Well, as promised, I am dedicating this week’s column to the tragedy that is continually unfolding at the XL beef processing plant in Alberta.
I want to offer a perspective that is uniquely my own. As a beef producer and culinary arts graduate, I feel that the heart of the problem is lost in the muck and mire of media propaganda and the opinions of those in higher places.
So in the forefront of the media is an E. coli outbreak that contaminated an entire processing plant, made people sick, and again, raises the question: What about these monster factories is safer and more productive?
1.134 million kilograms of Canadian meat was recalled from the U.S. alone. That is a wasteful and embarrassing equivalent of 2,498 animals (weighing 1,000 lbs.).
E.coli should have minimal to no contact with the meat at all. However, these factories process animals at a rate that rivals the speed of light.
They receive fantastic government grants — $2.238 million since 2009 for the XL plant in question.
E.coli bacteria live naturally in the digestive tracts of ruminant animals. They function within the stomachs to aid in digestion. They were put there to do a job for the animals.
In nature, bacteria, fungus, and many other greebly-gross things have their purpose, but when put into our food chain, they make us sick.
I get very frustrated when people in power voice their support for the use of E. coli vaccines as a solution to deal with the problem.
With history as our best teacher, vaccinating against something that is not harmful for the animal seems like asking Mother Nature to give us an ass-beating. How many vaccines, medicines, and food, for that matter, have been pushed upon the public in the present with severe consequences in the future?
The problem rests not in the stomach of the animal, but in the many misconceptions of the ginormous meat factories.
I think that the solution, in part, lies in our hands and hearts as consumers.
A butcher is a tradesperson, and like any tradesperson, he or she must possess skill and require a great deal of passion, dedication, and respect — for the animal, the meat it becomes, and the many mouths it feeds.
Officials used to question the safety of the small-town butcher; but I must point out that no owner-operator would EVER get government grants of that magnitude and you can be sure they would not get bailed out if they sold poisonous meat that made people sick.
The owner-operator has accountability; he is personally liable if someone gets sick and therefore has both a moral and financial obligation for stringent food safety, as does a beef producer.
We saw how the government treated small owner-operators with the outbreak of BSE.
Here’s an interesting hitch. When mad-cow disease hit the nation, those same big meat factories receiving federal government money were buying the fat cattle for pennies — literally pennies — and yet were still selling the beef to consumers for the same high price at the supermarket.
Producers suffered insurmountable losses that most continue to burden, and many had to sell out. Therein lies an aspect of this problem for our nation — we have turned a blind eye and deaf ear to many who did their job well.
When meat is recalled, it is disposed of ... garbage ... 2,498 animals.
Our society has done amazing things with technology, and we feed many more people with our increasing production practices and processing capabilities.
But, with every decision we make, we sacrifice something. Sacrificing the life of an animal to throw it away should make you cringe — it makes me livid.
So, I return again to the small-town perspective. It won’t feed the world in a day, but maybe that is the whole point.
Sustainable processing would be much more efficient long-term and guarantee that 2,498 animals wouldn’t be slaughtered in vain and wasted.
I spend my life caring for those same animals; some are like pets, I can hear their distinctive calls, and I know their history. I have grown up with some of them, taken them across the country to shows; I have been there for births, every meal, sickness, and death. I do it because I love it.
Yet, I am completely aware and honest of what this industry is about — beef.
So to help propagate a more positive solution for our beef industry, I am advocating that consumers, foodies, and culinary professionals step out of their routine. Take the extra trip to the butcher shop, read the poster in the local advertising for farm fresh beef, take the number and call. You won’t regret it.
With a powerful spending dollar and more information, we can make educated and safe choices that improve our health, our rural communities, and the future for countless beef animals and the people who raise them.
This weekʼs recipe is a great way to stave off the cold weather and enjoy the rich heartiness of safe, nutritious, and wholesome Canadian beef.
BEEF AND BARLEY SOUP
1 large onion, diced medium
1 tbsp butter
2 stalks of celery, diced medium
2 medium carrots, diced medium
1 bay leaf
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp peppcorns, whole
2 boxes of beef broth
1/4 cup of red wine
1 sprig of fresh thyme,optional
2/ 3 cup of pearl barley, rinsed
1 cup of cubed beef, cooked
Salt to taste.
1/2 cup ripe tomatoes chopped fine, optional. In a large soup pot, heat butter on medium until sizzling. Add onions, stir, cook for 3 minutes. Add garlic, cook for 1 minute. Add wine, cook to reduce for 1 minute. Add rinsed barley, stock, bay leaf, and peppercorns, and tomatoes if using, and bring to a simmer. Add carrots, celery, beef and thyme. Cook until the carrots are tender.
**If you have raw beef to cook in the soup add it with the onions at the beginning.
» Amy Bonchuk writes a column every two weeks for the Brandon Sun.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 27, 2012