Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cow-pooling: a "primal tribal-fire thing"

The food revolution — from farm to table — is really a story about seeding and savoring communities.

That’s the premise of last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, a feast of articles assembled around the centerpiece theme of “eating together.” Among the topics covered: the exploding phenomenon of on-line food reviewing; how a combo design studio and community café called PieLab revived an impoverished Alabama town; and a humorous column by a grumpy CSA member explaining how his vague annoyance at righteous locavores was overcome by good will, good vegetables and healing food advice.

Food writer Kim Severson’s contribution is on “the Cow-munity,” the unusual grouping that forms when casual acquaintances get together to share a steer. “Like any social circle, the cast of characters in this cow community has changed since the first animal was split in 2007,” Severson writes. “People have drifted in and out like subletters, taking over shares for those who walked away.” She goes on to profile the current members of one New Mexico-based cow confab and their challenges and satisfactions as they divide up the carcass. One woman describes her desire to share an animal with other local town folk as “that primal tribal-fire thing.”

Learning to eat the whole cow is a lot like learning to eat food in season. It expands both your kitchen creativity and your palate while offering abundant nutritional diversity. is a website intent on rounding up those interested in joining the trend. Would-be cooperators can go there to get matched up with others who want to split some cow shares (and there’s no requirement that they ever meet in person.) If you visit the site you’ll find that at least in Colorado, the featured provider is none other than Ranch Foods Direct. This is a concept that takes the store’s popular beef bundles (which offer a volume discount) to a whole new level.

One benefit of cow-pooling is knowing where your meat comes from, as a 2009 article published by TIME magazine explains. But as the New York Times proposes, it’s also about being part of a “cow-munity.” And it re-introduces the notion of responsible use of resources, or food frugality. Ranchers have been harvesting whole animals for the family food supply — filling the freezer lock-stock-and-barrel versus buying supplies in town on a piecemeal basis — for generations. It’s a rustic, practical tradition taking on new life in the age of the Internet.