Meat Tour

I have been determined to discover where meat comes from before the grocery store. This led me to a meat market called Black Earth Meats that offers one on one handling during the butchering process. Many of their products come from local farms across southern WI that raise the animals with the highest quality and humane treatment.

It was early morning when I began to drive west of Madison. Slaughters occur 2 days a week, I hoped to go only 1 of the 2 days to see the whole process. I was welcomed by a friendly staff that provided me a hair net and a white coat.

Quickly I followed the plant manager behind the meat market, where there was packaged tenderloin and other select meats ready for sale, past the cutting room and then farther down the hallway beyond 2 doors. As I walked through a foot bath and another large door, I entered the slaughter room. There were four butchers, each individually and skillfully eviscerating  the animals. There appeared to be blood everywhere. I was asked if I wanted to see the actual “kill.” I replied, “yes.” I slowly made my way past an exsanguinated pig which led me to a narrow, boxed off section that held one pig.There were 1/2 a dozen pigs lined up inside an even narrower, steel isle 15′ away. Screams and squeals from the pigs chorused loudly through out the room. I was asked if I was ready and watching, I was. There was a man in the box area preparing for the “kill.”  The pig was stunned in the neck by an electric current and then once more under his leg. His heart rate slowed down, color faded from his face as a pale white set in, tongue hanging out and then collapsed to the cement. The stunned pig was silent.

Then the pig was dragged just a few feet to a hanger where it was hoisted up to hang upside down by its hooves. It was then exsanguinated, by the use of a pointed knife that was inserted behind the jaw and below the neck bone. This then severed the jugular vein, carotid artery, and trachea. Blood then flowed freely, pouring into a large barrel. The carcass was then removed,  and placed on a hook for a USDA Inspector to examine for signs of disease or pathological illness that would cause the carcass to be unwholesome for human consumption. The inspector also has to complete other health regulations before, during, and after the slaughter. For more information about USDA inspection you can learn more at the Food Safety & Inspection Service website.

During this time the slaughtering staff was often using watering hoses to remove blood and sanitize the carcass. The pig was laid down on a steel table to have its hooves removed by trimming the main tendon and then removing the hoof. Its genitals were cut and placed in a steel bin for the inspector to examine. Two hooks were then placed through the pigs hind legs to be hung to complete the process. It was eviscerated by removing the intestines, kidneys, stomach, and liver for inspection.

Once the pig was raised high it was cut in half by the use of a hand chainsaw. It was then rinsed with water to remove any remaining bacteria. Weighed. Then transported from a hanging shaft into a large walk in cooler to help with the process of cutting and deboning. Before leaving the “kill” room I noticed a large banner with these words, “WE HONOR THESE ANIMALS, FOR BY THEIR DEATH WE GAIN LIFE.”

After seeing the slaughtering process, I moved to view the cutting and deboning room. There was  a larger amount of staff, they were listening to music and enjoying conversation with each other. A group of three were individually cutting an already cooled pig while others were processing beef, packaging, and cleaning. One man said the cutting room is their graduation from the kill room.

Image taken from the web of what our beef looks like in the grocery store, following the slaughter/cutting process

Overall, I saw what I wanted to see. Many workers at the meat market asked what school I was from and why I was there. I said, “I want to know where the meat I eat comes from, where it is before looking nicely packaged at the grocery store.” I often heard the reply, “people think their meat comes from the grocery store, THIS is where it starts.” I am thankful I was able to receive a tour of Black Earth Meats, they encourage people to visit. I discovered a link, by experience, to where the meat comes from before the grocery store or farmers markets. This summarizes the slaughtering process at only one meat market. The food chain is one giant wheel that holds various beliefs among different cultures.

 

The State of Food

Tomato
Tomato by Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden on Flickr

Food is often a topic of discussion, everyone needs it, everyone has their own taste, and in the world today much of the food can rarely be classified as such. As a former vegetarian of ten years, I still eat as healthy as possible, not just to eat healthy but because it usually tastes better. Food that is grown organically nearby is by no doubt fresher than anything that travels thousands of miles refrigerated or chalk full of preservatives. One lesson I’ve learned over the years is, “If you can’t say it, don’t eat it.” Jamie Oliver illustrates that well in this video.

More often than not I choose to eat alternatives to meat as I feel they go better with some meals. Many dishes we eat didn’t have meat in them until they were americanized, that is why I choose tofu when I cook stir fry, cook an all veggie curry, or go for many other vegetarian style dishes. When I do eat meat I look for locally raised meat that has been treated with respect. I do my best to avoid fast food, but the life of a musician leads to eating on the road and it is hard to convince a bunch of guys with little money to eat healthy, in fact I am often the butt end of a joke for doing so. After seeing a video like this, it is really hard to bring yourself to eat fast food again…

It just goes to show how the mentality of today is screwed up when it comes to food. People go for what is cheep and easy without thinking twice about what is in their meals. What is considered cheap now can lead to health problems and expensive hospital bills. People also go for what they know, afraid to try new things they stay in a cycle of eating unhealthily without giving anything else a chance.

I lived a sheltered life for many years in the City of Madison, Wisconsin where in many of the neighborhoods I lived, it was the norm to eat healthy. There was a wonderful food coop a short walk away that I tended to use as my pantry, I was there almost every day. To top it off, every Saturday there is a large farmer’s market down on the Capital Square.

Then I moved away and soon realized that Madison is abnormal. I knew this in the back of my mind, but it hit home when I went to the grocery store in the little town of Weyauwega and couldn’t find anything I was used to. I found the closest grocery that had rice milk was 20 minutes away.

Living in Appleton, isn’t as bad. Most grocery stores have natural food isles and there is the Free Market and Red Radish that remind me of a smaller versions of the Willy Street Coop in Madison. There are a few Farmer’s Markets and local CSA farms as well. We also have a small garden to supplement our groceries.

When eating out we often choose The Stone Cellar Brewpub for they cook locally grown meat and vegetables as well as compost their leftovers. They even give up their used grains from brewing to the farms where they get their meat to use as feed for the animals.

If you noticed, I have been trying to chose my words wisely in this post. I don’t always eat the healthiest foods, nor do I always eat organic and free range, but I do try to whenever possible. I try to respect my body as well as other people’s cooking. I’m not trying to tell people what to eat, I’m just giving reasons to why I eat the way I do, and if someone chooses to learn from my habits and the information presented in this post I’l be happy.

Other resources:

Local Havest – “The best organic food is what’s grown closest to you. Use our website to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.”

Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution Hulu Website

Food Inc. “An unflattering look inside America’s corporate controlled food industry.” Netflix IMDB

Super Size Me “Morgan Spurlock explores the consequences of a one month diet of solely McDonald’s food.” Netflix IMDB

Adventures in Backpacking

Across the Swinging BridgeEvery once in a while we like to get out of the city, far away from the hustle and bustle. We tend to go a bit further than most. With everything we need strapped to our backs, we head a few miles into the woods to really get away.

Jada's first Expedition

We began our trek into Jay Cook State Park, just west of Duluth, Minnesota and south of the Thomson Reservoir, a powerhouse that expands 3 miles outward. It was quite a site as we prepared to pack as little supplies necessary for ourselves and our daughter. We started out with a full carload of supplies and narrowed our necessities down to two night packs. Having our daughter along for the hike appeared to present challenges to a ranger on duty, who offered us a closer, more convenient site to camp at. We were confident we could hike the two miles, regardless.

Which Way?

Accumulating the gear for trips like this can take awhile. Zach bought a tent and backpack from REI last summer for our trip into the Sawtooth mountains and Sarah just picked up a new pack from Outdoor Outlet last week. Zach’s pack weighs 4 lbs. 4 oz. and holds 65 liters while Sarah’s pack holds 48 liters and is 3 lbs. 6 oz. The bulk of both packs are taken up by a pair of low priced 3 lb sleeping bags (the next thing on the list to replace). The Tent weighs in at 4 lbs. 15 oz. and Zach has a 7 oz. therm-a-rest pillow that compacts down to save space while Sarah uses a pillow case full of clothes. To make sleeping a bit more comfortable, Zach just picked up a sleeping pad that only weighs 1.5 lbs. For those times when a fire doesn’t work for cooking, ie during the hike or if weather doesn’t permit, Zach has a little stove, pot, and silverware. Both packs hold a 2 liter water reservoir and have a slot on either side to make the straw readily available. We generally carry an extra water bottle or two for cooking and one for Jada. Add some extra clothes, food, a first-aid kit, and our camera to round out each load at about 25 lbs. The duty of carrying a 30+ lb. girl after she could no longer walk on her own was shared between the two of us, either on Zach’s shoulders or in a carrier on Sarah’s belly.

Traveling in Style

The trail to the backcountry campsite led us down a newly paved path to a long bridge that swings nearly 40′ above the crashing tidal waters of the St. Louis River. As we crossed the swinging bridge, we began hiking up rolling hills that crossed paths with various life forms. Among many trees were the box elder, quaking aspen, and black ash. The sites and scents of the abundant wildflowers were a great pleasure. Jada, our daughter enjoyed picking the brightly colored flowers in amazement along the way. The columbine wildflower is an attractive  blossom that occurs in May-June, it’s nectar is known to attract various hummingbirds. During the hike we often caught eye of a symbol of happiness, the eastern bluebird. This we certainly experienced in fullness.

Everything is a Jungle

By far this was the furthest our 1 1/2 year old daughter Jada had ever hiked. She soon tired out and fell asleep, cradled in our arms. Once we arrived at our destination, Silver Creek, she woke up from her peaceful slumber. She then proceded to turn the campsite into a Jungle Gym as there were planks of wood laid across stumps to form benches, a natural born gymnest 🙂 She also found the creek entertaining, making it her mission to throw every pebble into the water to watch it splash.

Home Sweet Home

Waiting for us at the site was a stack of firewood, so we were saved from having to gather some ourselves. With a fire going we heated up the chili and rice that we had brought with and opened a bottle of wine. We had brought just enough to eat so we didn’t weigh down our packs. We also chose to finish the wine so we could lighten the load for the trip back.

Sitting By the Creek

The creek nearby provided the perfect soundtrack to fall asleep. After we had all laid down Jada proceeded to tell us a tale with great enthusiasm. We figured that she was telling us all about everything she had seen and how much fun she was having. She eventually wound down and only woke up once when she was hungry for some milk. Zach got up out of the tent to bring the fire back to life to heat it up and found that the Sky was full of stars, so he stayed up a bit to stare through the trees into the big open sky.

St. Louis River

The morning sun came invitingly to light up our camp. It was as beautiful when we opened our eyes as when we closed them. It felt cool so we bundled up. We packed our belongings and hiked the Silver Creek Trail that continued alongside the St. Louis River. Slate formed from compressed mud that has been hardened over two billion years, folded into unique formations that feel smooth and intricate to the touch, guided the downstream flow of the river. There were many rocks to carefully maneuver across as we hiked closer to the shore of the river. Jada enjoyed traveling on her Daddy’s shoulders and quickly learned how to grab nearby leaves as she was much taller now. Zach had used a variety of  foot techniques as he balanced his stance to cross the changing terrain. Greywacke beds became visible with its fractures. Red clay overlies the bedrock as remnants from the end of the Ice Age that was ten thousand years ago.

Swinging Bridge

The hike was beautiful and was definitely a workout. On the first day we missed a turn to hike an extra half mile or so and the second day we wanted a more scenic route so we hiked nearly an extra mile. When it was all said and done we went 5-6 miles. It was great when we were near the end Sarah was wondering how far we had to go, and I said see the bridge right there, her eyes lit up as it had magically appeared before her eyes.

 

 

Jay Cooke State Park Map Excerpt
The Hike to Silver Creek and Back