Making Healthy Food Affordable: The Direct Buying Strategy

For our healthy meal making classes, we always bring “clean” meat (i.e., free of antibiotics and growth hormones, humanely processed and often locally grown and processed, grass-fed and/or organic, free-range, etc.)  Participants love how it tastes and wonder where it can be bought.

Of course this line of inquiry runs us smack dab into the affordability question, as clean meat can be double the cost of industrially produced meat.  That’s IF participants want to simply buy a single piece of meat at retail; which is quite expensive.  I don’t do that.  Instead, I buy meat in bulk–i.e., a quarter, half or whole animal–directly from the grower.  This brings the price down to the point where it is just slightly more expensive–a difference which is more than compensated by the meat’s incredible flavor.

Direct buying is part of the new food system that makes healthful, flavorful eating affordable.  It may seem completely foreign if not outlandish. It also takes some getting used to.  We’ve all been trained in “Just In Time” shopping, going to the store every day or two or three and getting just a few things at a time.  It’s a great system for grocery stores which profit nicely on all the impulse and excess buying we do when exposed to 30,000 products every time we need “just a few things” for dinner.

The new food system advances a different model.  When animals are ready to butcher in late autumn, after growing all summer and fall, we buy a year’s supply, investing upfront to reap cost savings all year.  We think ahead in summer to figure out buying sources, decide what animals we want and how much.  We invest in a deep freezer.  Over time, we learn to use every cut of meat and know how to incorporate them into a wide variety of meals.  And we enjoy incredible meat at affordable prices.

It’s not hard to understand the economics of bulk buying.  For meat sold at retail, there are just too many hands in the pie to get a decent product at an affordable price.  Corners have to be cut, and the corner that takes the biggest hit is invariably quality.

Direct buying is so different from our normal shopping practices that it’s bound to seem completely foreign, maybe even completely unattainable.  No problem; just note the possibility.  Opening to the possibility may well give rise to a perfect opportunity, e.g., a woman at a law firm met a rancher with cows to sell, she got motivated and offered all her colleagues an easy opportunity to buy in.

Speaking of colleagues, this new food buying method presents a great opportunity to cooperate with friends, co-workers and neighbors.  In fact, it was a neighbor who got me started with 50 pounds of beef seven years ago.  I remember how unnerving it was at first–especially finding a used freezer to store it all just days before the meat arrived!  But now, I and that neighbor share meat purchases every year–as well as great cooking tips and recipes.  (Consider that freezer space could also be shared.)

If you’re interested in this buying approach, let us know; we’re assembling a list of local growers with animals for butchering.

Mary’s Hog Pickup Adventure in Eastern Colorado  Want a taste of what alternative buying looks like?  Here’s a post detailing my big adventure out of the Front Range urban area, out far beyond I-25 to the eastern plains, where my Jodar Farms hog had been butchered and packaged.


One Response

  1. […] A couple recent posts delved into affordability and how to make quality meat affordable.  One solution to the high price of meat, of course, lies in making vegetarian meals once or twice each week (or more.)  It’s no secret that beans are cheaper than meat, but they are also a good source of protein and substance, making them a good center-of-the-plate substitute. […]


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