Monthly Archives: November 2011

A Careful (Food) Consumer

As I am exploring Agriculture and therefore the origins of my food, I am becoming more and more aware of nutrition and all the buzz that surrounds it. While America has been on the alert for many years now (as obesity rates are climbing), at 116 pounds soaking wet, I really wasn’t that interested. I enjoyed veggies and salads, but I also downed 10-12 Oreos every day after school or class. I knew that eventually, my weight would start to catch up to me, and I was pretty worried how that would affect my lack of self discipline in the kitchen. Now that I’m cooking for myself, I have taken a more vested interest in my nutrition. The healthier I eat, the better I feel. And strangely, the more active I am, the more I actually crave the healthy foods. I begin to gravitate towards carrots as an after class snack, for example.

In all of this personal nutrition research and development, I even occasionally read the nutrition facts on a label or an article about healthy foods (Hey, I’m not totally reformed). When I began working in the beef industry, I began learning how nutritious beef is in a balanced diet. Protein, Zinc, B vitamins, Iron…you name it! The most interesting fact I learned about meat as a nutrition source vs veggies is the organic chemistry of it all. Now, that was not my best subject, so many of the details have since been forgotten, but the point will forever be ingrained with me: The actual molecular structure of meat is more conducive to human digestion than many vegetables of equal nutrient level. So…say vegetable A has x grams of protein, and meat A has the same x grams. Given the shape and form (molecularly) of the two, your body is able to absorb MORE protein from the meat than from the vegetable. (Maybe someone more in-tune with OChem or human nutrition can help me with some concrete facts??)

Either way, whether you are an avid meat lover like me, or a passionate vegetarian, these differences are important to realize. They are NOT explained on a nutrition label (if there isn’t enough space for one valuable Ochem lecture in my brain, there certainly isn’t enough space on a 2″x2″ label). So if it is essential to your beliefs to cut out something, make sure you are doing all the research you can. And try to look at both pro-your-choice articles and against-your-choice and make your answer as smart and unbiased as it can be. Before I preach about beef, I often look at vegetarian and animal rights activists articles and ponder whether or not their information challenges mine in a way I need to re-evaluate or research further.

When it comes to food, I believe that being a varied omnivore is the best way to achieve all the nutrients your body needs. I don’t believe in diets that cut things out…whether that be carbs, meats, or even sugars. And I weigh 116 lbs remember, so despite my scientific back up, I’d say I have a reasonable handle on the concept. Nature works so well together because each part of it has different pros and cons and compliment and balance another. Eat meat. Eat beef. But don’t trade a salad for a burger at every meal. I was always told the more color you have on your plate, the better you are doing at reflecting nature and therefore achieving the best balance your body can ask of you.


An unusual recipient of thanks giving

This year, I am thankful more than years past for our agriculturalists. Our farmers, ranchers, and feedlot workers. Turkey sales absolutely explode this time of year, and while I am not a poultry expert, I am confident that this takes a ridiculously high level of preparation from all parts of the poultry community.

This year, as we were baking our 21-lb turkey (which, by the way, somehow was still raw after 7 hours…it became quite the interesting affair), I reminisced about my time on the feedyard. I spent only one major holiday at this job, but it will leave an impression on me “for always”.

It was Easter Sunday. Of all holidays, this one is not my most favorite. It’s religious significance certainly speaks to me, but the traditions around it aren’t very sentimental. I usually would go home to North Carolina for church and a nice Easter dinner. As kids, we always did Easter baskets, and my mom still gives me one every year. Despite it not being top ranked, I am, across the board, a holiday and tradition fanatic. When I was in 2nd grade, we lived on the 14th floor of an apartment building in Singapore. My mom made Easter Bunny prints from real dirt from our doorway, into the¬†elevator, onto the “14” button, and in our apartment lobby. God bless her. And the people who wondered where the heck dirt came from in the cleanest city in the world.

Easter Bunny, via google images

Anyways, this holiday was different. For one, I actually had to work. A full day. Beginning at 5:30 AM. But being myself, I prepared for the holidays like always. I went to all the local stores trying to find those plastic easter eggs. Then I bought M&Ms and other candy and filled 1 egg for each of my +/- 36 coworkers (I made a list). I figured if we had to work a holiday, we may as well have some small sign that we knew it was going on around us. It really amazed me how well that little gesture went over, considering it wasn’t a real easter basket. Those stupid eggs stuck around our office for months. People just loved them. And I just enjoyed the chocolate ūüôā

Secondly, of all jobs on the feedyard, I was on deads. On Easter Sunday. I hated deads. Everyone did, but probably me worst of all. “Being on deads” requires the 1 (maybe 2 but not in this case) people on said duty to drive around in a large telehandler all day, listening to our radio system for people to call in pen numbers where there is a dead steer or heifer. You then pick it up on your forks, bring it to the necropsy area, and then proceed to “cut deads”. Essentially this is an autopsy. No animal caretaker wants dead animals, and it is our job to find out exactly what went wrong so we can handle it as soon as possible. This is an essential job. Nonetheless, it is probably about as grotesque as you are imagining. Maybe more so. It requires all of my 110 lbs to jump in and out of this massive piece of machinery to open/close gates, herd cattle out of way, reel a chain out, tie it to a carcass leg, reel in the chain, bring the body into a fork or bucket, drive it through all sorts of bumps (praying not to have the body bounce off), drop it off, sharpen your knife, and cut the body from nose to anus. You have to break ribs to access the lungs. You have to fling the legs over. You have to examine the insides of the stomach and intestines and heart and everything else. And let me tell you, this isn’t like a science lab where they are all cleaned out with¬†formaldehyde. It takes an incredible amount of strength to complete an autopsy and break bones of 1200lb animals with your bare hands and a 6-in knife. Since I’m not really that muscular, it requires me to basically climb in, on top of, and around, a carcass in order to assure I do it properly.


You go home smelling horrible. Covered in guts. Not really the way you want to go home to cook up a nice easter meal for 1. It was really a disheartening day at first. I am the SLOWEST person on deads because while ¬†it takes some people under 10 minutes to determine cause of death, it could take me 40 to even reach the lungs. And it’s EASTER. I mean, you have to cut them, and meanwhile the others have to feed the healthy ones, and still others have to treat the sick ones, so there is plenty to do. But you surely don’t want to DAWDLE on a holiday. But I bucked up and decided to just get into it. Blasted my ipod and went to town. I actually did end up forgetting there was a holiday going on around us, despite my colored easter egg project. Until I was met by 2 coworkers who were frantically trying to reach me to see how many I had left to pick up. They had families to go back home to. I had, in my selfishness, become completely oblivious to the idea that perhaps some of my coworkers were not 1800 miles from their families, and they DID want to cook a nice meal and sit with family or go to church. ¬†But instead of leaving me when they finished their daily duties, they stayed and helped me until “the deads” were finished. Even though my only¬†foreseeable plan was to shower and collapse in exhaustion on the couch. And their family probably wouldn’t want to sit next to them at the dinner table until they took at least 3 showers.

And that day, as gross as my experience and description was, encompassed all the reasons every one of us should be thankful to our farmers and agriculturalists this Thanksgiving. Because while we wake up to entertain guests and sit around a long afternoon of eating before collapsing onto the couch after¬†achieving¬†next to nothing, they worked hard not only to prepare that turkey for our oven on regular working days– they were probably working while we watched the post-meal football game. They were doing their work diligently until the job was truly completed. No matter what hour that meant they got home. And their families are probably not sure WHAT time they will get to eat, because raising livestock does not (EVER) go according to any scheduled time slot. And so that worker may miss the family dinner and eat cold thanksgiving dinner. Or the family may politely sit at the table, patiently listening to their growling stomachs, until the cows are happy and full and that missing family member can join them. There are many heroes that are missed during holidays, when their career duties unfortunately must take precedence over quality family time, but let’s not forget some of the most quietly sung heroes-the ones who most directly help us make thanksgiving meal traditions possible in the first place.

The Great Self-Pampering Conundrum

Have you ever had a day off where you decide to be lazy beyond reckless abandon? You set out to accomplish absolutely nothing, just like that song “Today I don’t feel like doing anything“? I bet there are several of you out there now, feeling wistful about the last (probably long, long ago) day that you spent all day in your PJs, woke up and went back to sleep 5 times, ordered food in or ate all the junk food in your cupboards, watched marathons of a TV show you had never even heard of 8 hours earlier when you first tuned in. Ahhh. How great…

photo courtesy of Colours And Joy Blogspot

I often find myself stressing about all the hours I pour into work, how much housework needs to be done, how the cat/dog/other dog is just as starving as me after a 12 hour day, but because they yap and yap they always manage to get fed before me (such manipulative fluff balls…), and I ¬†just plead with the world for a day of lazy. Of doing everything in bed. Extra sleep, eating in bed, watching TV from bed…maybe I could also walk the dogs from bed?

The weird thing about all of this is, however, that I make time for these days on occasion. At least once every two months. And I’ve made a startling discovery. I wallow around among sheets & pillows & junk food, and all of the sudden, the sun is gone. I’m sort of hungry in a spot that junk food hasn’t hit after 3 bags of chips. My hair is greasy. And then this inching dread feeling creeps in…because tomorrow the ominous stresses return. And the day of high life is already over! And the dishes are still in the sink, the fur balls are still tumbleweeding around the wood floors, I still haven’t showered…and all of this seems to negate the peaceful day of rest I was fully embarked upon.

I have actually found, much to my dismay, that days relished by speed-scrubbing down the house, a nice, well-cooked hot lunch, and easy afternoon of reading or taking the dogs to hike at the state park seem to provide much more satisfaction then the coveted Day of Rest. I accomplished something. And more that, I accomplished something more than what I do at work.

I think that this discovery is the link to one of the reasons I have loved Agriculture. I get so much more self-worth out of doing¬†things. And the physical labor often associated with agricultural jobs is plain evidence of things done.¬†For example…Today I moved 300 cattle, sorted them by weight, began them on new feed, ear-tagged, fixed 3 fences, walked 8 miles, and fixed a tractor. That¬†is a satisfying day. Something to be proud of. You come home physically exhausted, mentally worn, but you feel you have honestly worked for your place on this earth.

On the other hand, my current job has that indoor environment. I spend days going to Chamber Meetings. Seminars. I spend hours speaking with people to coordinate with on event planning. It’s not that I don’t accomplish anything, I actually accomplish quite a bit. I mean, I reduced my emails today from 577 to 498 today, for heavens sake! But I go home mentally tired and physically a little larger from having sat in a chair or car all day. Mental exhaustion sometimes turns instead into a racing mind. Tossing and turning. Forgetfullness. Physical exhaustion, on the other hand, improves focus, builds body structure and function, and at a certain point, forces you to slow down long enough to charge your batteries. And there are plenty of problem-solving opportunities for your mind to engage in as well. And whether for work or leisure, I find the physically & mentally challenging days to be far more relaxing than the mind-numbing days spent staring at a computer monitor or zombied to the TV.

I guess it kind of makes sense. I mean, in all of the Kourtney & Kloe marathons I’ve watched on lazy days, I never once have seen an episode where I have watched either Kardasian stay in bed or even turn on a TV. I certainly don’t watch them facebook stalk. Because obviously that is BORING. So I wonder why I think putting myself through those activities would be instead¬†rejuvenating? I want to watch them Take Miami! Conquer, explore! Why? Well, because silly, that gives them something to talk about. Regardless of whether its enough to deserve a TV series, it does give them much more adventure and award them many more bragging rights than anything I accomplish on lazy days. Even on days off with cattle, I’d still have to get out of bed early to feed & check fences. And by the time I get back, I usually don’t really want to go back to sleep. It’s only 10am and you have all day to enjoy! I’m already out of bed, breakfast fed, and dressed, so I may as well get to the good stuff now!

Does anyone else find this conflict: desiring a day of lazy and in reality needing a day of doing (even though the day of doing must require the “doing” to be different from your “daily doing” schedule)? How do you spend your days away from the job?