Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Field Day

My protein fabrication class took a field trip last week to two cattle feed lots, one in Henderson, Neb., the other in Grand Island. I honestly expected to feel bad for the cows who spend about five months in dirt pens fattening up, but it was more of a "huh, so this is where they live." I don't even know how to frame a response because all I have are random musings and more questions.

At Circle 5 in Henderson, things were managed on a smaller scale, catering more to prime and finer choice beef and including some natural food programs. But to me, it didn't seem all that much different than the feed lot with more than 20,000 cattle, which also ran a few natural and organic programs but made more money off volume than quality. In the car on the drive back from Grand Island, we compared the two companies with most people siding with Circle 5 (an opinion which may have been influenced in no small way by our cold greeting at the Grand Island feed lot). To me, things were just business--no matter how big you are, you still need to turn a profit.

Alan at Circle 5 was incredibly knowledgeable about beef and the business. He talked about government policy in the '70's that consolidated feed lots under just a few extremely large businesses. Evolving government regulations made it impossibly expensive for small farms to raise and then fatten cattle on their own land, so larger companies took over giving us the barren wasteland of pens that we have today. I can see why the government had to regulate the disposal of waste from farms, but it's easy to forget that everything has a consequence and that these perhaps well-intentioned rules have had a lasting effect on the food industry, whether for the better or worse is for another argument.

We also stopped by Henderson Meat Processors where they slaughter, age (see below) and fabricate meat. It was a great little operation, exactly how things should be where immense care is taken with even the smallest cut. I guess I left the trip with a feeling that meat is something to think about because it's this living breathing animal who dies so people can eat. That's it's purpose and it wouldn't be here if people didn't want to keep them. But we've got this great power over these species to regulate its diet and breed, I just wonder if it's the best idea.

2 comments:

Jess said...

I'm with you Lainey, I often think about how we breed and keep animals just so we can kill and eat them. How interesting... I've heard both sides of the argument, and I still can't figure out exactly how I feel about it all.

Sarah said...

I do get the icky feeling from CAFOs. First there's the trick of turning commodity corn into cheap beef. Then there's the unnatural speed-fattening of the cows, the pollution, antibiotics (and resulting new pathogens), not to mention the energy and environmental costs...

The whole thing takes the natural ecological loop that used to exist on farms and isolates one aspect, which I'm coming to believe always creates more problems than benefits. But such is the state of our current food economy. Everything's a commodity, and I personally think it's only a matter of time until it becomes cheaper to outsource food processes to other countries...

Access to local food is definitely a challenge. And I'll be the first to admit that it's nearly impossible to eat local unless you're willing to make some significant sacrifices (some of which I can't make, like going out to restaurants).

Definitely an interesting issue...