The service charges a premium for less meat than you'd normally buy at the supermarket—and that's okay.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Crowd Cow.

We all know it's healthier to eat less meat but even if you want to do it, actually changing your eating habits can be difficult. One solution: Spending your protein budget on getting tastier, higher-quality stuff, and using it more sparingly.

But that can be easier said than done. Grocery stores are mostly motivated to offer the lowest prices possible, and while meat CSAs are growing in popularity, it can still be hard to find one. Plus, when you do, you often need to commit to spending a small fortune on a whole lot of meat at once—or find half a dozen friends to go in on something with you.

Enter Crowd Cow. The online startup service connects foodies with independent ranchers and farmers across the nation.

Crowd Cow lets you find grass-fed, free-range cattle as well as pasture-raised chickens and heritage pork, without having to track down a farmer or buy in bulk. You simply indicate how much you'd like to purchase, including the cuts you'd prefer, and the service does the rest, linking you with a local farmer who can supply the meat.

And if you're interested in making sure your food is high-quality, you're in luck: Transparency is one of Crowd Cow's principles. Before buying anything you have access to in-depth profiles of farmers and facilities so you know where your meat is coming from, and how it was raised. It's all depends on where you live, so you're always buying your meat local, and getting it fresh.

We asked Crowd Cow's founders, Ethan Lowry (co-founder of UrbanSpoon) and Joe Heitzeberg, about their approach to sharing farm-to-table meat with home cooks—and why you should eat less meat while paying more for it.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Crowd Cow.

Cooking Light: How did Crowd Cow get started?

Ethan Lowry: The idea around Crowd Cow was actually centered from an experiment that we did in the beginning—we had done a Kickstarter campaign where we sold a cow share online, and the idea of getting meat straight from the farm was very appealing.

But my wife is a steadfast vegetarian, and I'm the only meat eater in my house, so I couldn't justify buying 400 pounds of meat straight from a farm.

But I wondered: What if we could get 50 people together, though? They could buy directly from the farmer, and get the cuts and quantity that they'd want. At first, we headed directly to Starbucks actually, and asked customers in the shop if this was something that interested them. Invariably, we got one of two answers: Either, "I'm a vegetarian, don't bother me," or "That sounds absolutely amazing."

There's this discrepancy when it comes to buying and eating meat: if you go to a really nice restaurant, a well-versed sommelier is there ready to give you all the information you'd like about the extensive wine list. But when [it comes to] the steaks on [the menu], there's only one option. Maybe you're lucky to know where it came from, the farm it was raised on, maybe you don't. But you still spend the money.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Crowd Cow.

CL: Why do you think home cooks should consider products like heritage pork and free-range pastured chicken?

Lowry: One, is that it's the most noticeable differences in flavor and quality you'll ever come across.

We're lucky: In our offices, we get to taste the difference every day. But to put it into terms anyone can understand, when it comes to a blind taste test between different wines, you might be able to tell them apart. But with meat produced by independent farmers, the difference is overwhelming—you don't need a great or refined palate to taste it.

Joe Heitzeberg: From a health perspective, when you consider what occurs during factory farming, I think people would be uncomfortable eating their dinners if they saw that process. As a cook myself, I don't want to buy a piece of steak and then have things come along the ride like growth hormones, or stress hormones. I want to eat something that lived a good life, and was happy the whole time it was being raised.

I want to be able to answer the question: "Where did this food actually come from?"

Lowry: It's good to know the actual source. You are what you eat. It's as simple as that. With a nameless cut on your plate, there's a reason why you don't know where it came from or what it truly is.

Heitzeberg: And the pig is also what [it] eats. When pigs are raised right, you can taste it for a reason. The pork we had as kids is so much better than anything you'd find in a grocery store [today].

CL: What do you consider to be a healthy serving size for your products—and is that something that helps home cooks eat healthier?

Credit: Photo courtesy of Crowd Cow.

Heitzeberg: Crowd Cow is super clear on serving sizes and guidances—you can see our holistic prices and the pictures of servings we recommend. The context of this is implicit to our brand: if you're being told to eat less meat, then you'll want to eat smaller portions over time. And you'll enjoy better flavor, which then all leads to better health.

Lowry: We don't just send you a box of meat. [We want you to have] the choice of which kinds of cuts you'd actually eat and enjoy. For many other services, it's just a box of cuts curated for you without input.

Heitzeberg: And you have to remember that our beef is all dry-aged—other cuts are wet-aged meat, packed and then sent off to stores because retailers can make more money on the water within the weight of the meat itself. You end up paying for water when you buy meat this way.

When you take the time to dry age, the water weight is lost, which results in an outstandingly high-quality flavor. It's [also] more nutrient dense, which then leads us to suggest [smaller]sizes. You don't have to eat heaping amounts to enjoy flavor and reap the nutritional benefits.

CL: Many of our readers may not spend as much on chicken, beef, and pork than what you sell your product for. Why should they spend more?

Lowry: Beyond the overwhelming difference in quality of taste, you're supporting the smaller farmer and how the product you are eating was raised in the first place. Our service is sustainable and, in the end, provides a whole lot more support for the ecosystem than other production chains on the market.

These farmers live on the land and they are managing it every day. They're part of the solution… We spend a lot of time on the road looking for suppliers with good reputations, and we spend lots of time meeting with them.

I've been working in Montana and Texas in the last three weeks, and next month I'll be heading to Japan, all to meet with farmers directly and vet them: To sample their products, and find a natural way to work together with one another. .

CL: How often do you think one should be eating meat?

Heitzeberg: We're don't have an answer for that. On average, we see reorders every two months or so, depending on the size of the household, personal preferences and terms of the diet one follows. The only time that beef or pork is going to come is when you ask for it—we don't believe in dictating how much people should eat.