(Part of The Cookbook)
Caution: politics ahead.
Try to find a butcher shop you feel good buying meat from. You should be able to tell the butchers what you're planning to cook and have them recommend the right cut of meat and tell you the best way to cook it. (We'll go over cooking methods for meat later.) If there isn't one near you, go ahead and go to the supermarket for your meat. Wherever you go, do not purchase meat from factory farms. This is harder to do if you go to the supermarket, but it's possible if you're familiar with a few large-scale producers that are also sustainable. Chicken from Draper Valley Farms in Oregon and Washington is a great example. You should be able to get a little information about where your meat is coming from. At a good butcher, the name of the farm the meat came from will be right on the price tag. Or, you should be able to ask the butcher.
But most of the meat you'll find in the supermarket is garbage, the product of over-subsidized, over-produced commodity crops like corn, and the practices of huge agricultural corporations focused on making money at the expense of their products' nutritional value and their customers' health. Sustainabletable.org put together a great list of reasons to buy meat produced in a sustainable manner, here: http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/ The list is even alphabetized.
You'll notice that "happy" meat looks healthier and smells better even before you cook it. It tastes better. That's because sustainable producers don't cut the corners that large conventional factory farms cut in order to drive their prices down. You'll also quickly notice that the meat is more expensive. Yep, that's what it costs to produce meat that isn't full of growth hormones and antibiotics, and packed into stacked cages or feedlots with such concentrations that their waste becomes impossible to contain. Remember the egg recall? The source of the salmonella was likely rodents getting into the chicken feed and pooping there. I remember an industry spokesperson defending their practice by saying something like, "You could have the same problem with pests whether you have an operation with a hundred or a million chickens." But which pest problem is easier to clean up? The sheer scale of such huge operations makes it nearly impossible to keep them clean and their products healthy for consumption. They do things to compensate, like feeding the animals antibiotics, washing their meat in chlorine baths or treating it with ammonia before you buy it, but those things aren't good for people, either.
Are they evil? I say no. They're responding to the public demand for lots of cheap meat. They're just selling us what they think we want so they can make money. I believe that the public demand needs an adjustment so it's more in line with our health needs.
So, good meat's expensive, but if you eat less of it, you can easily afford it. Most American diets are really meat-heavy. If you do eat a lot of meat now, a good way to wean yourself off it a bit is to try cooking with smaller amounts of nicer meat and notice the difference in the way the food tastes and the way you feel afterwards. Your palate and your body cannot lie to you. Pay attention to them and you'll be rewarded.
And, we're off the soapbox now. Thanks for your patience.
Oh, what cuts of meat should you buy? Mostly things you can braise. They're cheap and really flavorful.