The lamb meat sizzled in the skillet and catapulted scorching specks of fat at my forearm. Every hiss of browning meat sounded like a scolding and soon my family was joining in on the judgment. I was cheating on vegetarianism with food I had played with.
A few hours before hovering over red meat, I was frolicking through a field in upstate New York with two lambs chasing my heels. Green hills stretched wide and if you covered every surrounding license plate, you could mistake New York fields for English moors. When I was invited into the shepherd’s home, he offered me a quarter pound of lamb. A quarter pound of a sibling to those little lambs who had just nipped at my sneakers. I remember saying “no” out loud, but it must have been slow enough for the shepherd to sense curiosity and offer again, seducing the meat eater I once was.
If I bought this kind of meat, from the pasture outside the kitchen window, I would be supporting a person who raised animals for consumption, arguably the right way. I had observed the lamb’s daily activities: a chomp of pistachio shells at 11, congregate for a chorus of baas on the hill at 11:30, receive kisses between ears at 12, be bottle fed at 12:15 by squealing farm visitors who take too many pictures. A quick trip to pet lambs turned into an elaborate lesson in the emotional and financial investments of starting a farm from scratch. Shaking my head profusely, I said yes, fine.
Everyone gasped when they heard I ate the meat I met. “I don’t want to know where my meat comes from,” one friend announced. And therein, carnivores, lies the problem.
Your hamburger was confined by cages before the buns. Face it, it was once cute. If you don’t want to know where it came from, then it was most likely raised on a factory farm. Here's a quick lesson in why that’s not ideal.
Factory farms don’t just produce patties with an astonishing detachment from conditions in how livestock live but also greenhouse gases (translation: not good) and a whopping 61 million tons of waste per year according to the Organic Consumers Association (translation: not worth the Big Mac).
But meat doesn’t have to come from this place. You can say the word “local” without being an obnoxious hipster.
Find out where your city sets up tents for their farmers market. Seek out your local farm and witness how your future food lives. Does it really eat grass? Is the grass green? Are the chickens truly free of cages? If a trip to a farm isn’t easily accessible for you, start a conversation with a farmer by calling. Some grocery providers in your area may have a butcher that has a relationship with quality farmers. Follow these butchers on Instagram (strict vegetarians beware) to peek into their passion for quality cuts. This is over-the-counter meat you can trust. Keep your eyes peeled for the Animal Welfare Approved label that ensures meat was raised with care for both the animal’s and environment’s well-being. An inch towards understanding food production and why a good food system matters can make a difference.
It’s impossible to smack away every hand that reaches for the juicy mounds of beef fresh off the grill. It’s impossible to clog all the spouts of condiment bottles about to garnish a sausage in protest. This is not about turning the meat eater onto soy. People will always eat meat because people always have. It’s about illuminating and understanding better options.
When the burger was ready and my family forgave me (because they remembered the time they ate bacon that morning), I adorned it with hummus, feta, lettuce, and red onions. I cared for the construction of the burger as much as I did the lamb I fed with a bottle. With the first bite I could taste the earth of Bovina, New York, like I could identify the dewy blade of grass the lamb snacked on.
Ignore etiquette and play with your food. This way, you can have your burger and be conscious too. Find animal welfare-approved farmers here.
Paprika Parsley Lamb Burger
For the Patty
¼ pound of ground local lamb meat
¼ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the Burger Topping
Pickled red onion
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine all ingredients for the patty. Knead together with your hands until all spices are distributed evenly throughout the meat. Form into a disc.
In a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, cook the lamb burger until done, about 4 minutes per side.
Place the burger on a bun and dress with feta, onions, and spinach.