When you think of "American" food, it's easy to land on hamburgers or hot dogs, or even to go a bit further into regional dishes like barbecue or po' boys. But what about the food that is really native of our land? In that case, all eyes can turn to the buffalo that roam the Great Plains... or at least, they did once. American buffalo have recently been threatened and were nearly extinct just a few years ago, but Patagonia Provisions, the new food line from outdoor retailer Patagonia, has just paired with Wild Idea Buffalo to change all that.
Wild Idea Buffalo is a South Dakota-based company raising wild buffalo in the open plains. Patagonia Provisions partnered with the company in order to create a line of buffalo jerky, a feel-good food that tastes great and supports local sustainable food industry. We sat down with Birgit Cameron, Director of Patagonia Provisions, to find out more about the new release.
Image credit: Amy Kumler
Birgit Cameron says that Patagonia Provisions first decided to partner with Wild Idea Buffalo's Dan and Jill O'Brien thanks to their philosophy of conservation and restoration of the South Dakota grasslands while sustainably raising buffalo--something that up until recently would not have been possible. Until the early 2000s, the buffalo that used to roam the plains by the tens of thousands were virtually extinct due to mismanaged land and overgrazing; it took media mogul Ted Turner to bring attention to this problem and restore the buffalo to their native habitat, encouraging the symbiosis between the species and the land that had been a reality for centuries, and it is in this spirit that the partnership took place.
"We are are preserving the grasslands by restoring the buffalo to the Great Plains," says Cameron. "The buffalo till the soil with their hooves and nurture the grasslands back to health. These two wild and natural entities are interconnected, a sort of symbiotic relationship. Preserving the land for wild things is our mission."
Photo credit: Jon Levitt
Wild Idea buffalo are far freer than most animals bred for consumption. "Wild Idea buffalo live and roam as their ancestors did," says Cameron. "As buffalo were originally a native species to the Great Plains, they do not require hands-on attention—they simply know how to live and thrive in their natural environment. The end result is greater animal husbandry, a less stressful life for the buffalo, and ultimately a better product." This also means that the impact on the environment is much smaller. Wild Idea believes in sequestering carbon and reducing the carbon footprint of the meat industry.
This is one of the reasons that the company decided to slaughter the buffalo in the grasslands themselves, dressing them in a mobile abattoir and then transporting them to a processing facility where they are artisinally butchered and prepared for sale.
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"Confining buffalo in corrals, trailers and slaughterhouses puts a tremendous amount of fear in them," explains Cameron. But while the welfare of the animals is one major factor that led to this decision, the quality of the meat was also at play.
"The fear causes stress, which triggers high levels of the hormone cortisol," explains Cameron. "This hormone greatly affects the flavor and tenderness of the meat." The result, then, is a more humane, more ecological and ultimately more delicious product.
"By following nature's circle of life, we help restore the link between the land, the animals, and the people," says Cameron.
The product was released in Patagonia stores this summer, and so far, it's doing quite well. Of course, that's no surprise: the jerky is far more tender and lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol than beef. It's also 100 percent grass-fed, free-range, antibiotic-, pesticide- and hormone-free. Basically, it's just buffalo with light seasoning, packed in 2-ounce portions that are ready for the open road.
The partners hope that the launch of this project is only the beginning for healthy food products in Patagonia stores. "Patagonia got into the food business because it's a direct and fundamental way to protect and restore the planet," says Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. "We want to support farming and ranching that puts food on the table without poisoning the earth."
In this case, they seem to be going a step further from doing no harm and actually creating a product that encourages dying ecosystems to be reborn.
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Top photo credit Jon Levitt