beef stew in a bowl

I’m not one of those people who used to be a vegetarian, but that’s not to say I haven’t thought about it sometimes. I read one of those Best American collections—I wish I could remember which one—in grad school, and there was an essay about an American living in the U.K., maybe in Ireland? For the summer, he worked on a lambing farm, where he took care of the lambs and helped with births and, also, watched them be killed, which was devastating. I sobbed. Reading his experiences, I thought for the first time about the ethics of eating animals. Since, I’ve read about the poor conditions in meat-packing plants or the way animals are bred in dark, overcrowded buildings where they can’t move around and seldom see grassy fields or sunlight. (I wish I could’ve seen Fresh when it came to Milwaukee and will plan to watch Food, Inc.—If you’ve seen either, I’d like to hear your thoughts.)

So far for me, though, the enjoyment of a steady diet of poultry, with red meat thrown in once or twice a week, still trumps the alternatives, both because it’s such an easy way to get protein and because, honestly, it tastes good and is convenient.

This internal conflict is probably why I was so interested to read Susan Bourette’s book, Meat: A Love Story, sent to me by its publishers over a month ago and which I’m just finishing now. Marketed as a response to ethical questions like the ones I face (i.e., How can a person who likes eating meat do so without guilt?), it got my attention.

And, turns out, there are a lot of good things about this book: a window into many different aspects of the meat industry; the raising of questions many of us (meat-eating or not) may ask; encounters with diverse characters, from cattle ranchers to Inuit whale-hunters in Alaska. But what I’d hoped would be a reasoned approach towards responsibility/action turned out never to cross the line of personal story. It’s interesting, yes. Full of information, yes. You learn new perspectives. But what it isn’t, and this is worth mentioning, is anything beyond that.

beef stew

Anyway, here’s where I’m at right now with meat: (1) I’m sure I want to take, with open hands, whatever food is given to me by friends, free of special demands, because I love them more than controlling what I eat. (2) And when I cook, rather than cutting meat out of my diet, I am looking for better sources of it—Whole Foods, for example, which has a cruelty-free policy; or, a C.S.A. that could give me the option to buy meat directly from farmers in Illinois.

I’d by lying if I said I didn’t buy ground beef or stew meat at Dominick’s when it’s on sale, like it was last week, but I am trying to move towards better choices, slowly, while still enjoying myself.

country bob's

This stew, cooked overnight in a crock pot, is the perfect example of why I am still, happily, a carnivore. Marinated with Country Bob’s All Purpose Sauce, covered in chopped vegetables, it practically makes itself. When I pulled out a Tupperware container filled with it for lunch on Tuesday, reheating it in the microwave and bringing a forkful to my mouth, I literally exclaimed, out loud to the office, “Mmm, this is good,” one hand hitting the desk and the other frozen mid-air.

At once juicy and flavorful, rich and hearty, this stew has been as satisfying in the rainy days of early June as it would be in the winter storms of December. The combination of tomato juice and stewed tomatoes with the meat and vegetables creates a dark gravy over the lot of it, further tenderizing and moistening everything, and the marinating in the Country Bob’s sauce creates nuanced flavor throughout. If you’re of the meat-eating type, you’ll want to try this. Soon.
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Slow Cooker Stew
Just slightly adapted from CountryBobs.com

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that Country Bob’s sent me their sauce to review; however, I really would buy it again, if only to make this stew! If you’d like to give it a shot, you can try a bottle for free yourself! Just go here to have a coupon sent your way.

Ingredients:
2 pounds beef stew meat, diced into 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup Country Bob’s All Purpose Sauce (or may substitute Spicy)
1 teaspoon herb seasoning (I used Italian herb seasoning)
5 potatoes
4 carrots
1 yellow onion
3/4 cup tomato juice
1 (14.5 oz) can stewed tomatoes
2 fresh Jalapeno peppers, sliced into rings

Directions:
Prep work (probably the night before): Cut up potatoes and carrots, and slice onions; put them all in a plastic container filled with water and refrigerate overnight. Also, marinate the stew meat with Country Bob’s All Purpose Sauce and herb seasoning in a plastic storage bag. Place in the refrigerator.

The next day: Place the raw beef in the bottom of your crockpot. Drain the veggies and put them on top of the beef. Pour in the stewed tomatoes and tomato juice. If you like your stew a little spicy, add a chopped Jalapeno pepper or two. Cook on low 6 to 8 hours.

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Lan

    you bring such good points in this post today! when i lived in africa, on the way to school, we would pass by a cattle butchery. it stunk to high heaven and i once witnessed cattle being killed.in.the.street, and the road ran red with blood. i didn’t eat meat during the two years we lived there.
    anyway, like you i am slowly, but surely moving towards buying meats from whole foods or kosher shops. they’re expensive and inconvenient sometimes but it does assauge my conscience. it cannot be said that i’m an animal lover, but i am def. not an animal hater. i’m interested to hear your thoughts on the book.
    your stew looks hearty and it’s always so wonderful to be able to put raw stuff in the crockpot and the next time you open the lid, it’s all done for you!

  2. Jen

    There have been times when I’ve stopped eating meat for few years. I literally wake one day and don’t find it appetizing anymore. The hunger eventually returns, and with it the bacon, burgers and tasty beef stew (yours looks delish!). I appreciate your mention of this book as I’d like to learn more about the industry, and a memoir may be a good way to ease into it.

  3. Angela@spinachtiger.com

    I know how you feel. I DID go vegetarian for a few years (some time ago) when I read John Robbins book, Diet for a new America. Eventually I came back to meat. I love meat. I don’t do well with a lot of carbs, but I am very particular on what meat I buy. Don’t need to eat it every day, and I also have a love for vegetables. It’s a good discussion, and I certainly don’t want to support the food industry mass marketing without a code of ethics. To this end, I’ve boycotted fast food for years for a host of reasons. Don’t miss it one bit. End of day, we the people make the decisions on what is sold to us. They can’t sell what we don’t purchase. I think chicken is over rated; I prefer red meat and in my research (if ethically raised) has gotten a really bad rap.

    I look forward to reading that book.

  4. Shannalee

    Lan, Such an interesting perspective! It will take me a LONG TIME to get the phrase “the road ran red with blood” out of my mind. Wow.

    Sue, I hope you get to try this! It’s SO easy and delicious.

    Jen, I go through phases where meat’s less appetizing (though, wow, not for years at a time). Sometimes I think my body needs more of something (i.e., a vitamin) and so it craves things (i.e., fruit) and I def get that with meat! If you do read the book, I’d love to hear your take.

    Angela, Love what you wrote about we the people making the decisions. It’s so true that I am responsible for what my choices reflect. I can’t just say the meat industry is bad and keep supporting it. Good point.

    Maris, Exactly! And this is a great one!

  5. Pingback: we will have salad | summer salad | food loves writing

  6. nick

    The ethics of eating meat produced by a system that on occasion completely eschews any animal husbandry, in the historical sense of caring for and providing a reasonable life for, food animals become muddled at best. That said, the other end of the spectrum: free range, grass fed, organic, locally grown foods leave, literally, billions in the world starving (not enough farm-able land on earth to feed the population).

    What makes me angry about the whole debate, even more so than the system that perpetrates the horrid misdeeds on our food animals, is the profiteering on the other side: Michael Pollan, Food Inc. and the like. Of course there should be freedom of speech and some checks and balances on the system, and also, there are pitfalls in our industrialized food system here (though it does consistently produce the highest quality, most efficient and safest food in the world) but the fact that people pray on the good intentions of others’ “food ethics” for profit is horrendous and inexcusable. Be pissed about animals being mistreated, don’t rally behind someone selling false dreams to those eager to buy.

    The most influential source I have read to date on the subject comes from “The River Cottage Cook Book” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He is an author/organic food competition judge and farmer from the UK. I highly recommend this book, not just for the dedicated section to meat ethics, but also for the amazing information and recipes. Also, good friend Joe from joepastry.com recently published a series of posts (and received a lot of hate mail) when he pointed out some of the misleading information from the anti-industrialized food camp. Needless to say, it’s a debate that enlivens passions on both sides.

    Me personally, I do my best to chose meats produced in a way that exemplifies the highest level of care and quality in animal husbandry. I buy my meat from a specialty butcher, WFs at times, and direct from the farm whenever possible. I do, however, realize that our food system is not sustainable across the board at this level, and that I am lucky to be able to afford such a luxury. I guess the point is, make the best decisions you can when you purchase your groceries. Every time you spend hard earned cash on a particular product you are casting your vote for every step of the way between farm and your stove top – I think if more people were aware of this it would affect a thousandfold positive change over whatever muckraking Food Inc. will accomplish.

  7. Shannalee

    Nick – First of all, LOVE your long comment. Second, yes, I see your points. Personally, I tend to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to anything institutionalized, and I guess that’s kind of similar to people/organizations profiteering off something like this. It’s unfortunate. But, on the other hand, if they’re getting the word out about something that at least makes people think about it, isn’t that a good thing? I mean, if a random person sees the movie and, for the first time, thinks about where our food comes from, that’s good. I’m not saying everyone has to eat organic (or that they should) – just that we should maybe think about it sometimes, you know? Maybe movies will help point more people towards a desire to make the best decisions about where to purchase groceries, where to cast their votes, like you said.

    Thanks for giving me a lot of food for thought and for sharing your passion on the issues. I’m more leery of the movie now, which is good. Also, I will look into joepastry and the book you mentioned sometime soon.

  8. Janet

    I really appreciated your honesty about eating meat and moving toward ethical choices. I wasn’t familiar with the book until you wrote about it and it’s definitely going on my must-read list soon.

    As a somewhat strict off again and on again vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian – I can’t explain the weird labels except I was really restrictive in my eating – too much tofu and beans and not enough chicken, pork and beef. A few months ago I got sick of the restrictive eating. I started eating pork, chicken and beef after seeing your recipe and decided to buy it from my local Asian grocery store vs the big box one. That made me feel a bit better about my buying choices.

    So after some of my own soul-searching and reading your post, I’ve been eating a lot more meat because it’s convenient and satisfying. I went through boxes of tofu when I was running long distances only to feel hungry and upset. And after seeing all your chicken recipes I wanted to have more of it in my routine. Thanks for the discussion and honesty!

  9. Shannalee

    Janet, That was such a sweet and thoughtful comment. I def think this is something worth returning to from time to time, reevaluating priorities and current choices. It’s a process, that’s for sure. I love the way you’ve found to make meat ethical and good and a part of your life.

  10. Richard Shewmaker

    You lost me at “crockpot.” Beef stew requires much more precise control than can be obtained with the “throw the ingredients in, turn it on, and forget it” philosophy of crockpot cooking. When I make beef stew, I actually cook the potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, and mushrooms separately, getting each to a point just before they are completely done, then add them to the stew for the last fifteen minutes of cooking. Fresh herbs (tarragon and parsley) go in at five minutes left. None of these ingredients does anything in the way of flavoring the meat. The beef stock in which the meat was cooked was flavored with tomato paste, carrot, leek, bay leaf, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and peppercorns, but all that was strained out before braising the beef in the stock with red wine. The result is a stew with no ingredient overcooked, and every element looking beautiful and tasting perfect.

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