22, 2011 at 11:59 AM)  

I applaud you! And look forward to hearing about the coop's answer, if any. They may be surprised to realize people actually care about these things!

Liz  – (April 22, 2011 at 4:05 PM)  

When I read the 100 Mile Diet (I think it's called 'Plenty' down your way), I had no idea that eating locally would be so hard. Good luck!

Devouring the Seasons  – (April 22, 2011 at 4:22 PM)  

Thank you, my dear Terri. I believe I shall. *gracious bow*

Thanks, Laura. :) I'm sure they're starting to hear from the local eaters more often these days, but what's so frustrating is how people react when they're not used to buying local. When I asked where the coop's food came from initially, they acted as if it would be just completely impractical to source more of the products locally. I will never get this mindset. We have people growing stuff and raising livestock ALL OVER this state! Sigh. We'll just keep flapping our mouths and reallocating our food dollars wherever we can.

Liz - funny, I JUST finished reading "Plenty" (yeah, that's what the library's copy was titled) two weeks ago! I loved it so much. I might even blog a little review about it at some point. But, yes, it can be very very hard... especially when most of the world around you is so used to buying their food from big box stores and don't even think twice about where it comes from... or what's in it.

One cow at a time, friends. One cow at a time.

Sarah Franz-Wichlacz  – (April 23, 2011 at 5:09 PM)  

w00t!!! way to go! take on the man! (i'm bursting with pride for you :) and no, it really *shouldn't* be that difficult to source locally.... but government subsidies and things like NAFTA make it much more so... but this is a co-op so (hopefully) they will be more willing to listen... best of luck to you!

Devouring the Seasons  – (April 25, 2011 at 8:23 AM)  

Thanks, Sarah! My fingers are crossed. :)

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