Tag Archives: Meat

Raising Teenage Girls Amidst a Sea Of Dietary Confusion…

Apart from my favorite farmer, my three girls are my greatest blessing. In less than two weeks, 2/3’s of them will be teenagers. Our house is a bevy of activity permeated by moments of drama, and decorated by athletic bras hanging to dry on nearly every doorknob.

While raising teenagers is unarguably an adventure, I believe that the journey of raising healthy and confident girls resembles a never ending Iron Man competition. Nagging concerns of being thin, pretty, and accepted butt up against dreams of athletic and intellectual prowess. An internal struggle capped off by an innate drive toward individualism that may conflict with mainstream culture as well as push the dogma perpetuated by parents and mentors.

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The life journey of a teenage girl proves that the road to excellence is never comfortable…

While many of these daily struggles simply come together to create the iconic journey toward maturity, some have become exacerbated by the complex dual between science and politics that make up the history of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. I was two years old in 1977 when the science of nutrition became diluted with the burden of politics. Fortunately my parents shielded me from the ramifications of the new age of political nutrition rhetoric, choosing to instead pass along to me a traditional culture of family meals and a balanced diet.

I grew up in a house where dinner was always a home cooked meal. Meat was the center of the plate accompanied by a vegetable, some sort of starch, and a glass of milk. While my mom was not a fancy cook, her meals were delicious and she taught me how to put diversified nutrients on the table. I learned to equate the basics of home cooking with healthiness, primarily due to my mom’s steadfast commitment to a pragmatic diet approach.

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I do not have childhood memories of other influences (outside of my family) on the topic of nutrition. I cannot say that same thing about my daughters. The web of political influence over nutrition has grown to where it touches their lives daily through school lunches and nutrition education in the classroom.

  • I serve my girls eggs, meat, and whole milk as a part of a balanced diet at home while they are told in school curriculum that these are unhealthy even when blended with fruits and vegetables on the home cooked dinner plate.
  • I preach about the importance of protein and fat as sources of energy and nutrients in the diet while the government mandated curriculum teaches them that eating healthy means a plant based high carbohydrate and low fat diet.

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The result is a conflicted and confused teenager trying to survive amidst a sea of dietary confusion.

The next few blog posts will take a look at both the science and the politics of nutrition. I will examine Nina Teicholz’s New York Times Bestseller The Big FAT Surprise, as well as the current nutrition debate that struggles to surface amidst a 30 year culture of food politics determined to create a one size fits all answer to the diet and health of Americans.

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Filed under General, Nutrition (cattle and human)

The Culture of Meat…

In addition to discussing food/meat in the written word, National Geographic is also doing a television series entitled “Eat: The Story of Food”. The second episode of the series centered on meat — most especially the culture of meat, the role that it played in evolution, and what the future of meat might hold.

I took several biological anthropology classes at Dartmouth College. Professor Korey and his lectures on the subject of biological evolution fascinated me. The how, the when, and the why all peaked my curiosity – and I poured over the material with avid interest. My specific draw toward anthropology centered on biological change, however, the element of culture seemed to always be intrinsically tied to the discussion.

A Samburu Elder with his child...The Samburu continue to be a semi-nomadic people based on a hunter-gatherer culture.

A Samburu Elder with his child…The Samburu continue to be a semi-nomadic people in 2014.  Their “agriculture” is different from mine…

Perhaps it is because I am a nerd at heart, perhaps it is because meat (growing it, cooking it, and eating it) plays a central role in my life, perhaps it is because the philosophical foodie discussion hits close to home — Whatever the reason, I found the first 2/3’s of the  National Geographic production incredibly interesting.

  • I became intrigued when the tool of cooking was linked to biological changes to the human body.
  • I followed interestedly as the discussion turned to the domestication of food animals more than 15,000 years ago as many peoples transitioned away from hunter-gather tribes to agrarian societies, and then eventually even away from farms to city life in the second half of the 1900’s.
  • I smiled when food was linked to community, family, and one’s cultural roots.
  • I nodded when cooking meat was labeled a “sacred ritual”.
  • I chuckled when someone stated that meat was an expression of manliness – thereby, a possible explanation for modern day man’s fascination with grilling. mattsteaks

All of these things resonated with me and I enjoyed the way that the information was disseminated to the viewer.  Unfortunately, at this point in the show, a shift occurred away from the historical and anthropological and toward the one-sided political abyss where modern food production is demonized. The historical balanced became the politically unbalanced, and I was sadly disappointed with the end of the program.

In the final 12 minutes Michael Pollan gave his usual rhetoric, “Feedlots are the biggest point sources of pollution in the United States…Meat agriculture will have to change. The way we are doing it now is unsustainable.” Upon hearing this, I immediately wondered how Mr. Pollan could accurately draw this conclusion about my farm since he has never once visited it? He offered no basis for his conclusions – apparently the American people are just supposed to believe his omniscient pontifications.

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Cattle on my farm which I call a feed yard and Mr. Pollan calls a feedlot…

The segment ended with suggestions for the change called for by Mr. Pollan.  The various contributors to the show offered two ideas as the future of meat was subsequently discussed.  They left me a bit perplexed…

  1. Eat more insects.
  2. Grow hamburgers (at the current cost of $325,000.00 per burger) in a petri dish.

Really?

I am the first to admit that continuous improvement is imperative for sustainability, and I believe that there are ways that I can continue to do a better job producing beef on my farm. I work hard every day to attain constant improvement remaining committed to growing high quality beef with the smallest environmental footprint.

I am most certainly not the same as my hunter-gatherer ancestors.  My farm runs differently now than it did 20 years ago and it will continue to evolve and change on into the future.  I choose to serve my family the pasture raised, grain finished beef that I grow with pride.

Pasture raised cattle that are now at my feed yard in preparation for slaughter...

Pasture raised cattle that are now wintering at my feed yard in preparation for becoming beef…

I don’t know about you, but I prefer that to a diet of insects or petri dish meat…

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Filed under A Farmer's View on Foodie Thoughts..., General

Farm Check: The Plan

Quality Assurance programs have been in place for food animal farmers for more than a decade.  The breadth of these programs varies depending on the animal species, but the core facets are based on farmer education and best management practices to ensure good animal care and safe meat.

Healthy and well cared for animals make healthy meat...

Healthy and well cared for animals make healthy meat…

For beef farmers, the Beef Quality Assurance program is a voluntary educational effort that focuses on daily farming practices which impact both animal care and food safety.  Cattle ranchers and farmers are encouraged to both participate in the program and interact regularly with their veterinarian to facilitate this goal.BQA Logo

The Farm Check program is intended to be a natural extension of the Beef Quality Assurance Feed Yard Assessment.  With its key elements comprised of core BQA components, Farm Check extends the current BQA program for feed yards to include an independent 3rd party auditing component.  Auditing serves two purposes:

  1.  It creates accountability and verification of animal care practices on the farm.
  2. It offers additional assurance for customers that live off-farm that the meat that they purchase at the grocery store comes from animals that were raised responsibly.FarmChecklogo

The Farm Check Beef Animal Handling Feed Yard Training Manual is still in draft form, and will be trialed in a few “pilot” feed yards this summer before a final draft is formed this fall.  Implementation of the beef portion of the Farm Check Program will begin in 2014.  The swine version is currently in the process of being implemented, and the poultry program is slated to follow the same time line as the beef.  Tyson is the nation’s leading producer of meat and poultry, and is the first packing plant to take this step toward validating on-farm animal care.

The second component of the Farm Check program is an animal welfare research program.  Tyson has designated dollars to be used to fund and promote additional research that will lead to continued improvement in the methods used to raise farm animals.  CEO Donnie Smith states, “We want to identify and study the critical points—from breeding to harvesting—where the quality of life for livestock and poultry can be improved, and use the results to make a difference.”DSC04451

The Farm Animal Wellbeing Advisory Panel that I sit on will aid Tyson both in the Farm Check on-farm education and audit program and also provide input on necessary research areas for further study.  The panel members will work with Tyson’s internal team to create and implement the program.

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The Farm Check program is inaugural in nature and a work in progress.  I returned home after the first two day meeting with my head swimming with information and ideas.  I am looking forward to continuing to share and learn as I fulfill my duties on the Advisory Panel!

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Filed under General, Tyson Farm Check Program

Farm Check: The Goal

I have to admit that as a child and teenager, I never gave a thought to where my food came from.  I took both the food and my mother’s wonderful home cooked dinners completely for granted.  As a dedicated athlete who trained four hours a day, I consumed a lot of food—thinking about nutrition and fuel for my body, but never giving a second to think about what it took to grow it.

Finishing an ocean mile race as part of my training twenty years ago...

Finishing an ocean mile race as part of my training twenty years ago…

I’ll never forget the look on my husband’s face the first time that he attended a team dinner for the Dartmouth Women’s Swim Team.  As a college football player he was no stranger to eating, but the feeding frenzy that he witnessed that night left him speechless.  He wisely decided to step aside and let my team mates and I eat our fill before attempting to enter the food line himself…

As I transitioned from competitive athlete to farm girl, I found myself (for the first time) taking an active role in both understanding and growing food.  When I moved to Nebraska in 1997, I had complete trust in modern food production but very little understanding of it.

The day that I graduated from college--pictured with my husband and brother.  The next day, I began to trek from New Hampshire to Nebraska to begin a new life...

College graduation: pictured with my husband and brother. The next day, I began to trek from New Hampshire to Nebraska to begin a new life…

Somewhere in the last 16 years, universal trust in food production has been eroded.  Farming practices have been questioned as well as the integrity of the farmer that implements them.  This saddens me.  While I truly believe that every person has a right to understand where their food comes from, I also believe that it is important to truly understand before passing judgement.

The challenge that we all face is the ever growing gap between farmers and urbanites.  Whenever a disconnect like this occurs, myths perpetuate and misinformation stands in the way of good conversation and understanding.  Perception becomes a cloud of fog that hinders trust and stands in the way of true learning and comprehension.

I believe that I care for him responsibly, and I want to share that story of care with you...

I believe that I care for him responsibly, and I want to share that story of care with you…

Somehow philosophers like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser have become the authority on food production, while farmers like myself have become the evil opportunists.  While I can certainly respect that every person has a right to their own beliefs, it bothers me tremendously to read books like Fast Food Nation that misrepresent both who I am and what happens on my farm.

  • I believe with all of my heart that responsible food production must universally exist.
  • I believe with all of my heart that this responsible food production includes quality animal care.
  • I believe with all of my heart that a deep understanding of food animals and their needs must play the key role in determining what defines proper care.
  • I believe with all of my heart that good care leads to healthy animals and a safe food supply.
  • I believe with all of my heart that together farmers and urbanites can come together to build relationships and understanding relative to meat production.

The goal of the Tyson Farm Check program is to bring scientists and farmers together with our customers to rebuild trust while also continually learning how to improve farm animal care.

Do we care?  Absolutely! 

Can we get better?  Absolutely!FarmChecklogo

  The goal is to build trust while responsibly growing safe and nutritious food.

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Filed under General, Tyson Farm Check Program

Did You Know?

  • Did you know that every animal is inspected by a USDA employee before it is cleared for harvest?
  • Did you know that FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) inspects all carcasses during the harvest process to ensure that your beef is safe?
  • Did you know that federal law states that meat can not be shipped or sold without the USDA inspection seal that is given once the above two things have happened?
  • Did you know that this week the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, threatened to furlough USDA and FSIS employees for at least two weeks beginning March 1st which would effectively shut down meat production in the United States?
  • I can tell you that knowing the answer to all of these questions has led me to several sleepless nights this week.  Yesterday afternoon, I decided to write the Secretary a letter which is listed below.  If you are compelled to contact the Secretary, you can send him an email at: Tom.Vilsack@usda.govDSC03744

 

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

 I write to you today with a heavy heart.  I am saddened, I am ashamed, and I am angry.  I feel all of these emotions because of your threatening words regarding a forthcoming furlough of FSIS employees.  As you know, that furlough would shut down the 6290 packing plants and processing facilities across the United States because it is illegal to slaughter and ship meat without the USDA inspection seal.

 Not only would this furlough directly affect the thousands of employees of those packing and processing facilities, but it would also affect every farmer in the nation and the millions of consumers that purchase the products that we work so hard to grow.

 My husband and I own and operate a diversified farm in Dawson   County, Nebraska.  We raise both crops and cattle using a combination of traditional and organic farming practices.  Our livelihood revolves around food animal production, and we have spent the last two decades tirelessly working to build a viable farming business.  This business becomes non-viable if animals cannot be slaughtered for meat production purposes.  Even the 2 week shutdown that you threaten will cause great hardship to us.

 Whether your threatening words are signs of a new reality or simply an attempt to play politically motivated games with Congress, they negatively affect our family farming business.  Scare tactics that involve the production of food are simply irresponsible and I am gravely disappointed in your behavior.  I believe that it is your job as the Secretary of Agriculture to calmly lead our nation’s food growers and aid them in their vital task of feeding their fellow countrymen. 

 Forgive me, sir, but it certainly appears to me that you are being severely derelict in your duties.  As I watch from Nebraska, the livelihood of my farming business is being jeopardized in the name of politics.  You, President Obama, and the rest of the administration are threatening the food and fiber of our country with your actions.  I would like to take a minute to remind you that you are tampering with both my livelihood and our country’s food security.

 In the coming weeks, I sincerely hope that you will designate FSIS inspectors as “essential personnel” and exempt them from the furlough.  Additionally, I pray that you will discontinue engaging in scare tactics that negatively affect farmers like me who work so diligently to raise safe and healthy food.

 I invite you to take some time to visit my blog site so that you can learn more about two of the many farmers that rely on you for leadership and support.  You can access my blog site at http://www.feedyardfoodie.com/.

 

Sincerely,

 Anne Burkholder

Cozad, Nebraska

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Filed under Farming, General