Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lover’s Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies, and Living Deliciously
By Shannon Hayes
Left to Write Press, 2012
Author of Grass-fed Gourmet, The Farmer and the Grill, and Radical Homemakers, Shannon Hayes makes her most innovative and probing foray into the world of grass farming and the growing-in-popularity locavore movement with her newest book. After attaining a PhD in sustainable agriculture and community development, Hayes returned home to work with her family raising grass-fed meats in upstate New York. Grass-fed Gourmet introduced readers new to grass-fed meats to the finer points of their proper handling and preparation, and encouraged those who refused to eat feedlot and factory farm meat in grocery stores to support and shop from their local grass farmers instead. Hayes has now further expanded her topic by developing recipes and culinary advice for those like the customers of her family’s enterprise who were unaccustomed to preparing the less familiar parts of the animal and in fact were often throwing away shameful amounts of useful, nutritious, and delicious bits.
Hayes initially assumed her current book would be a snap to write, but instead it took her four long years to produce when she tripped over her own first approach to the topic of frugality in meat consumption. Surely, she reasoned, the pairing of meat leftovers with grains or legumes would be the logical and economical way to prove that regular meat consumption need not be a luxury enjoyed only by a gustatory elite. Along this line of reasoning she developed and tested many recipes featuring grains or legumes that had been soaked to neutralize their anti-nutrient content, cooked carefully in meat broths, and augmented with smaller amounts of meat to boost their nutrient profile.
Unfortunately, and this is where the story becomes very interesting, she and her family began to develop health problems much more typical of mainstream America than of organic self-sustaining farmers: weight gain, fungal infections, digestive disorders, and dental caries. By process of elimination Hayes discovered that she and all members of her family suffer from varying degrees of grain and legume intolerance, and by strictly avoiding these foods their health has been happily restored. Hayes decided that if she couldn’t test these recipes because she and her family couldn’t eat them, then they would not appear in her book. Hayes also acknowledges that a significant portion of her readers likely shares these same food sensitivities. A small handful of the very best of recipes that include grains or legumes do appear, but the great majority of the recipes completely exclude these potentially problematic foods.
Preparing excellent bone broths and rendering animal fats at home are the foundations of many of the mouth-watering recipes that grace the pages of Long Way on a Little. These skills are requisites for enjoying a bounty of nutrition and flavor, and Hayes reminds us that broth and animal fats are “some of the most nutrient-dense foods imaginable.” It is absolutely essential that the frugal gourmet learn to prepare these staples of the diet. Americans have nearly lost the art of making and eating soup on a regular basis—after all, soup and supper are closely related words— and the delectation of a daily dish of soup confers pleasure, health, and wealth in terms of superior nutrition.
Utilizing bones and skin from grass-fed animals goes a very long way to avoid the massive waste that can occur when these parts of the animal are disregarded. As Hayes points out, there is no way that small, grass-based farmers can “feed the world” or even feed their neighbors if the only thing people choose to eat are choice cuts that are in very limited supply such as ribeye steaks and chicken breasts. However, by utilizing all the parts of the animal wisely, many more meals can be created from nutritious, delicious, and generally much less expensive cuts. Further, one must learn to look at each cut of meat in terms of more than one meal that may be made from it. This way of cooking allows even a couple or a single person to contemplate a joint of beef or neck roast or a whole turkey or duck in terms of many meals. In the 1960s Michael Field, one of America’s foremost culinary authorities, wrote a wonderfully useful book called Culinary Classics and Improvisations whose theme was exactly this. He presented a classic recipe such as shoulder of lamb or braised veal followed by six or eight recipes to make artful use of the leftovers and provide meals for days to come. Truly such thrift is generosity in disguise.
The chapter “Heads, Tails, and Other Under-appreciated Treasures” carried Hayes herself into uncharted waters, and she honestly reveals her initial trepidation in tackling such adventures as “cooking a pig’s head or skewering a chicken’s heart.” Nevertheless, she proudly reports that now many of these once-daunting recipes represent some of her family’s favorite foods, and yes, her young daughters dig in with gusto!
“Long Way on a Little represents the single greatest learning curve I’ve climbed in my understanding of grassfed meats and how to most thoroughly use them,” Hayes tells us. Her frankness is winning, and will go a long way toward reassuring readers to follow her lead. As a persuasive writer with first-hand experience in matters of sustainable agriculture, her lively discussions on livestock farming in the United States today also inform and educate with clarity and wit. Perhaps the best part of Hayes’ book is the fact that by utilizing her approach to making one’s diet meat-based and at the same time affordable for all, one gains true freedom. As Samuel Johnson once observed, “Frugality may be termed the daughter of Prudence, the sister of Temperance, and the parent of Liberty.”
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2013.