Sunday, September 20, 2015

Respecting the Thin Blue Line

This morning was one of those mornings that reminds me of why I have chosen to live “out in the boonies”. It was the first cool morning in a week or so and I shut the air conditioner off and opened the windows. There are very few things in this world that I enjoy more than listening to the outside world while drinking my morning coffee with a cool breeze gently blowing through the window.
The world seemed so calm and quiet it was almost surreal. It was easy to just let go of everything for a minute and just allow my mind not to dwell on the issues at hand. For a minute I had no places to go, nothing to worry about and no one to tell me otherwise. That moment was a good thing and those moments are probably about all that keep me sane
Those moments of temporary sanity are great because lately it seems as though the world is spinning out of control. OK, I know I am sounding like Chicken Little and the sky is not falling, but there are days when I wonder what our world and society have come too. All one has to do is to watch the evening news and you wonder what we have degenerated into.
Professions that used to be above reproach and held up as pillars of society have come under scrutiny and seem to be treated without respect. Each night it seems as though our law enforcement community is under the microscope or worse have come under attack. I must admit that I have a couple of members of my family and many friends who serve in law enforcement and I may not be the most unbiased source but the lack of respect for the men and women who protect us is sickening to me.
Sure I have grumbled about the policeman who pulled me over but after a day or two of reflection I must admit that they had a reason. Even then I have always had the utmost respect and admiration for those who protect us daily. They are the ones who run into dangerous situations when all of the rest of us are running away. All of the law enforcement officers I know only have the best of intentions and are public servants to the core. That is why it pains me so greatly to see them targeted and maligned.
I am not sure what we have come to as a society when we scrutinize the cops first and seem not to worry about the situation they are in or the criminals who created them. Society seems eager to jump to judgment on the police action. Police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers must make split second, life and death decisions with public safety always first and foremost in their minds.
Sure there are probably a few bad apples in the basket, there are in every profession. I would guess that there are fewer in law enforcement than most other jobs. It would be awfully hard to go through the training and dedication it takes to be in law enforcement and not have the best of intentions. Thankfully I have not needed law enforcement too many times in my life but when I have needed them I have appreciated what they have done for me.
The couple of times I have been in an accident I have found the deputies or police officers to be kind, courteous and compassionate.  Of course I have also treated them with respect and admiration because I respect the badge they wear.  It is a two way street and I know they also appreciate being treated as a professional. I know they are placed in bad situations daily and I admire them for keeping their poise and wits during difficult times.
I, for one, am going to make a greater attempt to show my appreciation for the brave men and women who protect us. I am so proud of my cousins and friends who put their lives on the line each day so we can live our lives without fear. I rest easier each night knowing that if I need help a caring, competent professional is only a few minutes away. Each of them is truly heroes in my eyes.
So as I sit here in the early morning peace, meditating on my last cup of coffee I will say a prayer for all of those who are sacrificing for each of us. This world may be going crazy and I may not understand all that is happening but I know that we are all a lot safer because of the brave men and women who protect us.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Truth About Your Meal

Over the past couple of years I have not been bashful about my opinions of restaurants and food manufacturers that choose to use people’s misguided ideas of a social conscience and healthy eating when it comes to their packaging and ad campaigns. Somehow that list seems to be getting longer and longer. I guess it is sad but the positive side of this is that maybe it will aid in my diet over the long run with fewer fast food places and products to tempt me because I avoid them to make a statement.
I just want to scream each time I see a socially conscience claim on a food item. I have seen gluten-free claims on everything from beef jerky to barbeque sauce. Here is a news flash. If your beef jerky has gluten in it, you should have a greater problem with the manufacturer than the food group. While cattle do ingest gluten (and with very few problems or side effects) their meat does not have gluten in it. So claims of beef jerky being gluten free is a marketing ploy, at best.
While we are on the line of ludicrous claims, let’s explore the claim of antibiotic free meat. I know if we spend any time on social media or watch the daytime talk shows we are bombarded by claims of antibiotic resistance caused by overuse of antibiotics by farmers and ranchers.  There are two issues to address here.
First and foremost, all meat is antibiotic free. If it was not it would not be in the meat case. The meat in the grocery store is heavily inspected and tested. Because most producers are very conscientious and they follow the prescribed dosage and withdrawal period and therefore nearly every animal harvested is antibiotic free. Testing and monitoring procedures capture the bulk of any others at the time of harvest and all meat in the freezers at your local grocery store are antibiotic free whether they are marked that way or not.
As far as the overuse, I do not believe we overuse antibiotics or that the way we currently use them has anything to do with antibiotic resistance. I also know that the research backs me up on this. That is why it is so maddening that the use of antibiotics in livestock has come under such strict scrutiny and the new restrictions on our ability to use them.
Don’t get me wrong, I am open to having the discussion about the use of antibiotics and I am even open to exploring how we might use less. I believe that is a discussion that some consumers want and in the spirit of the customer is right; we need to have those discussions. However, if we do open a dialogue I want it to include science and fact instead of hearsay and emotion.
The FDA’s new restriction on antibiotics in feed is based solely on emotion and opinion. They readily admit that and I find that really disappointing. I expected a government entity to make decisions from a scientific viewpoint. OK, so given the recent government directives on the Waters of the USA and endangered species I probably should not have expected them to make decisions based on facts and science. I guess I expected more out of the FDA.
The foods that claim to be gmo free are even on shakier ground. Most, of the grains, vegetables and fruits we eat are gmo free. Well, gmo free in the sense of being free of the genetically engineered crops like corn and soybeans. I would make the point that all crops, fruits and vegetables are gmo crops to a certain extent. We have always modified the crops we grow, whether that is through selective breeding or something more technologically advanced. But in any case to make the claim that your product is gmo free earns a forehead slap. All food is safe to eat, gmo free or otherwise.
And to round this discussion out, let’s throw in the claim of hormone free. No living organism is free of hormones, it just can’t happen. If you want to see something interesting check out the comparison of estrogen in animal products versus grains and vegetables sometime, it is a hoot. What the manufacturers should claim is that their product is free of added hormones. However, once again it is a hollow claim that has no scientific proof behind it.
When I see foods that claim all three; gluten free, antibiotic free, gmo free and hormone free I really go into orbit. While it is beyond frustrating, it is a call to those of us in the agricultural community to lead the charge in educating consumers. In the meantime, I will try to make myself content and take out my frustrations by gnawing on some gluten free beef jerky.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Tatum Knows the Beef Business

Parenthood is a never ending adventure into the unknown. We hope our kids are paying attention and that they follow our example (when it is a good example). Most of the time, as a parent, you never know if what you are telling them or showing them is sinking in. However, just when you think they aren’t paying attention they do something to make you proud.
Last weekend I had the privilege to serve as the coach for our county 4-H Livestock Sweepstakes team. The Kansas 4-H Livestock Sweepstakes is a weekend of four state competitions; livestock judging, meats judging, livestock Skillathon and livestock quiz bowl. Each of the four competitions determines who will represent Kansas at the national championship contest and team and individual awards are given. The counties and districts that have teams in all four competitions are eligible for the Sweepstakes award based on the cumulative finishes in all four contests. It is great weekend and one of my favorite of the year.
Saturday’s schedule is a grueling one. The day started at 7:30 with registration followed by the livestock judging contest, Skillathon and preliminary round of the quiz bowl. This meant no time for a break and outside of lunch, no food. When we finished with the preliminary round of quiz bowl it was 8:30 and most of my team was convinced that they might starve to death without immediate intervention. It was determined that we would go to Chili’s post haste.
We were seated at Chili’s at a long table and, of course, parents at one end and kids at the other with a couple of empty chairs in between. Soon both ends of the table were lost in conversation, waiting for the food to arrive. When the food arrived the near dead teens seemed revived and energized very quickly.
Toward the end of the meal I looked down to see the manager talking to my daughter and the rest of her teammates. I have coached youth for a long time and the appearance of a manager at your table is rarely a good sign and my attention immediately focused on the end of the table. Quickly I realized we were not going to be asked to leave so I watched from a distance. All I really heard was something about white spots in your meat. The manager left after a ten minute discussion with the 4-Hers and all returned to normal.
As soon as everyone was in the vehicle for the ride home I started to quiz them about what was going on. Tatum said that she had noticed that the special was a prime rib enchilada and this prompted her to wonder what quality grade the meat Chili’s served was so she asked their waitress. Of course the waitress had no clue and the manager was called in. The manager told Tatum that the meat was Grade A to which Tatum told her that Grade A was not an option.
This started a discussion of beef quality grades with the manager and all of my meats judging team joined in the lecture. Now the white spots in their meat comment made sense. The manager seemed to listen and take in the information put forth by the kids. I listened to what the kids told her with a great deal of pride. It is one thing to learn the information needed to judge meats but it is another thing to share that information and promote beef using it.
I would guess many of us adults would have never given a moment’s thought about what the quality grade of the meat we were eating in a restaurant was, let alone ask the wait staff. We probably would also not have taken the time to educate the manager about quality grades or why they were important. Shame on us, we should all be so proud of our beef that we want others to understand the product we produce and not waste the chance to provide that education.
I told the kids just how proud I was of them and how impressed I was that they had not only learned the information but were able to and willing to share it. They had seen an opportunity to promote the beef they all raised and seized that opportunity with gusto. Maybe they had paid attention all along. Later on Tatum told me she was going to start asking the same question at all the eating establishments that she ordered beef in. So if you or someone you know is a wait staff in a restaurant serving beef, you have been warned Tatum will put you on the spot and you will get educated.