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The coronavirus pandemic has threatened us with meat shortages this summer, just in time for grilling season. This means that many Americans may need to reconsider how they source their animal protein, how much of it they eat and whether or not they continue to eat it at all.
One solution is to sign up for a meat subscription box service, which offers smaller portions, sustainable solutions and no-contact delivery. The services also provide a guaranteed volume of meat: You know exactly what you’ll be getting each month.
You’ll also support smaller farmers and producers rather than industrial farming.
“We don’t work with the industrial system, which is focused on high scale and efficiency that is achieved by packing labor tightly together in an industrial assembly line fashion,” said Joe Heitzeberg, co-founder and CEO of Crowd Cow, a craft meat subscription service. “Our processors are small operations, cutting by hand in accordance [with] artisanal traditions.”
Most subscription boxes provide less meat than the average daily meat consumption in the U.S. The USDA recommends a daily serving of no more than 5.5 ounces of meat per day but concluded in 2018 that Americans eat twice that.
“Protein is important in our diet, but only in small quantities,” said Rob Levitt, head butcher and chef de cuisine of Chicago’s Publican Quality Meats, which prides itself on sourcing and sustainability. “Three to four ounces is plenty.”
The advantage, he adds, is that eating less meat will reduce the need for mass production. “If we could lessen the need for factory-farming and mass-processing, the impact on the environment would be tremendous.”
Right now, there are distinct advantages to knowing exactly how your meat is sourced.
“When you think about the outbreaks the industry is experiencing, it’s about the processing plants much more than it is about the farmers,” said ButcherBox founder and CEO Mike Salguero. “Because of the sheer volume of product being processed through these facilities on a daily basis, the number of employees that need to be in the facility is pretty significant.”
“Transparency makes you feel safer and informed,” Levitt added. “Buying meat from somewhere that sources carefully means they are also willing to answer all these questions and are trying to sell you meat that was raised in a way that is best for the animal, the farmer, and the consumer.”
“Wherever you buy your meat, spend your money on meat that was raised well and treated well, and support a small business and farm.”
So should you take the plunge?
“The best advice I can give is to find a butcher and talk to them. Ask where the meat comes from, and how it’s raised. Be willing to buy different, less common cuts, and ask them the best ways to prepare them,” Levitt advised. “But wherever you buy your meat, spend your money on meat that was raised well and treated well, and support a small business and farm.”
Here are some subscription boxes that offer well-raised, well-treated meat, much of it sourced from small farms.
Prices and availability subject to change.
Crowd Cow offers numerous different subscription boxes, and availability changes daily. Recently, the website offered a customizable box, a beef box and a Wagyu beef box.
For the custom box, which begins at $99, customers can choose between thick-cut bacon, sirloin, ribeye, tri-tip, Arctic char, ground beef, flat-iron steaks and top sirloin steaks. The $159 steak lover’s box combines dry-aged and Wagyu steaks and changes based on availability. The upmarket Wagyu box, which costs $249, offers premium A5 Wagyu steak.
Beef-lovers in the Midwest can order beef-based subscription boxes from Scholze’s family farm. Beef is pasture-raised, and there are six boxes available: a ground beef box, bratwurst box, kid’s meal box, hamburger box, sampler box and camping box. Customers can expect items like roasts, New York strips, all-beef hotdogs, hamburger patties and various types of beef sausages. Prices range from $75 to $112, and shipping is available in Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois.
Moink Box features some of the less desirable cuts of meat (for beef, that includes rump roast, chuck roast, stew meat and flank steak), but it means you’re truly getting the whole animal. A cow is not, after all, made up of just filets and ribeyes, no matter how hard we wish it so. Moink offers pork-free boxes, and you can substitute options you dislike. Each box features a mix of salmon, pork, chicken and beef, and the price falls between $129 and $159, depending on whether you opt for the small or medium size.
Porter Road has six different subscription boxes to choose from, including a ground beef-only box, a mixed ground meat box, a butcher’s choice box, a “best of” box, a beef and pork box, and a grill master box. The latter four, which feature a mix of steaks, sausages and ground meat and range in price from $70 to $127, are currently sold out. The ground beef bundle is $90 and features 10 pounds of individually portioned one-pound servings of dry-aged ground beef. The stay-at-home bundle of mixed ground meats features five pounds of dry-aged ground beef, two pounds of ground pork, two pounds of loose Italian sausage, and two pounds of breakfast sausage, for $90.
Perhaps the most well known of the meat subscription boxes, Butcher Box offers five different box options: a custom box, a mixed box, a beef and pork box, a beef and chicken box, and an all-beef box. Boxes start from $129 to $149 per month, with the option to add on extras (or opt for a bigger size for larger families). Cattle is grass-fed, chicken is free-range and USDA-certified organic, and heritage breed pork is raised on pasture or in hoop barns. Currently, all of Butcher Box’s boxes are waitlisted ― but as of May 1, waitlisted members are now being granted memberships.
The good news is that Keller Crafted Meats, a California butchery that sources meat directly from local, family-run farms, has everything from ground pork to grass-finished beef to turkey. The bad news (for those of us who are on the East Coast, at least) is that they only deliver their meat subscription boxes to California, Oregon, Western Washington, Nevada, Utah and Arizona.
Still, if you live in the western United States, it’s worth considering Keller’s subscription boxes, which come in four different options and are all $129 per box.
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