Tag Archives: CAFO

Beyond Beef Taco Night

If you have school aged children in any sort of activities you understand the struggle of dinner.  The solution, in my house, is taco night.  A few minutes of prep with some ground beef and a bevy of on hand ingredients mean a quick dinner before running out the door to dance or soccer practice or band…you get the idea.

However, ground beef is an ethical and environmental conundrum.  Regardless of how the animal is raised the production of ground beef results in the death of a cow.  No amount of time on pasture can change this fact.  Furthermore, most cows are raised in conditions that most people find deplorable.  Feedlots and CAFOs are horrible places.  Just driving by one on the interstate can make a person consider becoming a vegan.

America just loves ground beef.  More than half of the beef we consume in this country is in the form of ground beef.  Be it hamburgers, sloppy joes, loose meat sandwiches, chili, etc. Americans eat a lot of ground beef.  Estimates are hard to come by, but the clearest numbers I have seen put our annual consumption north of 30 billion pounds of ground beef consumed in the United States per year.  Most of that ground beef (>80%) comes from feedlot cattle.

This is the market that companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are trying to disrupt with their plant based alternative “hamburgers.”  The ground beef market is not just hamburgers thought and that is where Beyond Meat’s Beyond Beef product comes into play:

IMG_20190909_164557141

It comes out of the package looking a little bit like a brick of protein:

IMG_20190909_164916408

After a few minutes on medium-high heat the protein begins to break up into that recognizable crumble:

IMG_20190909_165628074

A package of taco seasoning and a little bit of water gives you a pan full of taco meat.  It all worked just like cooking a pound of regular ol’ ground beef.

So, what is the verdict?

The process is the same as cooking traditional ground beef.  That is a wash.

The flavor is…close.  The texture is…close.  I do not know if it is psychological because I knew it was not actual ground beef or if it is something in the formulation.  It was just a little off in the same way that some meatless burger patties are off.  Perhaps it is the uncanny valley of fake meat.  No longer are we in the trough of the uncanny valley where the simulated product is off by enough to make it truly disturbing.  Instead we are climbing toward true meat replacements in every facet that only lack a few traits.

This has to be what is scaring traditional meat producers into strong arming state legislatures to pass laws banning the word meat or burger or whatever from faux meat products.  When someone who is conscious of the ethical and environmental impacts of meat production is given an alternative that has none of those concerns their choice is going to be easy.  If the meat alternative is close enough in taste and texture than it is a slam dunk for a larger percentage of the population.  Like Republicans holding onto an ageing base of older, rural, white Americans at the expense of a changing national demographic the meat industry is facing an existential crisis brought on by a competitor.

Beyond Beef is not cheap.  At my local coop it cost $9.99 per pound.  Compare that to a pound of grass fed, grass finished beef produced in Minnesota that costs anywhere from $6.99 to $8.99 a pound from the same retailer.  Consider it the cost of being an early adopter.

Advertisements

The Uncanny Valley of Faux Meat

Americans love hamburgers.  Let me amend that because the world seems to love hamburgers.  I have seen people—not just tourists, mind you—chowing down on hamburgers on at least three continents.  However, the United States takes it to another level.  The saying may be “as American as apple pie” but you could easily substitute a hamburger and no one would bat an eyelash.

That love of hamburgers has a big environmental impact.  How big?  Consider that it is estimated that Americans eat approximately 50 billion hamburgers per year or enough to circle the Earth 32 times if laid next to each other. That is a lot of meat in disc form.

Assuming that each hamburger patty is 4 ounces—the literal quarter pounder—that equates to 12.5 billion pounds of hamburger.  Consider for a moment that one pound of beef represents an average of 1,800 gallons of water or close to 16 pounds of released carbon dioxide.  That is a lot of impact, which still does not take into account factors like antibiotic resistance from feedlot operations, land use considerations, or just general animal welfare.

The odds that Americans would be willing to give up their hamburgers is low, so why not just have them give up the beef patty?  Let’s be honest and consider that for a lot of people the patty is just a vehicle for the toppings and accoutrements.  Just replace those beef patties with veggie burgers…

Oh yeah, most veggie burgers are wet cardboard masquerading as a viable alternative to an American favorite.  No thanks.  That sad patty may have been acceptable for Carl the guy from accounting who does not eat meat that Susie invited to the work function for some reason, but for the rest of the red blooded Americans in the backyard this is a no go.

Enter the start-ups, dreamers, and just plain ambitious people who think that there is way to enjoy something that is much more burger like without the stench of sadness that is a traditional veggie burger.  I would love to tell you all about the much hyped Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods, but it has been impossible—sorry, I could not help myself—to find locally or in any of the places I have been on a trip recently.  The reviews have been trickling in online for a while and it seems to hold a lot of promise.  There is a location in Nebraska that I will pass by in four weeks that is supposed to have the item on the menu, so there is a chance.

Locally, I can find the other much hyped faux meat burger from Beyond Meat: the Beyond Burger.  The concept behind this burger is that it is a “plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and tastes like a fresh beef burger.”  Beyond Meat wants you to think of this as a direct analogue to regular ground beef patties so much that it had placed the patties in the meat cases of grocery stores rather than with the Tofurkey.

On a plate and ready for the grill these sure do look like a regular beef patty:

IMG_1372.JPG

Off the grill and on a bun with all the fixings…I am not so sure.  I think it comes down to expectations.  This is, hands down, the best non-meat burger I have ever eaten.  However, if I come at the evaluation purely from the viewpoint of an all-beef patty I am left underwhelmed.  That is why I feel that this new generation of faux meat patties is potentially stuck in an uncanny valley.  It’s better than any faux meat that has come before, but in coming so close to the real thing it falls considerably short in some way.

The Beyond Burger did grill like its animal protein cousin…kind of.  It sizzled appropriately when introduced to the hot grill plates and there were even a few flare ups as combustible juices flowed down onto the heat shields.  The patties developed an appealing crust and cooked in about the same amount of time as a dead cow patty.

Covered in some American cheese—the appropriate choice for melty nirvana—and the other typically American cornucopia of condiments—onion, ketchup, and mustard—resulted in a satisfying burger-esque experience.  It was not a half pound of fresh ground Pat La Frida beef, but I did not expect it to be either.  Upon further review I might change how I cooked the patties moving from an outdoor grill to a flattop.

The biggest downside of these patties?  The packaging:

IMG_1371.JPG

Hamburger buns come in packages of eight and I always make extra because leftover burgers are a lunch time staple in my house.  Four plastic trays, four cardboard wrappers, and some trash plastic film is a little much.  How about a sleeve of these bad boys available at Costco?

It appears that Beyond Meat is bullish on the future of its approach.  The company recently announced a major expansion of its research capabilities.  

Friday Linkage 12/15/2017

I was prepared to write some snarky comments about how the voters of Alabama could look past someone being a certifiable crazy person and child molester but could not stomach voting for a Democrat. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that at least enough voters in Alabama had the good sense to not vote for Roy Moore.

The frightening thing is that more than 48% of voters who participated in that special election thought that Roy Moore was the right person to represent them, the state of Alabama, and the values of the United States of America.  There is nothing that encapsulates our broken system, riven by partisanship, more than that fact.

Imagine there was a special election in say Colorado where the Democratic candidate was accused of cruising the mall for teenagers, had been twice removed from office for failing to follow the laws of the land, and had defended slavery.  Can you imagine the howls from people like Sean Hannity and Fox & Friends.  Instead, put an elephant on that candidate and he is the last, best chance to protect America from…access to healthcare?

On to the links…

Trump’s Interior Secretary: Shameless Tool of Oil and Gas Industries—The more light that we can shine on Ryan Zinke’s agenda and actions the better the world will be for it.  Like the other Trump kleptocrats he is gorging on a buffet of public goods to enrich his friends and donors.  Take a moment and read up on the scandals of the Warren G. Harding administration and tell me if you see some similarities.

The Interior Department Is Giving Business to Secretary Zinke’s Billionaire Pal—Can you smell the corruption that Ryan Zinke is cooking?  This guy does not care that he is corrupt because there is nothing you can do about it.  This guy is the point man for the theft of your public goods.

Reclaiming Appalachia: A Push to Bring Back Native Forests to Coal Country—Coal country is a damaged place.  Decades of dominance by companies that care little for the land or people has left a landscape scarred.  Healing that landscape in a deliberative way is a great step forward.

How American Cities & States are Fighting Climate Change Globally—The federal government is in the bag for fossil fuels and ideologues who would have you believe that human caused climate change is some kind of hoax cooked up by academics and liberals.  As if those groups can be counted on to agree on a menu for a campus mixer without things devolving into a bloodbath of recriminations let alone conspire on a global scale in secret.  Cities, municipalities, and states are where the climate change action is happening right now.

Here’s What Carbon Neutral Electricity Could Look Like for Fort Collins—Cities are starting to figure out just how much power they have to transform the energy system of the future.

Trump’s Coal and Nuclear Subsidy Won’t Keep Power Plants Open but Will Raise Prices—Let’s see, a plan championed by all hat, no cows Rick Perry is destined to fail in its ultimate goal yet still raise prices for consumers. It’s like Republicans under Trump have decided that it is okay to get all of the downside risk while achieving none of the goals.  Also remember that this plan is essentially a sop to a half dozen or so coal barons who want a federal bailout without actually asking for a federal bailout.  You know, the free market and all.

The Federal Land at Stake in Trump’s Rush for More Drilling—Trump and the rest of his kleptocrat cronies are running high on the hog right now in transferring public goods into private resources.  If you think that there is anything public about land being opened for oil and gas drilling try getting near one of these facilities out west.  Your ass will end up in the back of a sheriff’s car real fast.

‘Death spiral’: Half of Europe’s Coal Plants are Losing Money—Coal is on the brink.  Why?  It is losing money.

Australia Has Already Hit 1 Gigawatt Of Solar Installed In 2017, Breaking Multiple Records—1 GW is a lot of solar.  Every week seems to bring a solar story from Australia that highlights that country going all in on solar.

Rooftop Solar and EVs Save Water and Cut Pollution in Texas – and Data can Help Us go Further—As we enter a period of climate change stressing water supplies it is important to consider the second order effects of renewable electricity.  It takes a lot of water to produce grid electricity from coal, nuclear, or natural gas.  A solar panel requires zero water to do the same thing.

Are Pigs Eating our Food?—This is a fairly nuanced look at the idea that livestock is eating our food in a 1:1 direct substitution.  The truth is much more complex, as the truth tends to be, as livestock—depending upon the species—eat residues from other agricultural production processes that are essentially waste products or eat substances that humans cannot eat directly for sustenance.

Expect a Meat Tax within 5-10 Years—Five to ten years seems a little sporty, but as we fully understand both the environmental and health impacts of eating meat there will be an increasing drumbeat for some sort of action.  In the United States I think that the easiest solution would be to end the crop subsidies that make CAFOs possible.  Without subsidized corn and soy there would be no way that companies could make CAFOs work.

How Our Housing Choices Make Adult Friendships More Difficult—Is it just our housing or is it our entire society?

Friday Linkage 5/23/2014

Who knew that Pat Sajak—he’s still on the air?—was a climate denier? Maybe he is the one feeding Marco Rubio his dubious stance on climate and the environment. It would make sense given that neither make any sense to a person with a quarter ounce of sense.

On to the links…

Minnesota Becomes First State To Ban Antibacterial Chemical Triclosan From Soaps—This is important news because I hope it is the start of a nationwide trend to get this chemical off our store shelves. There is no need for us to use this chemical and it has a lot of downside risks to the environment. Clean freaks and germophobes will probably cry into their sanitary wipes, but it is progress.

The Big Melt Accelerates—Well, here is some real crap news. We are living in the moment when our actions our visibly changing the planet. Do humans suck or what?

Dust Bowl Days: Will We Cut Carbon Pollution Fast Enough To Prevent Permanent Droughts?—There may be more water in the oceans because of global warming and ice melt, but a lot of regions are going to be a lot drier. Maybe permanently. When will we listen up and make fundamental changes?

The Red Hot Renewable That Could Incite A Green Power Revolution—I’ve linked to articles and written about geothermal power before. It’s an untapped resource—pun is actually intended. It’s clean power that can be counted on as baseload power. That is huge when you have variability in your other renewables like wind or solar.

The Birthplace Of Big Oil Is About To Get Its Biggest Solar Plant Yet—Texas is behind the eight ball when it comes to solar. It’s a state bathed in sun, but it’s also the home of big oil so you can understand why they are more prone to drill their way to freedom.

India’s New Prime Minister Plans To Make A Major Push on Solar Energy—Narendra Modi, the presumptive new prime minister of India, is making pledges to goose development of solar resources in India. If you do not think that this will have an impact on the global market, you do not understand the concept of the “India price.”

Jane Kleeb vs. the Keystone Pipeline—The opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline has made for some interesting bedfellows. You have “cowboys,” “Indians,” ranchers, environmentalists, state’s rights advocates, libertarians, etc.

How to Fight a Factory Farm and Win—Apparently, when you have exhausted trying to stop a factory farm because of the environmental and animal welfare reasons there is always the stink. People understand the stink and no one likes the stink.

EPA Finalizes Power Plant Water Intake Rules To Save Billions Of Aquatic Animals Every Year—This is totally one of those regulations where you can see John Boehner and Eric Cantor standing at a podium stressing the “job killing” administration of President Obama. Sometimes, the impact on jobs is less important than the impact of everything else.

How USDA Rubber-Stamps ‘Humane’ and ‘Sustainable’ Food Claims—This is why it is critically important to know from whom and where your food originates. Too often the people we believe are entrusted with preserving our health and safety are nothing more than shills for industry.

In Federal-State Marijuana Battle, Hemp Is The New Frontier—Apparently, there is one issue that Mitch McConnell and his opponent in November’s election Alison Lundergan Grimes can agree upon: hemp. Both candidates for elected office have declared that the federal government should release hemp seeds to the state of Kentucky. Common ground over hemp. Imagine that.

How to Make the Twin Cities the Best Region in America—You could take these ideas to any town and it would be a great list to work on. The article’s title is so interchangeable that it could be “How to Make the BLANK the Best Region in America.” Who does not want more livable communities? Oh right, republicans.

The 20 Deadliest U.S. Cities for Pedestrians—I love how this list corresponds nicely to places that I would never live. It also shows that pedestrians in Florida are little more than collateral damage.

Friday Linkage 3/28/2014

Getting back to work after more than a week of vacation is hard. Total first world problem, but it is almost impossible to get back into the groove. Having a house full of sick travelers does not help either. Is there anything worse than coming home on a plane full of people hacking and wheezing knowing that you will be doing the same thing in a few days? I know, total first world problem again.
On to the links…
Solar Power Is Now Just As Cheap As Conventional Electricity In Italy And Germany—Grid parity is a big deal because it means that it costs no more to deploy renewables versus traditional fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, or nuclear—yes, I lump nuclear in with fossil fuels because fissile material is mined and fusion is a pipe dream.
Soon The Ocean Will Be Generating Power Near Seattle—Tidal power is slightly less of a pipe dream than fusion and right below large scale offshore wind in terms of primetime readiness. It seems like advocates have been telling us for decades that tidal power can be a major player, but the projects never seem to materialize or reach their potential.
Hog Wild: Factory Farms are Poisoning Iowa’s Drinking Water—The hog industry totally has the government in Iowa bought and paid for because the problems of CAFOs outweigh whatever economic gain they might provide. Ugh!
Are We Becoming China’s Factory Farm?—It looks like our agricultural industry is focused on satisfying the growing appetites of Chinese consumers rather than protecting the welfare of our own citizens. Great.
Coal Ash Ponds: How Power Companies Get a ‘Bypass’ on Regulations Against Pollution—Like manure lagoons from CAFOs, coal power plants have been able to skirt regulations for years. After several spills and contaminations I hope the tide is turning toward some form of real control.
Does Comfrey Really Improve Soil?—Confrey is one of those miracle plants of the sustainable garden world that seems to take care of many problems. A lot of organic and/or sustainable gardeners use comfrey leaves to make a fertilizer tea or use it to supercharge compost piles or improve the soil. Here is some evidence that it may actually be improving the soil. I am thinking about conducting a similar experiment myself.
Taxpayer Dollars Teach that Evolution is ‘wicked and vain’—Every time I am amazed by the ignorance of climate deniers and Republicans in general I need to remember that the same people who form the rabid base of that political ideology are the same ones still fighting for creationism. Yep, Jesus rode a dinosaur like a cowboy.
Let Food be Thy Medicine—I am glad to see that the medical community is finally waking up to the positive powers that diet can have on people’s health. It’s not rocket science, but there is often a disconnect between the doctor’s office and the kitchen when in reality there are very real linkages.
How to Make Microwave Popcorn in a Plain Paper Bag—I love popcorn, but I often find myself craving it at work which means microwave popcorn is the only answer because there is no stove and my Whirlypop stays home. With this method I could be nuking a bag of Tiny But Mighty for an afternoon snack at my desk.
Beneath Cities, a Decaying Tangle of Gas Pipes—The explosion that leveled a building in Harlem brought attention to the rat’s nest of cables and pipes that sit just below the surface of our cities. Infrastructure is amazing to me in that it works at all when you consider the complexity, operating environment, system stress, and age.
Turn a Cordless Drill into a Solar Drill—I love solar for so many reasons. I also love checking out solar projects that are easy. Check this one out.
Super-Cheap Paper Microscope Could Save Millions of Lives—This just seems amazing.

Hands off the Turkey!

This year my family has finally bitten the bullet and done away with the turkey that is the centerpiece of so many feasts during the Thanksgiving holiday.  Why?  No one really liked the meat and it became an obligation every year that monopolized the oven taking space from foods people actually cared about.  It’s an “all sides” holiday in our household.

For those of you who cannot break with tradition and crave the bird, think about the modern turkey that you might have purchase in a supermarket.  If you bought your bird from a farmer raising heritage turkeys in a humane setting just ignore what I am about to show.

Modern turkeys’ lives are, to crib from Thomas Hobbes, nasty, brutish, and short.  How bad you ask?  The good folks at Mother Jones have put together a series of charts that give you an idea of the horror that is the modern turkey:

turkeys-04turkeys-02turkeys-01turkeys-05_0turkeys-06

Even if you do not take these birds to slaughter they will die because longevity has essentially been bred out of them.  How do I know?  The turkeys that are “pardoned” every year by the President often end up dying soon after because they were bred to produce meat, not live long lives.

Happy holidays!

Shame on You Governor Branstad

In the state of Iowa we are “blessed” with some real quality politicians.  There is ol’ Chuck Grassley of the U.S. Senate trotting out tired rhetoric and, in general, trying to be as incoherent as possible.  Representative Steve King deserves his own diorama in the Wingnut Hall of Fame.  His latest diatribe about illegal immigrants primarily being marijuana mules is a loving tribute to his insanity.

However, my “favorite” politician in the state has to be Governor Terry Branstad.  After leaving office in 1999 after 16 years of service he returned like a villain in a bad movie to resume being the governor of the state in 2011 following the “Tea Party revolution” in the 2010 mid-term elections.

Essentially, the man is a shill for big industry and big agriculture.  If you are a large business interest than Governor Branstad has some tax incentives for you.  If you are large agribusiness and do not want people to expose the conditions in your facilities than Governor Branstad would be happy to shepherd am ag-gag bill through to his signature.

Lately, it’s gotten even more transparent about how in bed with big agriculture’s interests that the governor has become.  At issue is the enforcement of the Clean Water Act by state officials or, rather, the lack of enforcement of the Clean Water Act by state officials.  Branstad, along with Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, have bypassed the regional EPA office in Kansas City that had been negotiating with state officials in order to make an appeal directly to the top officials in Washington according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

In essence, the governor and his supporters would like the EPA to continue to ignore the impaired nature of Iowa’s waterways so that industrial scale agriculture operations can continue to pollute with impunity.  There is some Orwellian marketing copy about the governor “ensuring the quality of Iowa’s waterways” and “ensuring that the EPA does not overreach the scope of its authority” but this is purely a rhetorical smokescreen.  It translates to “let the fox guard the hen house” for a few more years.

How bad is the situation in Iowa? In 2012 the EPA said that Iowa had almost 500 impaired waterways.  According to some estimates, there are over 20 million hogs, primarily housed in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), throughout the state producing a mind boggling amount of waste that has to be dealt with.  But dealing with that waste is expensive and big ag wants the status quo to continue.  So, in rides Governor Branstad to the rescue on the side of industry over the people of the state.

Don’t believe that this guy is in the pocket of agri-business?  Remember “pink slime?”  Well, it was produced by a company, Beef Products Inc, owned by Eldon and Regina Roth of Sioux City, Iowa.  The Roths personally contributed $152,000 to Governor Branstad’s election coffers making them the third largest donor overall and the second largest individual.  What was the Governor’s response to the entire debacle surrounding pink slime?  He went to the mattresses for pink slime.  He went so far as to don a t-shirt proclaiming “Dude, it’s beef.”  If you say so Gov.

Wonder why he is so vociferous in his defense of agri-business to continue polluting our waterways?  Look at some of his biggest contributors.  Debra Hansen of Iowa Select Farms gave $52,000.  Iowa Select Farms is a CAFO operator.  You can peruse the entire list of agricultural industry contributors at Follow the Money.

To paraphrase a memorable line from Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, there is shit in the water.

I urge EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and her department to cease allowing the Branstad administration to delay implementing enforcement of the Clean Water Act in the state of Iowa.  Our waterways have become too degraded by the practices of industrial agriculture to allow for current practices to continue.