I recently read about a recall of over 14 tons of ground beef in Vermont. This got me thinking about a number of things.
First, this is a lot of meat. I wondered how many steers (or old dairy cows) it takes to make 14 tons of ground beef. This is not such a simple question to answer. Was the beef made from mostly old dairy cows, which would be used almost entirely for ground beef, or was the beef from large-breed, healthy steers, which would be used for steaks, roasts, and other cuts, with a much smaller portion going into ground beef production? Let’s for arguments sake pick a number somewhere in the middle of the two realms… 500 lbs. This would mean that it would take 56 animals to produce 14 tons of ground meat. I’m not anti-meat by any means, but this is an unnecessary waste of life. Unfortunately, this recall pales in comparison to the 71,500 tons of beef recalled in 2008. Using our math, that would be over 280,000 animals “wasted”. I can understand why people become vegetarians, not for health issues, but on moral ones.
I also thought about how these types of recalls are really a product of large scale agriculture. Is there anything inherently wrong with large scale agriculture? Well, I don’t know. I do know that there are a lot of problems that arise from the practices associated with it. I know that there is a lot of waste. I know that there is a lot of environmental damage. I know that the product being produced is typically far inferior in flavor and nutrition. I know that when a mistake is made, that mistake is proportionately as large as the corporation behind it. So, yeah, maybe there is something inherently wrong with large scale agriculture.
Now, I also had to admit that there can be contamination and illness issues from small, local producers. However, these issues are going to be significantly smaller. They will affect substantially less people. In addition, when it is a smaller operation, fewer mistakes are made. This is just logical. When you are only processing five animals from your farm, you will have much greater attention to detail. Your mind won’t start to drift and daydream because you are doing something new the whole time. You will not be lulled into autopilot as you do the same thing over and over again. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens on the factory floors of the large animal processing facilities. Of course I understand that the small scale beef producer rarely processes his own meat, but the point is that smaller is usually safer.
As my mind was running through these issues, I kept thinking about how important it is for us to get to know our local farmers and food producers. This is the key to preventing these atrocious food recalls. Getting to know your local farmer can be a bit difficult to accomplish if you have no experience doing it; however, it is possible if you are determined to do so. Our goal in creating AgriTrue is to make this process not only easy, but enjoyable.
To this day, even though I no longer live in south-central Kentucky, I still consider Kenny Mattingly, a friend. Kenny is a dairy farmer and cheese-maker in Austin, Kentucky. I have travelled through and eaten in over two dozen countries on five continents, so I feel I am fairly objective when I say that he produces some of the world’s best cheese. His Old World, handmade method of cheese making is what sets Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese apart from the mass-produced dairy products found on most supermarket shelves.
Serving in the military has given me the opportunity to live overseas. I am currently stationed in the Azores. These small Portuguese islands rise up in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and by their very nature of being remote islands they have been forced to be sustainable in their food production. Just a few weeks after moving here, I was delighted to meet Telma (similar to the American name, Thelma). Her and her two sisters run a dairy and beef business. Their father was a dairyman, and the sisters realized that the quality of milk and meat were much lower than it could be. They wanted to change that. They set to work creating a sustainable, healthy agricultural system using only quality products. They now produce some of the only fresh milk for the island, which by the way is also healthier than most milk sold in the U.S., and they have created, and sell, a class of meat that in the U.S. would best be described as organic-grassfed.
These are just two examples of local food producers I have met over the years whose passion for and the quality of the food they produce make it all but impossible for me to buy at the local supermarket any more. Both of these people saw how things were being done and thought, “We could do better.” And they did. These are the people we need to get to know. This is the food we need to eat.
If we all started to do this across the country, maybe our grandchildren would only hear about food recalls in stories about the old days before they were born. Let’s do more than hope. Let’s do better. Let’s make it happen. Get to know your local farmers.
John Kitsteiner, MD
Original Article Here