Sunday, January 17, 2010

Where your food comes from #1

This is a revised version of a post I did last year.

Americans have no idea where their food comes from and what goes into the growing and processing of their food.
Pay attention, this is important stuff if you eat food.

I raise totally organic, truly free range pasture fed turkeys and other poultry. In USDA lingo, "free range" means the birds have a place to put their feet on the ground. On my farm it means they get to go wherever the fuck they want to go. That's why it doesn't surprise me when a neighbor stops by and asks if I've seen my turkeys lately because he was then 1/4 mile down the road foraging the local cemetary. My birds live happy, wild and free lives full of sunshine, fresh insects and vegetation and lots of whole grain organic feed. . . that is, until Thanksgiving and Christmas comes.

What follows is a graphic description of what it takes to kill and process a bird.

At that point, I very humanely take them into the slaughterhouse, insert them upsidedown into a “killing cone and slit their throats. After all the blood has drained from their body I lift the dead bird out of the cone by their feet and submerge them into a tub of 145 degree water for ~1.5 minutes. From there they go into the plucking machine where a big majority of their feathers are removed. After that, the plucking table where the remainer of the feathers are removed by hand. Now the fun begins. I pass them over to the dressing table where the process goes like this. . . remove feet, remove head, insert knife into abdomen and slice down along side the vent (asshole), cut around vent, cut fat and connective tissue from entrails (intestines), pull intestines from bird, reach into abdominal cavity and grab ahold of the gizzard. You gotta pull hard and hopefull the gizzard, liver and gall bladder will come out intact without rupturing the gall bladder. A ruptured gall bladder can ruin a bird. Slive the meaty sides from the gizzard and deposit in the giblet bowl, remove gall bladder from liver (this is a very precise maneuver requiring a steady hand, sharp eyes and sharp knife. I usually have a sharp knife) and deposit liver in giblet bowl (the giblet bowl is a big bowl with ice), Reach into abdominal cavity and with finger tips rip the heart out and deposit in giblet bowl then reach in and dig out the lungs and kidneys from around the ribs. Now spin bird around, cut skin down the neck and with one blow of a cleaver remove the neck. Trim and deposit neck in giblet bowl. Very delicately work your fingers around the crop and pull it out of the chest cavity. Hopefully you will remove the throat and esphagus at the same time. If not, remove. Clean out any remaining fat, go into the abdominal cavity and clean out any bits of guts and fat. Now spray bird down with water hose and get all the traces of blood and guts off. Submerge into ice water bath after removing previously killed bird and depositing it in a cooler full of ice.
Repeat . . . in my case, 25 times five days before Thanksgiving and 15 times, five days before Christmas.
In early summer I process over 100 chickens the same way.

The next day, deliver and collect a crisp $100 bill for each turkey. That evening, bemoan the fact that it just isn’t worth the effort when all I do is break even at best.
Yes, I sell these turkeys for $100 each and only break even. My chickens are $20 each and I only break even. . . sometimes, not even even.

Now go down to your local grocer and see how much he charges for a fully dressed turkey. $20? $25? WOW! How do they do that?!
Well, I’ll tell ya. They raise em in big pens containing thousands of birds. Each bird has a small area to move around in. They feed them a specially processes feed for each stage of their life. The feed is full of cheap grains, which are grown with tons of cheap chemical fertilizers, vitamins, growth enhancers, “animal byproducts” (you don’t wanna know what that is) and all sorts of things that when you read the label you just wonder WTF they’re feeding these birds. They grow em fast. Factory chickens are raised in 6 weeks. Yup, that chicken you bought at the market last week was six weeks old when slaughtered.
I described above the slaughtering process that is done with respect to the living animal and with the least amount of trauma to the animal as possible. No animal ever sees another animal killed on my farm. The way animals are killed on factory farms is reprehensible to me. There is no respect. The animals are treated like some sort of manufactured product, which is basically how they are raised and delt with their whole lives. I won’t describe the horrendous conditions and terror under which these birds are processes.
So yea, they grow em fast and cheap and use a big bag of tricks to do so.

How bout that cheap beef you get at your store. Same deal; fast and cheap. Lots of antibiotics, because when you finish off cattle in close proximity feed lots that are nothing but mud or dust, they tend to pass around some nasty bacterial infections. For feed, they get lots of cheap corn grown like the grains described above with all sorts of artificial chemical growth enhancers. Much of the corn is genetically modified these day. And like above, the slaughtering process is horribly brutal.

How bout the politics of food? Do you know where the beef comes from when you bite into that cheap fast food burger that’s full of cholesterol and carbohydrates? Much of it comes from South America. Remember back in the 90s you heard a lot of screaming about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest? Well, it’s all for the beef. You see, they cut down huge patches of rainforest and up pops lots of green thick forage for cattle. They populate those patches with lots of cattle to eat this abundance of new growth. Unfortunately, this new growth doesn’t last too long as the soil in a tropical rainforest is leached clean of nutrients and depends upon the natural cycles of growth death and decomposition to remain viable. Clear cutting the forest halts that process, so after a year or so, the cattle farmers have to abandon those once forested patches and move on to another leaving behind huge tracts of barren wasteland where once stood a glorious tropical rain forest. So next time you hear “Where’s the beef?” think of thousands of square miles of parched tropical wasteland.
Like I said, in the late 80s and early 90s there was outrage, but then it kinda dried up when the new right wing took over. Hmmmmmm. Wonder why?
So every time you chomp down on that fast food burger, be aware of where it came from and the consequences. Wanna save the rainforest? You can start right here at home by knowing where your beef comes from.

Shall we talk about how that cheap fresh brocolli or those fresh Apples are rainsed? No, you’ve probably heard enough,. but believe me, when you bite into any veggies you buy frozen canned or fresh from the store you’re getting a good dose of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals used for the fast and cheap production of food. Unless it’s clearly marked as “organic,” there’s no telling what’s in it. Oh, and those “all natural” labels mean absolutely nothing. An emerging awareness is the fact that it not only what’s in your veggies, but what’s NOT in your veggies. you see, those beautiful heads of brocolli or stalks of asparagus might look nice, but they or a crop like them are grown on the same piece of ground over and over. Crop rotation? Not these days. They pour on the fertilizers and lime and just keep on growing. How can they afford to do anything else selling brocolli in NY grown in CA for $1.99/lb.?
Well, when you use and abuse a soil the way they do it become depleted. Not necessarily depleted of the things needed to grow something that looks good, they can add all that to the soil, but depleted of some of the things necessary for growing healthy well fortified veggies. Human beings need lots of different vitamins and minerals to produce the various chemicals and amino acids for healthy living. Those glorious looking veggies from Bird’s Eye and ADM just don’t contain all that good stuff anymore. . . at least not according to the USDA which has recently isssued a statement to doctors advising them to advise their patients to take daily vitamins. Hmmmm, why only to doctors and not released to the news media and general public?

Who doesn’t love shrimp? Don’t we all? Do you ever buy those relatively inexpensive bags of frozen shrimp or those big “tiger shrimp” in the grocery store? Most of them are labeled “Product of Thailand” or Indonesia or China. How bout that crap meat they’re trying to push on folks these days called “talapia?” “Silverbrite Salmon?” All those products are farm raised in some fairly unsavory circumstances. Who regulates what they are fed over in China and Thailand? Shrimp will eat absolutely anything. You could throw a whole dead diseased dog into a shrimp pond and they’ll strip it clean. How much antibiotic does it take to keep those silverbrite salmon alive in those cramped enclosures that line bays from Washington to China?

Speaking of China. . . after all that has happened in the past year with Chinese products, would you knowingly feed your family anything that is a “Product of China?” Read the labels. You’d be surprised what gets sold in the grocery store from China. Everything from fresh garlic to canned meats.

I’ve just barely scratched the surface here. The point is that you should know where your food comes from. Ask your butcher. READ PRODUCT LABELS! Apply your own moral and ethical standards to your food purchases. You do have moral and ethical standards, don’t you?


Herbert Weaver said...

I've always felt bad for animals going through the industrial slaughter process. I once had a buddy who had super cheap rent cos he lived across from a slaughterhouse. Man, those noises were hard to ignore. This made me wonder if you could raise animals free range in a field and just shoot them by surprise like a natural predator picking them off from the herd. All the slaughter trucks, feed pens and drama just seems unnecessarily cruel - especially when they're smart enough to figure out what's going on.

Stimpson said...

Wow, that was a lot of morning reading for an attention-deficit guy like me. But thought-provoking stuff. I appreciate the insight, O Sagacious One.

Marianne said...

I grew up in the country and we grew organic vegetables and cage-free animals. Definitely a big difference. Those animals were cared for, they had natural light, clean shelters, space to move, fresh food, and affection. My grandma cooked for our chickens, pigs and turkeys every single day. We (the kids) had to gather fresh herbs for rabbits every day, and clean their spaces. We played with them, we talked to them, we were never allowed to hit or tease them.
When we sacrificed them, we never wasted anything. There was no such thing as "I'll only eat the breast/legs", you ate whatever cut you were put in your plate.
We picked the Colorado beetles off of potatoes by hand. It was tiring, but I've never had any better-tasting potatoes than those. I would say that us, the animals, and the land were much happier and healthier back then.

Akannie said...

Yikes, Sage..

We're inhabiting the same plane this week.

I've been thinking about raising meat birds, but....I have chooks for eggs and a well stocked pond and garden organically and have thought about Cornish game Hens...but the butchering is always a sticking point...I'm sure that once I did it a time or two, I'd get over myself...

Have you ever raised rabbits? That's another thought...I like the taste of rabbit...

Michael Pollan has a new book out, called Food Rules: An Eaters Manual. Good stuff.


SagaciousHillbilly said...

akannie, yea, butchering birds is a little more difficult than butchering rabbits. With rabbits you just skin them out. With birds there is all the plucking to do. When I kill older birds I usually just skin them out. . . fillet and grind the meat.