Thursday, February 23, 2012

Knowing How the “Sausage is Made”

Update: August, 2013:  This editorial considers whether or not consumers really want to see where their food comes from, and this piece highlights survey results from England that indicate shoppers do want to know the source of their food. 

UPDATE: May, 2013: As a kid on the farm, I watched animals being butchered for meat consumption--as the blog below details. In this video, Temple Grandin clearly explains--and graphically shows--what happens in a hog meat plant.

Being There at Butcher Time 
     Many ag groups trumpet the idea of informing the public and helping consumers understand where their food comes from, but you know what they say about seeing “how the sausage is made.”  Some might think that culinary ignorance makes for a happy eater.
     I hope that an informed consumer makes a better friend of agriculture, but that’s tough since the vast majority of Americans never set foot on a farm. Two recent blogs examine both the “informing” and “sausage making” issues by tackling the fact that something must die if meat appears on the table. 
     In a piece from the cowboy who “ruminates from the road,” we hear a livestock producer’s view about such questions as: Do cattle understand their mortality? Are they afraid of the smell of blood? Are cattle terrified when they get to a processing plant? 
     In another commentary, Cindi Young examines the debate between livestock producers and those who advocate for improvements in animal welfare. She notes that it is worth asking whether farm animals have the ability to feel and perceive.  She also believes that livestock producers are in the best position to judge that.
     Both writers seem to appreciate the “Temple Grandin philosophy” of treating animals with respect and understanding. The “cowboy’s” piece gets specific about what happens to the animals when they take their final walk into the slaughterhouse. And for some, that’s the hard part.
     Because of my upbringing, I visited packing plants, joined in with the farm chicken butchering, and brought in plenty of veggies from the garden. I realize food has to be mass produced to nourish the burgeoning global population, but I’m still humbled by the intricate process.
     I knew early on that our hamburger and steaks did not come plastic-wrapped from the supermarket. Dad would decide our meat supply was low and a steer in the feedlot was ready, so he’d call Marv, the owner of the town meat locker. My brothers and I would climb the board fence for the big occasion, as Marv pulled into the lot with his butcher truck.
     Twenty or so steers might be in the pen, but Marv knew the chosen one.  He’d walk slowly toward it, calmly raise his rifle, and then tap on the barrel with the butcher knife he gripped with his trigger hand.  The steer would raise its head to stare at the tapping sound, and one shot between the eyes made it collapse instantly.  Marv would walk to the steer and slit its throat; the blood flowed out into a rich red puddle.  When Marv was satisfied the carcass was properly drained, he winched it into the bed of the truck and drove to his meat locker in town. A few days later, we stocked our freezer.
     Now, fifty years later, this is not the way it’s done, of course. But for every piece of meat consumed, some process occurs, and over the decades, the farmers, meat industries, and the government have worked to make products safe, nutritious, and appealing.  That doesn’t mean everyone agrees with the act of “sausage making.”  But until the day lab workers perfect test tube t-bones and science fiction sausage, it’s probably best if we all know where our meat comes from and how to keep processing it in the best ways possible for animals and consumers alike.  by dan gogerty, photo from ars

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