I had never been to Ithaca, New York. I woke up early on Sunday morning and decided to head out ahead of schedule so I could see the town, if it really is “gorges.” It was, although I’d just missed the height of the Fall turn. I met a fellow (and new) meathead friend from Toronto for lunch at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, and we visited about our different interests in the science of meat and how wonderfully complex it is: personal preferences, food philosophy, flavor chemistry, microbiology and epidemiology, and the list continues (we could’ve talked about meat’s wonders all day long, because, after all, meat is neat). We were in town to attend a “Local Meats Fair.”
This “Fair,” coordinated by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County NY, featured nearly 20 livestock farmers who sell their livestock direct (well, almost direct – it goes to a butcher first, of course) to residents of the Ithaca area, either in small farm shops or at farmers’ markets. The event featured a wide array of meats – species, breeds and production systems. Available samples included rabbit stew, mutton sausage, and natural pork belly, among other meat treats. There was grass fed and grain fed beef, organic and natural pork, cage-free and free-range chicken for sampling, as well as the meat of Herefords (cattle and pigs), Highlands, Jacobs, Galloways (Solid and Belted), Simmentals, Mulefoots, Tunis, and Cornishes for sale. I can now say I am among the few meat scientists who has ever enjoyed Mulefoot pig liver pâté. Patrons paid $5 to enter the event, and although there were about 60 people pre-registered, nearly 200 inquiring minds from the community attended. There were various informal educational opportunities in the afternoon, including how whole sides and quarters of beef are priced and how it may favor the consumers’ pocketbook, and lessons about how to cut up an whole roasting chicken.
It was tremendously educational for the public, and for me. Farmers were able to discuss how their animals are raised, and consumers were able to ask the farmer for firsthand information. Perhaps the greatest surprise (and it’s a good surprise!) to me was that none of the program exhibitors talked down any other type of meat being produced, whether it be how it was fed or what breed it was. There was no A is healthier than B, no “mine’s better than yours.” The message was simple: This is what we do, this is what we sell, and here, try a sample. Hope you like it.
This was a great way for people to learn about meat, that all livestock eventually end up as meat, and that consuming it can be an enjoyable experience. Win.