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Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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What does “pink slime” have to do with whether beef broth “gels”?

I’m so fortunate that I know so many wonderful farmers who do what I can not do: grow food. And so many of them, like Chrissie Zaerpoor of Kookoolan Farms of Yamhill, Oregon,  have a very high goal to make sure the food they produce for themselves and the public is healthy and free from additives. Chrissie wrote this blog about pink slime after she got a lot of questions why her beef broth had a gelatinous state when cold.
chicken stock2

The ideal stock is made from a combination of meaty bones for flavor, connective tissue (tendons, cartilage, heads, feet, etc) for gelatin and texture, and hard bones for minerals (primarily calcium but others as well). A well-balanced stock made from good quality ingredients should always “gel” at refrigerator temperatures.

Many of you already know that I came to beef quite late in life: I was a near-vegetarian for my first 40 years with maybe five lifetime total servings of red meat. When I was diagnosed as profoundly anemic, and several years of iron pills and green vegetables did not bring my iron levels up, I was finally ready to take the plunge for eating red meat. But the more I read about commodity red meat, the less willing I was to eat it. This finally erupted in the famous temper tantrum that launched Kookoolan Farms: “if I want to eat grassfed beef, I’m just going to have to learn to do it myself.” I’ve been reading about the commodity meat industry for more than 15 years, and every year I think I’ve finally learned all its dirty secrets, but every year I learn a little more and am saddened to discover that it really is just a little worse than I thought it was. This week an off comment in a news story in “The Week” magazine got us off on a research tangent, and I learned more about “pink slime” than I had previously known – including a key “a-ha” moment with the answer to the question so many of you have asked me over the years: “Why doesn’t premade broth or stock gel? It always gels up with no problem when I make it from Kookoolan Farms bones. What’s the difference?” Now I know…. read on. (for the full details you can easily pull up the Wikipedia article about pink slime).

For starters, the formal name for “pink slime” is Lean Finely Textured Beef, or LFTB. It’s interesting to note off the bat that this highly processed beef derivative is “approved for limited human consumption” in the U.S., but is completely banned both in the European Union and in Canada. In March 2012 (interestingly, the latest date for which I could find data) more than 70% of all ground beef sold in the U.S. contained the additive. Also interesting: ground beef can contain up to 15% LFTB with no labelling required to announce its presence. In fact, the only way to avoid LFTB in grocery store ground beef is to buy USDA certified organic, in which LFTB is disallowed.

wiki pink slime

Lean Finely-Textured Beef, AKA “pink slime,” photo from Wikipedia. 95% lean. All indications are that there are no food safety issues associated with this highly-processed “salvage” product, which means _it’s never labelled as an ingredient_ on any products you buy.

So what is LFTB? It’s the very last scraps of meat and connective tissue still clinging to the bones and hides after a skilled butcher has already removed all of the usable meat with a knife. Some of these source areas are considered to be the areas most likely to be contaminated by pathogenic bacteria. These “source materials” are then warmed to about body temperature in order to soften fats and connective tissues. Originally the bones were scraped and rubbed to remove the last bits of clinging muscle, but the resultant product was up to 20% calcium and therefore “not nutritionally equivalent to beef.” At that point the method changed, and now most LFTB is produced by centrifuging. The centrifuging also separates the fat from the lean in exactly the same way that centrifuging separates, say, heavy cream from skim milk. So the resultant product is around 95% lean (i.e. 5% fat). Having been processed at body temperature, the presence of pathogenic bacteria is now considered a given, so the product is exposed to ammonia gas to weaken the cell walls, and then the product is rolled out thinly and flash frozen under high pressure, crushing all the pathogen cells. This crushing both kills any bacteria and also results in very little structural integrity for the muscle cells, hence the “finely textured” nature of the product. The product is then extruded as a pale pink paste through slender tubes, frozen, and shipped to meat processors as an additive. The ammonia-gas-and-crush process is so effective at killing bacteria that in 2007 the USDA declared that the process would be “exempt from routine testing of meat used in hamburger and sold to the general public.”

Why do meat processors produce and use LFTB? In a word, profit. This is a way to squeeze literally every last gram of flesh off the bones. Also, because it is so lean, LFTB is used as an additive in ground beef to raise the lean percentage: consumers are willing to pay a premium for leaner ground beef, and using 97% lean LFTB in a mix allows the less expensive fatty ground beef, mixed with the extremely lean and extremely cheap LFBT, to then be sold as higher-priced lean ground beef. Up to 15% LFTB is allowed, and there is no labelling requirement.

You’ll also find LFBT in beef hotdogs, beef pepperoni, meatballs, summer sausages, and superthin beef lunch meats and bologna, where LFBT may comprise up to 25% of the total product — but it will never be labelled as such.

You’ve likely read the staggering claim that one patty of ground beef may contain the DNA of more than a thousand cattle from more than 10 different countries. THIS is how that happens. And when you read about recalls of millions of pounds of ground beef, it’s because one animal’s scraps get spread so widely into the food net.

beef hotdogs

Hot dogs may taste good, but did you ever think about what it means that they are “highly processed”?

Interestingly, one of the USDA’s senior food safety inspectors dissented on the USDA’s ruling that LFTB can still be called “meat.” He argued vigorously that LFTB is not “meat” because it also contains connective tissues such as tendons and cartilage, and further stated in reports that it is “not meat,” but actually “salvage,” and should not be allowed for human consumption. The USDA never tested independently for food safety, but the largest corporate producer of LFTB, BPI Corporation, commissioned a study from Iowa State University that found no safety concerns. Because the entity most benefitting from this result also paid for the study, one can doubt whether it’s a truly independent research.

Does it matter that commodity ground beef almost certainly contains LFBT? Maybe not. Associated Press food editor and cookbook author J.M. Hirsh compared the taste of two burgers: one with LFTB and one without. He described the LFTB-containing burgers as smelling the same, but being less juicy and with less flavor. To my knowledge no food safety incident has ever occurred due to the presence of pink slime, but you just can’t be sure whether the recalls have been ultimately caused by LFTB because it’s not tested, and it’s not labelled.

Ammonia is present in many other processed foods, as the BPI (Beef Products Incorporated) web site defensively points out: the finished ground beef contains 200 ppm ammonia, compared to 440 ppm for the bun and 813 ppm for the cheese. In other words, these chemicals are already in lots of other processed foods, and are assumed safe, and therefore are not required to be labelled because “you don’t need to know.” That, my friend, is just one of many similar decisions made every day on your behalf and without your input. Here is the USDA’s fact sheet on LFTB.

stock pots on the stove

Beef bones from Kookoolan Farms have “stuff” still on them, never cleaned by centrifuge. Those bits of tendon, cartilage, and other connective tissues give you the silky, velvety, gelatinous texture you expect from homemade beef stock.

Meanwhile, bringing this back around to stocks and broths, the “gelling” process that occurs when you make stocks and broths is due to the presence of scraps of connective tissues and collagen still clinging to the bones. When you buy pre-made stocks and broths in a can or box or in the frozen aisle, one assumes that these are generally made from the cheapest available ingredients. The lowest common denominator of commodity beef bones, even those from grassfed beef, would generally speaking now be so clean (thanks to centrifuging) that there is no connective tissue left on the bones. Thus purchased stock does not gel. Maybe that’s why they add so much salt, too: store-bought just doesn’t have as much flavor as homemade. Last week I observed organic grassfed beef stock in the freezer section for Fred Meyer for a shocking $12/quart. Are people actually buying that rather than making their own higher-quality stock FOR FREE?

Kookoolan Farms beeves are hand-processed using only skilled butchers and knives, no high-tech centrifuging machines, no bleach, no ammonia gas, no LFTB, no strange gasses in the packages to preserve color, nothing but beef. The meat in your share all comes from identically one animal. And your soup bones are hand-cleaned with a knife, leaving plenty of good “stuff” on the bones to give you a rich, gelatinous, natural stock. As always, you may get bones, fat, and organ meats with your beef share at your option, and at no extra charge. Those grass-fed beef bones sell for $3.50/lb and more in the grocery store, but you’ll never pay extra for them from Kookoolan Farms.

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Refreshing Old Ways: Sharing the Path

Those of us who remember our Beowolf readings from high school English class merrily purchased our first cup of mead at Renaissance Festivals and were rewarded with a sweet drink. Perhaps we were young and that was palatable. But  it was the last time I drank mead until I moved to Oregon’s Willamette Valley about three and a half years ago.

Living in the middle of wine country is a joy in many ways. Not only does it offer a lot in terms of oenophile enjoyment, but the countryside is beautiful.  And twice a year (Thanksgiving weekend and Memorial Day weekend) almost all the wineries open their doors, even if they normally do not have tasting rooms. It was our first Thanksgiving weekend here and avoiding a popular location with the Portland crowd, we headed up Highway 47 north of McMinnville. When we got to Yamhill we stopped, on a whim, at a meadery at Kookoolan Farms.
Yamhill Oregon Local Farm

Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor and her husband Koorosh met as engineers for Intel and purchased a  farm in Yamhill. Kookoolan Farms has evolved over time to work with other nearby farms to offer vegetables and meat to consumers throughout the region and its reputation for quality is well known. To find out more about the farm and all they do check out their website and their Facebook page.

Like me, Chrissie remembered her Beowolf and started making mead from local honey.  She perfected her craft, moving well beyond the sticky sweet stuff so many of us experienced at those Ren Fairs. In her quest, she started gathering mead from other places in the United States and from around the world. This is when I met her. We visited her mead tasting room and was amazed at the variety of tastes offered.

And why not, when you really think about it. Beer, which has the same basic components, has amazing variety. Wine, of course, varies not only by the type of grape but, as I have learned first hand, by the weather, the terroir, and the skill of the winemaker.  Why not discover the same breadth and depth with mead?

Mead has been enjoyed by people for thousands and thousands of years. It seemed to be found often in monasteries which produced honey for the beeswax to make candles. The mead was a fortunate byproduct of that task.  Today, home brewing shops throughout the country can attest to an upsurge in interest and currently there are over 400 commercially licensed meaderies in 46 states, up from 30 in 1997!  Mead is considered to be the fastest growing beverage business.

Many meaderies, like Kookoolan, are very small with only a limited and local distribution. However, there are many that have larger production and a number of bottle shops are expanding into offering a wider selection.

As interest grows, so do the number of books available on the subject. So far, however, most recent books about mead have been in the “how to” genre. Home brewing is highly popular and there are plenty of tips and lessons available to ease the learning curve.

However, as mead started becoming more popular, Chrissie realized there was something missing. Her clues came from the visitors to the tasting room. Not only “Where can I find mead besides your tasting room?” but “What would be a good dish to pair with this mead?”

She realized she had a definite advantage over just about everyone else in the field. When she went to make her lunch in her kitchen, it was fun to grab a small pour, or two or three in the adjacent tasting room and see what tasted good with the dish she had prepared for her meal. As she kept her notes, the light bulb started to burn brightly and the book concept was born.

The Art of Mead Tasting and Food Pairing (ISBN 978-0-578-18895-9) took three years to produce.  It is a joy to read…and even better to work through by cooking and tasting. Chrissie has not only explained the various kinds of meads that are available, but offered well tested recipes to pair with the various kinds.  Imagine, if you will, you have a pretty terrific chicken pot pie you have made, either from your own recipe or the one in the book.  You might be tempted to pair it with a white wine for supper, but your enjoyment can be enhanced with the right kind of mead pairing.

From spicy (check out the shrimp gumbo!) to sweet there is something in here for every palate. 

The books is also divided into regions of the world, as mead is produced everywhere there is honey. One photograph really caught my eye; it showed an archaeological find at Tel Rehov, Israel with a multitude of preserved hives. This discovery proves that ancient civilizations, this one dating back to 900 CE, had a great appreciation for bees, honey and its byproducts.

The book explains mead history as part of the Paleo world, in Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean region, northern Europe, eastern Europe, the Middle East, and in Latin America. Recipes and pairing suggestions are offered to get your exploration rolling.

And through it all, gorgeous photography. Even a simple photo of the collection of meads Chrissie obtained from meaderies around the world in the research for this book is beautiful, even as it began to overtake the floor space in their dining room.

My hope is in your own life adventures you make room for new challenges.  Part of exploration may be of new places, but some new learning may take place in the known and safe nest of your own. Open your willingness to try not only new foods, but new  beverages too. Perhaps this concept of mead pairings will get you thinking and not only check out the book, but start checking out the shelves in a local bottle shop. At a recent visit to a local grocery store yesterday I found this.

 

 

and now I get to figure out what food will go well with it. Ahhhh, time to reread the book!
15713 Highway 47, Yamhill, Oregon 97148                                                                                                                                                                                                                             503-730-7535   kookoolan@gmail.com

 


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You Have a Choice

Last year the USDA has approved one the latest stupid ideas: send live chickens to China to be processed. Think about it….crowd way too many chickens into a pallet size cage for the trip to China, process them there because workers get maybe $1-$2 per hour instead of the $10 they get paid here, and ship the packaged meat back to the US for sale. China loves the idea because the concept can be modified, they believe, to Chinese raised chicken in time, (Read about it here.)

There is no news since last fall about this decision. In other words, we have no idea if it is happening. One American economist said it does not make CENTS to pay for the transportation over 7000 miles two times, but the rule permits it, so it is perhaps only a matter of time before some corporation figures out how to make it profitable.

Concern about food processed in China is well-founded. There has been toxic dog food, baby food that needed to be recalled and more.

If you shop for the least expensive price, you may be tempted by this. If you still have a working brain cell, you won’t be.

So what is your alternative? You could buy chicken with an organic label. But there is a better choice.

Pastured chickens on Dancing Faun Farm, Oregon

Pastured chickens on Dancing Faun Farm, Oregon

You have farmers near where you live that raise meat chickens. You can learn how they raise them, what practices they use. Chickens that are pastured raised, either free ranging or in chicken tractors, have full time access to eating like birds…..pecking in the dirt, eating bugs and grass seeds. Farmers typically supplement with feed.

Chicken tractor on Avalon Farm, West Virginia, moved daily to provide a fresh patch of grass to the chickens.

Chicken tractor on Avalon Farm, West Virginia, moved daily to provide a fresh patch of grass to the chickens.

Buying locally means supporting a neighbor, a local farmer who works very hard, long hours to bring you healthy food.  It does mean you will never buy a $4 chicken again. Work your food….and health care budget…to allow for $12 chicken and you will feel MUCH better. Chicken no longer is the inexpensive meat meal it once was in our home. It is, in contrast, one of several meat meals we make weekly. We have learned to get three meals from one chicken as well, which reduces its per serving cost.

If you consider the FARMacy an important component to your health, this information is already part of your lifestyle. If this is a new piece of horrifying information to you, you have a lot of catching up to do about the stuff you have been putting into your body-and affecting your health.


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Serendipity

Not once did I consider it an April Fools joke but we have no idea how the photo showed up on Graham’s Facebook feed last night.  Kentucky State University has a mobile fruit and vegetable processing truck that visits farms in season to help them preserve their harvest.KSU mobile fruit and vegetable kitchen

Finding no info to take me specifically to the person in charge, I emailed the head of the agricultural school at KSU, dropping The Wild Ramp market experience to give me local “street” cred (more like farm cred).  And now we are setting up an appointment for me to go look-see!

Why the excitement? Two factors. In case you missed it, I am setting up a business here in Oregon to help small farmers preserve their surplus fruits and vegetables. AND we will be in Kentucky for Graham to do some forensic business in May, less than an hour from where the KSU research farm is located in Frankfurt!!Can-Do Company Logo Final

WOW! Life is good!  Now, who can I get to help me write a grant application?