Dinner and Dancing

TreeHuggers eat buffalo. No exceptions except for strict vegetarians. If you've an interest in soil and water conservation, biodiversity, keeping family farms around, avoiding possible exposure to Mad Cow disease, energy conservation, and personal health, you owe it to yourself to give it a serious try. And I'm not talking about the pre-formed frozen "Buffalo Burgers" sold by the big grocery chains. Credit George Catlin, plains 'Painter in Residence' before settlers ended the Bison's reign, for giving me a romantic view of the Buff. But credit critical thinking, a strong desire for sustainability, and my love of cooking for sending me on a TreeHugging Buffalo hunt. The taste, I can report, is its own reward. Romanticism only carries so far.

George Catlin's painting of the sacred buffalo dance (above) documents what has been reported by European observers as a 'thanksgiving' celebration. I have a hunch it's a lot deeper than that, but, regardless, we all ought to dance for joy that the American Bison was not driven to extinction. Thanks to Canada and more thanks to Teddy Roosevelt for the rescue.

Let me count the reasons.

Buffalo are twice as efficient as beef cattle at converting wild grass forage into animal protein. Add some more efficiency because they need no "feedlot treatment" of hay, corn, and antibiotics. Buffs are also more drought tolerant and less attracted to natural waterways than are cattle: good for stream quality. Add up the energy, land, and water inputs for a pound of meat and Bison wins by a wide margin.

Bison are very well adapted to cold weather extremes, requiring farmers to expend less energy to keep them warm and sheltered during the depths of winter.

Fat content of all buffalo is substantially less than beef or chicken. Less fat coupled with the generally lower water content of buffalo meat means lower cooking temperatures suffice. This, in turn, saves cooking energy.

Buffalo meat producers tend to be family based. This could be a transitory situiation, but TreeHuggers can have at keeping it that way for a bit longer.

Pricing seems to vary widely so be sure to shop around.

Where to buy: -- In the interest of saving money and energy, as well as supporting a family enterprise, I ordered from a small farm in Northern Minnesota, on the Eastern edge of the Bison's native range. To locate a supplier near you, you can try this trade organization GIS map, or just do a web search with "buffalo + meat + yourstate".

Tradeoffs: -- It's a tradeoff between unit cost, shipping distance, and buying direct from a family producer versus a large scale online retailer. Worth exploring who does the meat processing and freezing. I was unable to find a Native American supplier because of the deluge of web "hits" associated with cultural and political history. Commenters?

TreeHuggers who have been paying attention to the issue of Peak Oil may be interested in what large portions of the Great Plains might look like sometime after 2030: buffalo grazing amongst the wind turbines, rubbing their backs upon the concrete foundations.

by: John Laumer