“Veggie-Fed Beef” and Other Delicacies

What is “beet-fed beef?”

Last month, during a stretch of below-zero nights, some of our root vegetables froze. Our space heater broke, and the temperature in the storage area dropped into the low 20’s. About a dozen sacks of carrots & beets froze solid.

We began feeding the frozen carrots & beets to our cows. They feasted on them. Good quality hay is one thing, but cattle know as well as you and I: there’s nothing like a fresh meal.

After a weeks of feeding them root vegetables, we processed one of the cows. It was an 9-year old heifer, past the end of her breeding life: in other words, not a prime beef cow.

My mother brought one of the ribeye roasts to a family party. It was exquisite: tender, with a mild and slightly sweet flavor.

My aunts, uncles, cousins, and I talked about it for some time. It was a true delicacy.

History

“Beet-fed beef” actually has a long history.

There’s a type of beets called mangels that are grown for livestock feed. Mangels grow very large, and while they don’t taste as good as culinary beets, I have seen them for sale as “people food.” Livestock love them.

There are also types of turnips, kale, squashes, and other vegetables that are grown for livestock more than people.

And of course, farmers have always fed their “seconds” vegetables to livestock. It’s a basic practice of small-scale sustainable farming.

What Makes a Great Meal?

A while ago I saw the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” It’s about a master sushi chef, and his standards, training, and extraordinary commitment to excellence.

Every step of Jiro’s process is refined, practiced, perfected.

Yet when Jiro’s buyer goes to the fish market, he laments that very few fish meet Jiro’s standards.

Thirty years ago, he says, good quality fish were easy to obtain. Now, he says, it’s hard to find even one fish that makes the grade.

I thought of how most of the world’s fisheries are on the brink of collapse. No wonder Jiro’s buyer can’t find good fish.

If we want good sushi, should we focus on the health of the oceans? Or just the skill of the chef?

Closer to Home

I also recently watched a few episodes of “MasterChef,” the cooking reality show with celebrity chef judges.

Really, I don’t watch much TV. When I do, it’s often about food.

Again, as in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” all the focus in “MasterChef” is on human skill. The ingredients are taken for granted, as though they just appear from nowhere for use in the kitchen.

I appreciate and respect culinary skill, but it’s not my profession. I’m a farmer. I produce ingredients.

My cousin’s husband put it best: “There are some dishes that you can only make with fresh eggs.”

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