Moose nose and prairie oysters: Sask. farmer, chef say nose-to-tail cooking is a sustainable option
Using every part of the animal requires some creativity, but is possible
Melanie Boldt has a beef with the concept that eating meat is bad for the environment, or that people should get more, or all, of their protein from plant-based sources.
"Not all meat is created equally, and I think to paint all meat with the same brush would be a mistake," she said.
"I don't think that you can compare what we do to meat that comes from some big feedlot far away."
Boldt and her husband own Pine View Farms All Natural Meats, a craft farm and butcher shop based in the Osler, Sask., area that uses chickens, cattle, pigs, lambs and turkeys in their entirety.
"So it's nose-to-tail —we need to find a home for every usable part of the animal."
The environmental benefits of raising and processing meat locally, and using all parts of the animal, are important to Boldt.
"We try and share it with our customers to be responsible with what we consume and how we consume it, and to use everything as much as we can to get the most value out of it, and to be responsible stewards of the resources we're given."
In Saskatchewan, cattle are grazed on land that's not suitable for crops, allowing grassy lands to remain and serve as a carbon sink, she says.
Animals eat the grass and turn that energy into something humans can consume, fertilizing the land as they pass over it.
There's been a lot of recent focus, though, on meat production and its potential effects on the environment. Animal-based proteins — especially red meat — consume more resources and generate more greenhouse gases than beans, nuts and other plant-based proteins, studies say.
Producing beef uses 20 times the land and generates 20 times the emissions as producing beans, per gram of protein, the World Resources Institute reports. And there's also the methane produced by livestock — according to calculations by some experts, the livestock sector is on par with transport in contributing to global warming.
But Boldt can't see how imported tofu or nuts grown elsewhere and shipped to Canada can compete with locally sourced and produced meat.
"When one considers food miles and the carbon footprint associated with that, it doesn't make sense."
'You have to get creative'
So if you're using a nose-to-tail model, how do you make those not-so-often used parts of the animal tasty?
For Boldt, it's a challenge worth taking on. For instance, people in the market for chicken may only want the chicken breast, which only represents 48 per cent of the bird, she said.
"What do you do with the other 52 per cent — the wings, the thighs and the drums? You have to get creative and make things like sausage and burgers and souvlaki," she said.
When she and her husband started the business 20 years ago, no one was interested in beef brisket. Now it's a popular cut for barbecue and slow cooking, she said.
Immigrant populations are also driving demand for animal parts like tripe, kidneys or feet, though Pine View sometimes can't meet these requests because of health regulations, said Boldt.
But the demand also shows a shifting awareness, she says.
"Palates are expanding and people are more willing to look at different cuts of meat, because they're more educated and aware. And so I think the food landscape is slowly changing here too."
Braised tongue and pigs feet tasty options: chef
Over at Saskatoon restaurant The Hallows, owner/chef Christie Peters is another advocate of cooking nose-to-tail, and has lots of recipes to make gourmet food from off-cuts.
"Pigs feet can be a delicacy, if you debone the trotters and stuff it with ground meat and herbs, and braise it until it's tender," she said. "It's a very special way to eat the meat."
Braised beef cheeks or tongue can also come as a welcome surprise to people, with the process of braising itself making certain parts of the animal unrecognizable and much more palatable, she said.
"When you braise it down, it doesn't have the texture of tongue — it's more like pulled pork."
A beef heart bolognese and a lamb and beef ravioli are other popular items on the menu, she said.
"People love it."
Nose-to-tail is not a new concept, as Indigenous people traditionally made use of all parts of animals, and some continue to enjoy delicacies like moose nose.
Farmers are known to make meals of fried or otherwise cooked bull testicles in the field, a dish commonly known as "prairie oysters" or "Rocky Mountain oysters."
"I think it's a more environmental way of eating meat. I think it's way more sustainable," Peters said of the nose-to-tail approach, adding that it's also a way to honour the value in an animal.
"The more people that are going to eat the off-cuts, the better. It's such a waste for people not to eat it," she said.
"I think it's the way of the future."
With files from Thomson Reuters and Emily Chung