Ever wonder where your food is harvested and processed? Have you ever taken action to learn more about that process? It is an interesting experience to say the least. When I took a tour of a beef harvest plant in Amarillo, it was the magnitude of the operation and safety protocols in place that caught my attention. An even more invaluable experience occurred when I was able to harvest beef, pork, and poultry in my college classes.
Here is a description of a tour from an outsiders point of view:
My tour proceeded backwards in order starting where the meat is cut into steaks and roasts and ending at the “dirtier” processing areas in order to prevent tracking any bacteria into sanitary zones. The meat cutting area was mesmerizing with more than 450 expert butchers carving out tenderloins and briskets with awe-inspiring speed and accuracy. There is a precise tracking system so that every piece of meat can be traced back to a specific animal.
Next, continuing to walk backwards through the process, I saw how the halved carcasses that went through the line, were marked for safety and quality by USDA inspectors and were tracked to go to a specific retailer. In fact, there are 5 separate USDA inspection points throughout the process. Everything in this area was orderly, sparkling clean and refrigerator cold.
The next area was shokingly stinky, but my interest and fascination overruled my nose. It was the organ removal area where the innards are inspected and fabricated into offal — tripe, sweetbreads, liver, intestines and so on. Even with this inherently messy task (Mike Rowe — you have to cover that on Dirtiest Jobs!) the waste management and cleanliness or the area was something to behold.
The last thing I saw was the actual harvest or killing. To be sure, it is not a pleasurable thing to witness in general, but if you eat meat, the simple fact is an animal is sacrificed for your nourishment, a reality we are all too removed from in modern society. The trick is to do it humanely, and this is where I was most impressed. The system Cargill uses was developed in part by Dr. Temple Grandin, the autistic animal scientist who, with her heightened sensitivity, was able to pinpoint specific ways to keep cows stress-free throughout the process (there is an award winning HBO film about her starring Claire Danes.) The whole environment is kept purposefully calm, with no loud noises or bright lights. Before they realize what is going on the cows are hit precisely on the head, given a concussion so they are rendered senseless, then their throats are cut and their blood is drained. The whole thing takes roughly a minute. I watched intently as the cows moved through and noticed no shred of panic or unease.
If you eat food, it is important to learn how your food is harvested and produced. Have you ever experienced an animal harvest process? What were your thoughts and feelings about the experience? Did this change your thoughts on meat consumption?