Lessons from the Meat Masters

Image courtesy Flickr/Jon Siegel

dickson_2 Knowing more about your meat is one of the most important steps in the quest to eat for a better brain. Pork is a top brain food (thiamine!), so I headed to my local butcher shop,

Dickson’s Farmstand on a recent Sunday for a 3-hour lesson on pork to investigate more about how better meat makes for a better brain.
Owner Jake Dickson knows more about meat—from grass feeding and nitrate preservatives to the overall role of meat in the human diet—than most of us will ever know. Far from a meat-crazed carnivore, I found him to be pragmatic and informed by years of selling the best quality meat he can find. In fact, if you want to go visit the farm and meet the farmer who raised the beef, pork, lamb, and chicken that Jake sells, everything is within an easy days drive from his Chelsea Market store (in NYC).

Jake eagerly answered our questions as we looked over a selection of cured meats all made in-house, perfect ham, rare roast beef, lamb and beef pastrami, chorizo, and corned beef. He gave us a tour of his meat counter answering the group’s increasingly rapid fire – Where is a tri-tip from? What are Country Ribs? What’s Bistec Norteno? Later on, Jake and one of his senior butchers, Aldo, made an impressive educational duo as they efficiently carved half a pig into several dozen chops, roasts, grind, and bacon. His skill was mesmerizing – a master at work. Afterwards, Jake gave us a tour of his facility, which produces everything he sells – the sausages, hot dogs, pate, cured meats – all made in a small but efficiently used industrial kitchen.

I had a great time and Jake accomplished his primary goal – educating his customers. The employees’ respect and cultivation of butchering are just one of many things that makes Dickson’s Farmstand one of the best butcher shops in the country. Dickson’s website is also a great resource and I especially enjoyed the section on the farms they work with. Thanks to Jake, Aldo, and Dickson’s Farmstand for setting a standard of how to do meat right.

• There are only 18 whole animal butcher shops in America.
• Grass-fed meats spoil faster and Jake made some strong points on the merits of using some grains in the growing of meat. There is a category of meat in between the industrially produced grain-fed feedlot meat and an entirely grass-fed cow.
• The spider steak is the sphincter muscle
• The concept of the “exceptional animal” – that if all things are constant – feed, environment, breed – there are still some animals that are just simply superior. Their meat has better marbling and superior flavor, they are “meatier”.
• Nitrate preservatives, which trigger migraines and are linked to several cancers, are in most “Nitrate Free” pre-packaged meats. The industry used a celery-based preservative in which the nitrates have been concentrated. Jake and his staff use minimal amounts nitrates in the tradition method “used for 3000 years” to cure meat (salt peter). It keeps the meat pink (people don’t buy pastrami). As he put it, these are special foods but not for everyday consumption.

Drew Ramsey, MD

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. He is a clear voice in the mental health conversation and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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