Tag Archives: feedlot

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:

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

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

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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 6/29/2012

Wildfires are abstract concepts to someone living in Iowa.  Sure, we see fields that catch fire now and again but rarely is anything more than an old barn or single farmstead truly threatened.

However, close friends in Colorado Springs were evacuated from the path of the ongoing Waldo Canyon Fire and are now homeless.  As of this morning they do not know the condition of their house or when they will be allowed to even go back to see what, if anything, remains.  Everyone in their family is safe, but there is just a pit in the bottom of your stomach when you think about the situation.

Sorry for the depressing tone, but thoughts about the wildfire have sort of consumed my waking hours lately as I tried to imagine the combination of horror, anger, and unknown.

On to the links…

Midwestern Drought Intensifies—Shades of the 1988 drought are beginning to appear as the Midwest is increasingly dry and the hot conditions of high summer are starting to bear down.  This week it was close to 100 degrees in Eastern Iowa with hot winds to match.

How Big Meat is Taking Over the Midwest—The forces of big meat, represented by the increase in confined animal feedlot operations (CAFOs), are slowly taking over the remaining pockets of livestock production that they do not own in the Midwest.  A quick drive through rural Iowa will put you in contact with the foul smell of these modern hell holes.  Don’t believe these places are hell on Earth?  Just try and walk up to one without tearing up, vomiting, or giving up because of the smell.  Now imagine eating meat that comes from one of these operations.

We Evolved to Eat Meat, But How Much is Too Much?—It is not that meat, in and of itself, is a bad thing.  It is just that Americans in general and, increasingly, the rest of the world eats too much of the stuff and it is produced in deplorable conditions.

Visualizing a Nation of Meat Eaters—A series of very interesting charts and graphs that visually display the evolution of meat consumption in the U.S.

Too Big to Chug—In America we love us some big drinks:

Think about the fact that the McDonald’s kid size drink is 5 ounces larger than the original fountain drink size for the chain in 1955.  Think that is scary?  During my son’s one year checkup, the pediatrician was asking questions about his eating habits when he said “Do you try to limit juice and soda intake?”  Huh?  Soda intake for a one year old?  Why is that even a question?

How Clean is Your Beach?—Every year, the Natural Resources Defense Council releases a report on the water quality and public notification of beaches in the United States.  Check it out to see if your favorite beach is on the list and how it did.  Is it safe to go back into the water?

Fear Accompany Fisherman in Japanese Disaster Region—Fisherman are starting to make their way back into the sea in the area near the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.  Given the reports of potentially irradiated tuna making their way to California earlier, I would think that people would be more than hesitant to wrap their fingers around some calamari from these waters.

The Curse of the Lead Bullet—The California condor’s recovery is one the greatest success stories of the modern wildlife conservation movement.  Even though the majestic bird was brought back from the precipice of extinction, threats to its long term viability remain.  One of those is the lead shot used in hunting loads.    Why are we still using a toxic metal for recreational hunting?  In Iowa this year this same issue was brought forward by the Department of Natural Resources, but our tone deaf governor chose to make some kind of misguided ideological stand in opposing the ban of lead hunting loads.  Why?

Have Sledgehammer Will Farm—Breaking up asphalt and concrete is brutal and backbreaking work, but considering how much of our landscape is covered in the materials it is almost inevitable that spaces will have to be reclaimed.  Bit by bit we can replace the hard edges of the modern world with the softer edges of a better future.

Edible Weeds in the Garden—It may be a weed, but that does mean it lacks culinary value.  Like the non-marketable cuts of meat or offal, we too often think of food in terms of very narrowly defined items.  So, don’t just pull those weeds.  Saute them!

Simple Sheet of Paper Keeps Produce Fresh Four Times Longer—This is one of those little things that you smack your head when you see it and say, “Why didn’t someone think of this earlier?”  Probably because you don’t worry about the shelf life of food when you do not think about the cost.

Unfixable Computers—We have entered an age where a computer is a disposable item.  Think about that for a moment.  I remember when computers were something of a centerpiece of a family’s home, cared for like cars, but now these items have become merely electronic waste when the time comes to make even the simplest of repairs.  It is not forward progress at all.

BioLite Stove—This thing is just cool.  The BioLite stove seems like the perfect disaster stove because it can also provide a small amount of electricity for phones or lights.  Hmmm…