Meet the Meat Man

FISH ARE MEAT, TOO. Just Local Food’s Nik Novak and the catch of the day.

Check out this article from Volume One featuring our very own, Nik Novak!

If you’re looking for someone to answer some of life’s meaty questions – and we mean “meaty” quite literally – it’s hard to find someone more qualified than Nik Novak, the meat buyer and storekeeper at Just Local Food Cooperative in downtown Eau Claire. Since 2008, Nik has been integral to Just Local, building relationships with farmers, butchers, and fishmongers as well as the co-op’s customers. “I get people what they want, in season, for a price that is fair to all,” he explains. We chatted with Nik about the pluses and minuses of frozen meat, the advantages of sourcing locally, and what he’ll be putting on the grill this summer.

Volume One: In the butcher shop or the grocery store, what should buyers look for in a cut of meat to ensure quality?

Nik Novak: Is it local? Did the animal have access to the out-of-doors? Is it free of antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones? Is it fairly priced? If the answer to all of these questions is “yes,” you should feel good about buying it.

What are the pluses and minuses of frozen vs. non-frozen meat?

Frozen meat is free of parasites and harmful bacteria. If you have a chest freezer, you can purchase high-quality meat in bulk for a very reasonable price. On the other hand, frozen meat requires planning. You have to plan a menu, and, depending on your cooking method, you have to thaw the meat first.

Fresh meat, while very convenient, offers no additional health benefits. If anything, it is more likely to be contaminated by unsafe human handling. Fresh meat is also more expensive than frozen meat.

Convenience costs money; planning saves money.

What are the advantages of sourcing meat locally – both for retailers and consumers?

People want to know where their food comes from. As a market for farmers who can’t be at market, we build relationships with local growers who care immensely for their animals, for our water and our soil. Meat animals raised on small farms have access to clean food and sunshine. This is what makes them taste so good. Meat raised in confinement by giant, non-local corporations does not taste as good, and therefore requires expensive, sugary condiments – an entire industry designed to make something taste good that should taste good in the first place.

As a cooperative, how do you deal differently with producers?

We wouldn’t exist without local producers. We know them by name. We know their families. We know why they do what they do and we care about their well-being. We pay them fair prices and they, in turn, shop at our store. Other community members who shop at our store love to meet the people who produce their food. The co-op provides a very trusting and personable environment.

We’re often told that, for health and environmental reasons, we should eat less meat. What is the case for eating meat?

Humans have been eating local meat for 1.8 million years. It’s only in the last few decades that corporations, seeking to maximize their profits without regard for natural laws, have managed to grossly subvert local communities, local economies, and local food-ways. Small-scale traditional farms and wild places were full of high-quality, nutrient-dense, delicious meat animals (including game birds and fishes). Life was centered around food – meat in particular. Meat provided sustenance, sovereignty, and spirituality. (Fun fact: There has never existed an indigenous population that did not depend on eating meat.)

Reclaiming our right to local food not only localizes what we eat, it builds strong, interdependent communities. It keeps money and power in our region and out of the hands of those corporations who do not care about our health or well-being. Meat is life!

We’re about to begin summer grilling season. What are your favorite cuts of meat to cook?

Bacon burgers. Sausage. Pork chops.

What varieties of meat (or derivative products, such as sausage) does Wisconsin excel at producing?

Pretty much everything. Herbivores such as beef, buffalo, and lamb do very well on Wisconsin’s green pastures. Omnivores such as hogs, chickens, and turkeys root, peck, and graze on nutrient-dense soils. The challenge is not so much raising good-tasting meat animals; the challenge is reclaiming fair markets in which small, diversified producers are able to compete against giant, non-local corporations that drive down prices and wages and kill local economic activity. Want to be a patriot? Buy local food from people you trust. Protect our natural resources and keep your dollars in the Chippewa Valley!