For some, getting to know their local butcher or fish monger may seem a genteel, old-time notion better suited to Granny than our fast-forward lives. But that tradition seems to be back in the spotlight, mostly as a result of the horse meat scandal making waves through Europe. Even the Swedish meatballs at furniture giant Ikea weren’t spared the horse meat debacle on packages labelled as made with beef and pork.
But now, it’s not even just meat that is being called into question. A recent study by Oceana, a US-based sea-life conservation group, says that consumers are often wrongly (and knowingly) sold seafood that was not as advertised. So stick to canned seafood? Yeah, that’s a problem too because a CBC News report found that many major Canadian grocers are selling expired tins of fish and seafood products that have caused some unwitting customers to be violently ill.
What can YOU do to avoid these and other green-inducing food finds? We turned to The Healthy Butcher Executive Head Butcher Dave Meli for his insights on avoiding mystery meats and other ingredients:
If you want transparency in food then you need to ask questions to those who are selling you food and if you do not get the answer that you trust then you should look for a new purveyor. What you should/can ask: What was the animal fed (for many, grass fed beef is important as cows were never meant to consume corn- it literally makes them sick!)? Is it free of growth hormones, steroids and antibiotics? How was it raised and where? How was it processed (killed)? Ask your fishmonger or butcher what they like and why- it might give you insights into new favourites for you!
LIANNE PHILLIPSON-WEBB SHARES TIPS ON PICKING FISH FOR THE FAMILY:
A good butcher or fish monger will be able to answer most any question regarding the provenance of the product (how it was killed or caught, what it was fed etc..) so that you get both pleasure and sustenance from your purchase. You might also want to know if a steak was wet or dry aged (it affects flavour), if a certain cut of meat or fish type you enjoyed on your travels that you cannot find here is available- they can help with that. Your big box store likely cannot and will not be able to because nowadays, these departments don’t employ many trained professionals.
You get what you pay for
Good food purveyors know much more than just when a boxed shipment arrived; they’re there to give you customized, personalized care. You want a certain blend of ground meat? A butcher can do that for you fresh, in front of your eyes versus picking up a few packs to make do and blend at home that may have been sitting around for a few days. It’s about getting top notch service from knowledgeable staff who care that your experience is a positive one. Meli warns however, “If price is your only criteria when buying food, then frankly, local butchers are not what you want because there is a cost with employing these professionals.”
Maintain a relationship
Other upsides to finding a good purveyor, that Meli likens to making friends with a tradesperson (plumber, mechanic for example): “Once you establish a business relationship with these people, they will give you a level of honest service which can never be matched. For example, my car mechanic who we see two to three times a year will only sell us what we absolutely need. He knows that we will be back to see him and does not see a need to charge us ridiculous fees.” So if you’re looking to make a stew and don’t know what to buy, your butcher or fishmonger becomes your best ally in choosing, for this particular dish, a cheaper cut of meat or less expensive fish. Cooking tips, selecting the right protein for your dish, and meal ideas become part of the exchange as much as the end goal of purchasing from your local butcher or fishmonger.
Check their validity
Meli says he’s immersed in the world of meat – talking to farmers, other butchers, chefs and clients always about his chosen field, so it’s this focus that makes him a valuable resource and a good reason to shop from if you’re looking to buy meat. Otherwise? “One should not be surprised if they walk into a big box store and buy a product that is labeled beef but in fact is horse or panda!”
MORE ON THE HORSE MEAT SCANDAL: