Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Beef’ Category

Pemmican: History’s Power Bar

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Very interesting video. One oddity: in the video, it seems very much as though he is slicing the meat across the grain, but he says he is slicing it against the grain (which would be essentially the same as slicing it with the grain). BTW: 1,000,000 pounds of pemmican (mentioned at 14:20 in the video) at 90 lbs/bison = 11,111 bison killed. 

Written by Leisureguy

27 March 2023 at 3:43 pm

For those who eat hamburgers

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Written by Leisureguy

12 May 2022 at 6:59 pm

One bite from a lone-star tick can make you allergic to red meat for life.

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The silver lining is obvious in this case: red meat is on the whole unhealthy to eat. On the other hand, one wants to have the choice. Kevin Ambrose has a report in the Washington Post (gift link, no paywall) that shows the current range of the lone-star tick. (The range is expanding, thanks to climate change.) His report begins:

Our recent warm weather has reawakened ticks, and one type in particular is becoming more common in the D.C. area: the lone star tick. One bite from this tick, which is easily identified by the white spot on its back if it’s a female, can cause a life-long adverse reaction to eating red meat.

The lone star tick originated in the southern states but has spread north and west to cover much of the eastern half of the country. With a warming climate, more ticks survive the winter months, and their range is expanding.

Unlike the black-legged (deer) tick, the lone star tick doesn’t transmit Lyme disease, but it can produce a severe food allergy in people known as alpha-gal syndrome, which is an allergy to red meat.

When lone star ticks feed on mammals, . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

1 May 2022 at 7:58 pm

What Does the End of Beef Mean for Our Sense of Self?

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An article by Ligaya Mishan (with photographs by Kyoko Hamada) in the NY Times Magazine discusses the on-going evolution of our dietary preferences. (Gift link: no paywall) The article begins:

MEAT IS PRIMAL, or so some of us think: that humans have always eaten it; that it is the anchor of a meal, the central dish around which other foods revolve, like courtiers around a king; that only outliers have ever refused it. But today, those imagined outliers are multiplying. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that the consumption of beef per capita worldwide has declined for 15 years. Nearly a fourth of Americans claimed to have eaten less meat in 2019, according to a Gallup poll. The recipe site Epicurious, which reaches an audience of 10 million, phased out beef as an ingredient in new recipes in 2020. Diners at some McDonald’s can now sate their lust for a Quarter Pounder with a vegan McPlant instead. Faux meat products are projected to reach $85 billion in sales by 2030, according to a recent study by UBS, and Tyson Foods, one of the biggest beef packers in the United States, has hedged its bets by introducing its own plant-based line.

Even in the stratosphere of the world’s most expensive restaurants, where multiple-course tasting menus often rely on the opulence of a marbled steak as their denouement, a few notable exceptions have abandoned meat within the past year, including the $440-per-person Geranium in Copenhagen (still serving seafood) and the $335-per-person Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan (save for the puzzling persistence of a tenderloin on its private dining room menu through this past December). Could this be the beginning of the end of meat — or at least red meat, with its aura of dominion and glory?

Those who believe humans are born carnivores might scoff. Indeed, archaeological evidence shows that we have been carnivores for longer than we have been fully human. As the French Polish Canadian science journalist Marta Zaraska recounts in “Meathooked” (2016), two million years ago, early hominids in the African savanna were regularly butchering whatever animals they could scavenge, from hedgehogs and warthogs to giraffes, rhinos and now-extinct elephant-anteater beasts.

Yet it wasn’t necessarily human nature to do so. Meat eating was an adaptation, since, as Zaraska points out, we lack the great yawning jaws and bladelike teeth that enable true predators to kill with a bite and then tear raw flesh straight off the bone. To get at that flesh, we had to learn to make weapons and tools, which required using our brains. These in turn grew, a development that some scientists attribute to the influx of calories from animal protein, suggesting that we are who we are — the cunning, cognitively complex humans of today, with our bounty of tens of billions of cortical neurons — because we eat meat. But others credit the discovery of fire and the introduction of cooking, which made it easier and quicker for us to digest meat and plants alike and thus allowed the gastrointestinal tract to shrink, freeing up energy to fuel a bigger brain.

Whatever the cause of our heightened mental prowess, we continued eating meat and getting smarter, more adept with tools and better able to keep ourselves alive. Then, around 12,000 years ago, our hunter-gatherer ancestors started to herd animals, tend crops and build permanent settlements, or else were displaced by humans who did. Our diet changed. If we narrow our purview to more recent history, from the advent of what we call civilization in the fourth millennium B.C., the narrative of meat eating shifts.

“For nearly all of humanity’s existence, meat was not a central component of people’s diets,” the American historian Wilson J. Warren writes in “Meat Makes People Powerful” (2018). Far from being essential, for most people around the world, meat has been only occasional, even incidental, to the way we eat: craved and celebrated in certain cultures to be sure, showcased at feasts, but not counted on for daily nourishment. This was true outside of the West well into the 20th century, but even in Europe before the 19th century, the average person subsisted on grains (cakes, ale) that made up close to 80 percent of the diet. The Old English “mete” was just a general word for food.

The rich were different, of course, with the resources to dine as they pleased. And not just royals and aristocrats: In 18th-century England, as incomes rose, an ambitious middle class began to claim some of the same privileges as their supposed betters. The Finnish naturalist Pehr Kalm, in a 1748 account of a visit to London, reports, “I do not believe that any Englishman who is his own master has ever eaten a dinner without meat.” The caveat was key. Those not so fortunate as to control their own lives had to make do, as the British poor had done for centuries, with mostly gruel, perhaps enlivened by vegetables, although these were perceived, the late British urban historian Derek Keene has written, “as melancholic and terrestrial and in need of elevation by the addition of butter or oil.”

So meat was both sustenance and symbol. To eat it was to announce one’s mastery of the world. No wonder, then, that the citizens of a newborn nation, one that imagined itself fashioned on freedom and the rejection of Old World hierarchies, should embrace it. “Americans would become the world’s great meat eaters,” the former Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin writes in “The Americans: The Democratic Experience” (1973). And the meat that would come to define Americans was beef: a slab of it, dark striped from the grill but still red at the heart, lush and bleeding, leaking life. . .

Continue reading. (Gift link = no paywall)

Update: The end of beef might come suddenly for those are bitten by a lone-star tick.

Written by Leisureguy

6 March 2022 at 5:43 am

The Myth of Regenerative Ranching

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Jan Dutkiewicz and Gabriel N. Rosenberg report in The New Republic:

When foodies sink their teeth into a slab of cheese from one of the historic dairy farms in Point Reyes, California, their minds probably run to grass-fed cows ranging free on the lush green oceanside hills of Marin County. Over 5,000 dairy cows and beef cattle roam the Point Reyes National Seashore National Park in full view of visiting tourists. Unlike the many dairy and meat companies that slap happy animals on their labels while sourcing their product from hellish factory farms, the dairy and beef farms at Point Reyes represent an agrarian ideal of ecologically and ethically sustainable animal agriculture.

“Pasture-raised” and “extensive” or “regenerative” grazing have been watchwords in the American foodie community since at least the 2000s, when celebrated food writer Michael Pollan presented sustainable, nonindustrial practices as a way out of the ethical morass of the American food system in his award-winning bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Everyone from progressive agrarians to libertarian ranchers to multinational food companies, and even conservation NGOs such as the Audubon Society, has thrown their weight behind the idea of replacing mass-produced meat, from chickens to ungulates, with a holistically raised alternative. While some environmentalists reject beef altogether for its contribution to climate changepollution, and deforestation, proponents of free-ranging beef have rallied under the motto, “It’s not the cow; it’s the how.” They argue that, done properly, pasture-raised cattle can replace the ecological functions of wild ruminants like elk and bison, produce food on “marginal” land that would otherwise be wasted, and eliminate beef’s carbon hoofprint (since well-grazed land can sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide). This would mean consumers could stick it to Big Ag, fight climate change, and help imperiled animals and ecosystems without actually changing their diets too much; they’d just need to eat a bit less meat and pay a bit more for the grass-fed option.

Whether these promises hold up under scrutiny is a subject of fierce debate. And in recent years, a series of lawsuits have argued the opposite thesis: that even “regenerative” cattle imperil the very ecosystems proponents claim they will “regenerate.”

This past June, the Harvard Animal Law and Policy Clinic, on behalf of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and a number of individual plaintiffs, filed suit against the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service, which manages Point Reyes National Park, alleging that cattle ranching is endangering the iconic tule elk.* It’s not the first such lawsuit that has been filed over the past decade against the NPS to stop alleged environmental damage from Point Reyes cows.

The National Park Service leases parkland to a number of “historic” cattle and dairy farms, which it has done since the park’s creation in 1962. The elk, native to the region but driven to near-extinction by hunting and human activities such as ranching, are protected by a 1976 federal conservation law and were reintroduced to the park in 1978. But to keep the elk from competing with cattle for forage and water, the NPS erected fences that confine the elk to select corners of the park with limited water and forage. This confinement has proved fatal during droughts. Drought in 2013–2014 led to 254 elk deaths. A current drought has already killed over 150 elk, a third of the once 445-strong herd that inhabits Tomales Point, all just a stone’s throw away from thriving commodity cows. Ranchers have even pushed for the right to cull elk outright to keep their populations in check, in part because they have also killed off the natural predators that would do so in a healthy ecosystem. The Harvard suit alleges that “the Tule elk are continuing to die horrific and preventable deaths” in clear violation of federal law.

Prior to the twentieth century, the tule elk were an important part of the Pacific coastal ecosystem and a major component of the diet of the Coast Miwok tribe, the native peoples who lived there. In fact, the NPS concedes that the region’s characteristic hilly grasslands were “the byproduct of burning, weeding, pruning and harvesting for at least two millennia by Coast Miwok and their antecedents.” These grasslands made a juicy target for white settlers arriving in the middle of the nineteenth century. They brought cattle with them, plundered the Coast Miwok lands, hunted large predators and elk to near-extinction, and then grazed their cattle on the hills instead. The intertwined processes of colonial and ecological displacement have continued into the twenty-first century: In 2015, the NPS balked at a proposed “Indigenous Archaeological District” that would have protected Coast Miwok heritage sites from damage from ranching. Even as it did so, it quickly approved a “Historic Dairy Ranching District,” over and against Miwok protests. Today, many Coast Miwok are opposed to the rancher-backed plan to fence and further cull the elk. “The Park Service proposal to shoot indigenous tule elk and promote ranching that harms wildlife, water and habitat is a travesty and contrary to the traditions of our ancestors,” Jason Deschler, dance captain and headman with the Coast Miwok Tribal Council of Marin, wrote this summer in a statement opposing the cull.

The cows at Point Reyes don’t just compete with the elk. They also defecate about 130 million pounds of nitrogen-rich manure a year, which leaches into the soil and streams and ponds of the area. An NPS-funded study suggested that removal of the cows would benefit numerous native species, including butterflies, seabirds, frogs, and salmon. And yet the same study recommended the expansion of ranching. As a damning investigative report into the issue in the Marin County Pacific Sun suggests, the ranchers and dairy farmers have urged pliant politicians, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, to “pressur[e] the Park Service to prioritize the preservation of private ranching profits over environmental concerns.”

Point Reyes is a microcosm of a much broader anti-wildlife bent in American ranching, regenerative and otherwise. To protect their cows from predators and disease, or simply to ensure that they have access to food and water, ranchers across the country have supported wolf huntsvulture and wild horse culls, and the deployment of cyanide bombs. It is difficult to count the number of wild animals killed in the service of ranching interests by government bodies like the Agriculture Department’s secretive Wildlife Services, the Bureau of Land Management, and various state-level farm bureaus, but about a million animals per year is the federal government’s own estimate.

Unlike wild animals such as elk, ranched cattle are commodities in a global market. And the goals of commodity production run directly counter to those of a functional ecosystem. In the wild, . . ..

Continue reading. There’s more.

Humans know what should be done but refuse to do it — cf. climate change. I hold little hope for the species.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 12:12 pm

Two great beef recipes

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The Niece made a barbecued brisket for the celebration of The Grand-Nephew’s first birthday, and I was reminded of a favorite recipe using brisket: Boeuf à la Flamande, from Myra Waldo’s fine book Beer and Good Food.

And that in turn reminded me of the best Beef Stroganoff recipe I’ve ever found.

Both of these are more autumn and winter dishes, but these recipes are so good you might want to put a reminder in your calendar for when the days grow shorter and colder. This, of course, applies only to those who still eat beef, something I now very seldom do. (I did yesterday, and my fasting blood glucose this morning shows the effects.)

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2021 at 10:36 am

Although some plants are included, I would not call this dish vegan

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But it does look like a good way to cook a steak.

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1 June 2021 at 2:38 pm

Braised beef short ribs

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I do follow a whole-food plant-based diet on the whole, but occasionally I have a hankering for something not included in the diet. It started with watching a video by Chef John of, and then I found a video whose technique I liked better (and made more sense to me) by Helen Rennie. Moreover, in the notes to the video on YouTube, she provides the full text of the recipe.

Obviously, I’m not making six pounds. I just got 3 shorts, though after seeing them in the pan I’m using (2-qt All-Clad d3 Stainless sauté pan), I think that if I ever do this again I will go with 4 short ribs which would fit the pan better.

UPDATE: The parchment-paper lid worked much better than I expected. It occurred to me that you could avoid the boiling problem by cooking at 200ºF for 6-8 hours. Also, a fat separator obviates the need for refrigerating overnight. It was very tasty with tarragon mustard and horseradish (and the rest of the red wine).

Here’s her video:

Written by Leisureguy

6 April 2021 at 3:28 pm

3-D printed meat and (vegan v. whole-food plant-only)

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A vegan is not the same as a person who (like me) follows a whole-food plant-only diet. For one thing a vegan generally puts a high priority on animal welfare and will (for example) not use products derived from animals (no leather shoes, belts, wallets, or handbags, for example, and no wool sweaters or shirts or socks). The WFPO person is focused on food, not attire, and their primary concern is health.

One effect of this difference is that vegans will eat many foods that a WFPO person will avoid — namely, foods manufactured from refined ingredients using industrial processes. In fact, in a typical supermarket there’s often a whole section of such highly processed foods specifically marketed to vegans — imitation meat (“field roast,” for example), imitation cheese, and the like. These are about as far from whole foods as you can get (and, oddly, they are sold at Whole Foods despite the market’s name).

So now we have manufactured meats that do not involve killing animals but instead are made by cultivating animal muscle and fat cells and printing them to make a steak. A vegan (preumably) could happily eat such a steak — no animal suffering involved — whereas a WFPO person will avoid them because, despite the absence of animal slaughter, the food still is high in (for example) saturated fats and in its effects on IGF-1. 

It will be interesting to see how this new food plays out in practice, but it certainly strikes me as vegan-acceptable.

Laura Relley reports in the Washington Post:

An Israeli company unveiled the first 3-D-printed rib-eye steak on Tuesday, using a culture of live animal tissue, in what could be a leap forward for lab-grown meat once it receives regulatory approval.

During the coronavirus pandemic, alternative protein products have soared in popularity, prompting nearly every multinational food corporation to hasten to bring its own versions to market. Frequently plant-based products have been patties or processed nuggets — “everyday” foods easier for companies to produce — that aim to ease the climate effects of the worst offender: Americans eat nearly 50 billion burgers a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Aleph Farms’ new 3-D bioprinting technology — which uses living animal cells as opposed to plant-based alternatives — allows for premium whole-muscle cuts to come to market, broadening the scope of alt-meat in what is expected to be a rich area of expansion for food companies.

Several other companies are sprinting to capture what is expected to be a robust appetite for what is often called “cultivated meat.” San Diego-based BlueNalu has announced its intent to bring cell-based seafood products to market in the second half of this year; Israel-based Future Meat Technologies and Dutch companies Meatable and Mosa Meat aim to have cultivated meat products in the market by 2022, each with proprietary methods of growing meat tissues from punch biopsies from live or slaughtered animals.

But the lack of a regulatory framework could stymie the companies’ race to market. In December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the world’s first head of state to eat cultivated meat, and that same month Singapore became the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval for the sale of cultivated meat. It remains unclear when other countries will follow suit. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has not set a date for when it will rule on the matter.

The new meat-making process, developed with research partners at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, prints living cells that are incubated on a plant-based matrix to grow, differentiate and interact to achieve the texture and qualities of a real steak. It has a system similar to an animal’s vascular system, which allows cells to mature and nutrients to move across thicker tissue, resulting in a steak with a similar shape and structure to traditional cow tissue before and during cooking.

“It’s not just proteins. It’s a complex, emotional product,” says Aleph chief executive Didier Toubia. He says the product mirrors the sensory quality, texture, flavor and fatty marbling of a traditionally produced rib-eye.

Toubia’s claim will be quickly tested. Unlike plant-based burger patties or meat strips used in a more complex dish, Aleph’s rib-eye will often be served unadorned and at the center of a plate — with no bun, sauce or other ingredients to disguise it. Toubia said the company will even be able to adapt the steak to a specific country or palate, for instance, making it more or less tender, according to a consumer’s taste.

“With cows, the breed has a role, but the quality comes from the feed. With our cultivated meat it is similar,” Toubia said. “We control the cultivation process, and we can design meat specifically for a market, adjusting the amount of collagen and connective tissues and fat, to tailor meat to specific requirements. The idea is not to replace traditional agriculture but to build a second category of meat.” . . .

Continue reading.  There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2021 at 11:00 am

Taking walks again and other health notes

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Regular readers know that about 18 months ago I adopted a whole-food plant-only diet, which I’ve described in some detail. My motivation was primarily to improve my overall health and more specifically to help with my type 2 diabetes.

Whole-food” means no refined or highly processed foods, which eliminates refined sugar (and foods that contain it), refined salt (and foods that contain it), flour (and foods made from it), and foods made from refined ingredients using industrial processes and sold packaged with a brand name (and heavy marketing) — for example, Cheez Whiz, Diet Coke, and most “convenience” foods. 

Plant-only” means no meat, fish, dairy, or eggs (and no foods that contain those as ingredients — thus no mayonnaise, for example). 

To make sure that I cover the nutritional bases, I used Cronometer for a while. (It’s free, but I opted for Gold status, which provides some additional features for $35/year.) Using Cronometer did indeed reveal some deficiencies, which I mostly corrected through diet — for example, I wasn’t getting enough selenium, so I added 1 brazil nut per day to my diet; I was short of B5 (pantothenic acid), so I added mushrooms to my daily diet (since I like mushrooms). (The search term “foods high in…” is quite useful, though Cronometer itself can make suggestions).

A standard issue in plant-only diets is vitamin B12, and I took care of that by chewing (for faster absorption) a B12 tablet (cyanocobalamin) each morning (with the brazil nut, as it happens). I also take a vitamin D supplement (living as I do in a high latitude, thus with weaker sunlight). And as I posted yesterday, I am now adding a vitamin A supplement. In general, Cronometer showed that my diet was nutritionally sound (one of the essential criteria for any diet).

Because of my diabetes, I had been following a low-carb high-fat diet. (“High” is somewhat misleading. It means only that you add enough fat to match the calories lost by cutting net carbs (total carbs minus dietary fiber). For example, if you reduce net carbs by 100g (which is 400 calories), you add 45g fat (405 calories).)

The low-carb diet, together with medication, did bring my blood glucose under control, but as I posted, the reason was that I was not eating any carbs to speak of — around 30g/day of net carbs. On the whole-food plant-only (WFPO) diet, I increased my intake of net carbs from around 30g/day to around 145g/day. However, (1) these were not refined carbs, and (2) my intake of dietary fiber also greatly increased (eating whole foods, avoiding refined foods, and eating only plants results in consuming a good amount of fiber (rather than the totally adequate intake of dietary fiber in the Standard American Diet). On my new diet my intake of dietary fiber is around 60g/day. (Meat, fish, dairy, and eggs contain zero dietary fiber — and dietary fiber is essential for the health of the gut microbiome, which is essential for your own health.)

It took me a while to find my footing and develop new routines and patterns of eating, but through trial and error I developed an eating pattern based on Dr. Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen. The Daily Dozen provides a template and framework that made it easy to plan my daily food intake.

As a result of the change in diet, my diabetes significantly improved (as did my blood pressure), to the degree that my doctor told me to discontinue all the medications I had been taking. My HbA1c went to 5.2% (well within normal range) and my fasting blood glucose was around 5.5 mmol/L (99 mg/dl). 

And then…

Fast-forward a year. I was doing so well that I decided it would be okay to eat a piece of fish once every week or two — and I do like steelhead. The plot sequence at this point is a cliché: the piece of fish once every week or two became a piece of fish three or four times a week, and I decided eggs (cooked in butter) would be okay occasionally (and then frequently — I had to use the dozen before they went bad, after all). And then I ventured to eat a steak about once a month. Moreover, it seemed appropriate to have wine with my meals and an evening cocktail (I’m partial to rye Manhattans (redundant, but rye is not so commonly used) and gin Martinis (also redundant, but nowadays it’s wise to specify). 

My fasting blood-glucose readings gradually increased: I started seeing 6.0 fairly often, then 6.1, 6.3…. A doctor had told me that so long as the readings were below 7.0, all was well, but I was getting uneasy. My Contour Next blood glucose meter gives me averages, and I couldn’t help but notice that the averages also were slowly increasing (naturally enough). My morning readings started to include an occasional 6.5 and then an occasional 6.8. But the readings jumped around a lot, and I naturally focused on the “good” (lower) readings. Then I noticed an average of 6.5.

And one morning I saw a 7.0 reading. I got seriously worried and cut back right away…  but then things improved somewhat so I resumed the drift. I reassured myself by noting how much the readings varied day to day (and tried to ignore the increased averages).

Then I hit a rocky series of readings, starting 18 November: 6.5 (bad, so I was careful), 5.8 (that’s more like it) — and then 7.0, 6.7, 6.4, 6.5, 6.1, 7.0, 7.3 (!), 6.7, 6.8, 6.1, 6.5 — and I thought “Enough’s enough.” I decided I had to do hard reset. 

The hard reset

I knew, of course, exactly what I needed to do, but this time I wrote it down — putting things in writing makes them more concrete and, in effect, nails them to the wall. I wrote:

1. No alcohol (first day was 30 Nov 2020 and I’m still abstaining)
2. Daily walk with Sunday as a rest day (first day was 2 Dec 2020 (2000 steps), with a goal of 8000 steps/day)
3. No food after 5:00 (first day was 3 Dec 2020 — no eating in the evening helps with fasting blood glucose)

At the right you see my fasting blood-glucose averages two weeks into the hard reset. (And this result is without taking any medication at all.) One morning this week I even had a reading of 5.2 mmol/L. The 90-day average as of yesterday was 6.5, but today it dropped to 6.4. A fasting blood glucose of 5.5 mmol/L is the top of the “normal” range; 5.6 is the bottom of the “pre-diabetic” range. (“Diabetes” starts at 7.0.)

It’s clear that cutting out animal-based foods has made a quick and quite noticeable difference in my blood glucose levels. The reason is well understood: saturated fat spikes blood glucose. (The 7.0 reading was the day after I had a steak and the 7.3 followed a dinner of beef shank.)

By sticking with plant-only foods (and not eating any coconut), I avoid saturated fat, and that helps significantly with the blood glucose (as does eating whole rather than refined foods). Here’s why:

And the walking helps

Walking certainly helps physically, and I find it also helps with mood and morale. Getting out of the apartment into the open air and seeing interesting things in the neighborhood brightens the day and broadens the range of experience (beyond being in the apartment). For example, this shrub caught my eye: I like the fractal-like branches. Nothing like that in my apartment.

Almost all houses in this neighborhood boast flower gardens, in a wide variety of styles and designs. There is also a good variety of fences and gates, not to mention houses. You can see that people have devoted thought and effort to create their own little garden environment (cf. the movie Greenfingers, with Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, David Kelly, and Warren Clarke — check for availability). 

Even though it’s very late in the fall — winter begins in 9 days — I see some bushes still valiantly blooming. There’s one at the left, but there are others. And bushes with white berries — I need to learn some botany.

Another unexpected pleasure: I encounter a variety of little free libraries — I’ve spotted three so far, and I bet I will find more. Perhaps soon I’ll borrow (or donate) a book. And I go by a couple of parks, and of course there’s the Salish Sea right across the road for part of my walk.

I’ve been walking rain or shine (so far only one day in the rain, when I found walking with an umbrella is not a problem). And I have found a time for the habit — before my (late) lunch. (Breakfast lately is tea and three pieces of fresh fruit — right now, a tangerine, a pear, and an apple.)

Resist entropy

I followed a common sequence. I started with good resolutions, good results, and good persistence, and that lasted for months. But then I started probing the boundaries, and then drifting across (or moving) the boundaries. And then there’s the shocked awakening: “What am I doing?! What have I done?!”

That was the moment that I decided I needed a hard reset. Because I’m familiar with what I needed to do — where, in effect, I needed to be — it has been easy enough to resume good practice (though I definitely think writing it down helped — there’s a reason we are advised to put our goals in writing. And the restrictions due to the pandemic help, since they eliminate restaurant meals and socializing over food and drink. 

Now all I need to do is to stay the course and fight the universal pressure to move from order to disorder. I must remind myself from time to time what happens when I cast caution to the winds — or even nudge it aside a little. Pushing the pebble over the ledge can lead to a landslide.

Update: My fasting blood glucose this morning (13 Dec 2020) is 5.1 mmol/L (93 mg/dL). That is excellent. Of course, I don’t want to venture into hypoglcemia (when blood glucose is too low): “A blood sugar level below 70 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L) is low and can harm you. A blood sugar level below 54 mg/dL (3.0 mmol/L) is a cause for immediate action.” I’m well above the harmful level. The Mayo Clinic notes:

A fasting blood sugar level less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) is normal. A fasting blood sugar level from 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L) is considered prediabetes. If it’s 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) or higher on two separate tests, you have diabetes.

I’ll note again that I am achieving these levels with no medication: only diet and, lately, exercise.

14 Dec: This morning my blood glucose was 5.4 mmol/L (97 mg/dL), which is in the normal range — but more important, my 7-day average (see at right) was 5.5 mmol/L, also within normal range (albeit at the top: 5.6 is where “pre-diabetic” begins).

I’m still surprised at the rapidity of recovery once I returned rigorously to a whole-food plant-only diet. And I’ve been enjoying a cranberry slushie as an afternoon treat (recipe at the link).

Written by Leisureguy

12 December 2020 at 7:43 pm

Whole-food but not completely plant-based: What I’m going to make tomorrow — update: Plan vs. Actual

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The Wife and I went to Farm & Field Butchers today, me to buy Okazu Spicy Chili Miso with sesame oil (sunflower oil, too, which I despise (very bad omega-6:omega-3 ratio), but I figure just once in a while is okay). I’ll use it to sauté tofu cubes or slabs. It’s wonderful stuff.

They did have some very good looking thick cross-sections of beef shank, so I yielded to temptation and got one. Here’s my plan:

I’ll use my yellow 24cm Staub round cocotte (3.8L — see above) rather than the red 20cm (2.2L) one. I bought these just as they were being introduced, apparently: I remember that the red one cost me $65, and I see the price today is $300. (I also got most of my All-Clad at introductory prices.) I’m going to use the 3.8L one so I can spread out the food more to braise in the liquid.

After I posted how I planned to make it, this morning I actually made it, and the difference is enough that I describing the two (planned and actual) separately, with the planned method first.


• 1 head red Russian garlic, cloves peeled, sliced thinly, and set aside to rest
• 1 beef shank cross-section, allowed to rest at room temperature for an hour

Thoroughly dry the beef. Heat the pot, add a little olive oil, and brown shank well on both sides, then remove it and set it aside.

Add to the pot:

• 1 large leek and 3 leek tops I’ve saved, all sliced thinly
• a little more oil if needed

Cook the leeks 5-8 minutes, stirring often. Add:

• the garlic, which has been resting and preparing itself for this moment
• 1/2 head red cabbage, shredded
• dried sage leaves
• dried thyme
• ground coriander
• ground black pepper
• 6 or so whole allspice, ground
• 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (from the refrigerated section)

Put the shank to the pot and nestled it among the veggies so that it rests on the bottom of the pot. Add:

• many small domestic white mushrooms, whole (I got these today)
• some red wine — not a lot: maybe 1/2 cup
• juice of a lemon
• 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
• 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (or maybe tamari: umami is what we want)
• maybe a tablespoon of the Spicy Chili Miso.

If I had any cognac, I’d add a little of that, perhaps toward the end.

I’ll cover the pot, put it into a 200ºF oven and leave it for 8 hours or so.


I decided to skip browning the meat. The idea of browning meat is get flavor from the Maillard reaction and (especially with steaks) to have a flavoral crust.  But I will get plenty of flavor from the other ingredients, including lots of umami (mushrooms and Worcestershire or tamari), not browning the meat means greater tenderness for meats that are stewed or braised. For example, I stopped browning the little pieces of beef when I made chili. (I much prefer beef to pork for chili: much more tender, especially a chuck roast that you cut into small pieces and cook long and slow.) The Younger Daughter taught me about not browning meat for stews and braising, and Quebec Steve reminded me this time. So no browning.

Moreover, I decided that I would not sauté the vegetables for much the same reason: not needed for flavor, and also obviates the need for added oil (the extra-virgin olive oil).

So here’s what I actually did — and note that in some cases I revised the amounts:

Put beef shank into pot.

In a large bowl, mix:

• 1 large leek and 3 leek tops I’ve saved, all sliced thinly
• 1 head red Russian garlic, cloves peeled, sliced thinly (no need to let it rest)
• 1/4 head red cabbage, shredded (1/2 head would have been too much)
• dried sage leaves
• dried thyme
• ground coriander [discovered I was out; I’ll get more and would have used it]
• ground black pepper (about 2 tablespoons
• about 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/4 cup prepared horseradish (from the refrigerated section)
• 1/2 cup red wine
• juice of a lemon
• 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
• 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
• 2 tablespoons Spicy Chili Miso.

Pour the mixed vegetables, herbs, spices, and flavorings over the beef shank. This filled the pot (since I did not sauté the vegetables, they were still voluminous, though they will cook down). Put the pot in a 225ºF oven for 1 1/2 hours to allow vegetables to cook down to reduce the volume. This did work, which left room for the next step.

Remove pot from oven and add:

• small (about the diameter of a quarter — 30¢ at the most) white domestic mushrooms

I added all that I had purchased, which covered the top of the vegetables 1 (small) mushroom deep. I then used a spatula to mix the mushrooms in with the vegetables, leaving the beef on bottom.

Cover pot, return to oven, reduce heat to 200ºF, and cook for another 6 1/2 hours.

Once I’ve eaten a serving for dinner, I’ll update with my verdict.


At the right is a photo of the stew (as it is turning out to be) when I checked it after 5 hours. I think 3 hours more will be plenty. Although the pot is sitting on my induction burner, it is merely resting there for the photo; it’s being cooked, covered, in the oven.

It turned out that 6 1/2 hours was plenty: meat very tender, flavors melded (but probably better tomorrow). I’m having a bowl of it now, and it is well suited for winter dinner. One bowl stew alone (topped with the single bit of marrow), one bowl over kamut and lentils — good both ways.

I think next time I’ll try it on a mirepoix (not much — just a cup) with more of those little mushrooms. And I might throw in some marrow bones to get more marrow. But I won’t be having it for a while — still mostly plant-based.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2020 at 6:40 pm

Beef short ribs later today

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I follow a whole-food plant-based diet almost exclusively, and today the emphasis is on “almost.” For some reason I got a hankering for beef after seeing some extremely nice beef short ribs at the supermarket. I got three very chunky short ribs — much meat, little bone — and I browned them well on all sides in a cast-iron skillet while I prepared the veg for slow roasting in my Staub 24cm Round Cocotte, which holds 4 US quarts.

2 heads spring garlic, chopped small along with about 5″ of the stem
2 carrots cut in large dice (or moderate chunks)
1 large red onion cut into chunks
1 largish turnip cut into chunks
about a dozen small domestic white mushrooms, entire

The garlic and carrots went into the pot for the bottom layer, then I nestled the browned shorts into those veg. I scattered the red onion, turnip, the mushrooms over the meat, then added:

about 2 teaspoons dried thyme, rubbed between my hands to crush it
a good amount of ground black pepper
a pinch of smoked salt
a dash of Worcestershire sauce
juice of 2 lemons
a sprinkling of malt vinegar
about 1/4 cup good cognac

Here’s the result:

I covered the pot and put it into a 200ºF oven, where it will laze away the day.

I bought some crème fraîche and I’ll mix that with some:

ground white pepper
horseradish from the refrigerated section, squeezed dry
a little Dijon mustard
a pinch of sugar

That will go nicely with the beef.

UPDATE: The turnips are in lieu of potatoes — potatoes are too starchy for my diabetes. And I like the flavor of turnips. It occurs to me that a cup or so of shredded red cabbage might be very good. I think I’ll add it. One benefit of long slow cooking is that it accommodates afterthoughts.

ANOTHER UPDATE. I found a useful post on the sizes of the Staub round cocottes (and oval cocottes as well). Note that in that post “quart” means the Imperial quart: 1 Imperial qt = 1.2 US quarts. The Staub cocotte pictured is the 24cm one, so is 3.3 Imperial quarts — 3.96 US quarts. My little red Staub round cocotte is 20cm, or 2.25 US quarts.

I really like these Staub round cocottes, FWIW.

VERDICT: I had a bowl at 4:00pm — seven hours of cooking. Delicious. Pot is now atop stove, cooling, and oven is off. Here they are with one bowl (including one short rib) already removed (and eaten). The horseradish sauce,  BTW, was top-notch.

It occurs to me that a little crushed red pepper flakes would have been good — not a lot, just to provide some warmth and presence.

Written by Leisureguy

23 May 2020 at 9:08 am

What Happened When Health Officials Wanted to Close a Meatpacking Plant, but the Governor Said No

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Michael Grabell reports in ProPublica:

On Tuesday, March 31, an emergency room doctor at the main hospital in Grand Island, Nebraska, sent an urgent email to the regional health department: “Numerous patients” from the JBS beef packing plant had tested positive for COVID-19. The plant, he feared, was becoming a coronavirus “hot spot.”

The town’s medical clinics were also reporting a rapid increase in cases among JBS workers. The next day, Dr. Rebecca Steinke, a family medicine doctor at one of the clinics, wrote to the department’s director: “Our message is really that JBS should shut down for 2 weeks and have a solid screening plan before re-opening.”

Teresa Anderson, the regional health director, immediately drafted a letter to the governor.

But during a conference call that Sunday, Gov. Pete Ricketts made it clear that the plant, which produces nearly 1 billion pounds of beef a year and is the town’s largest employer, would not be shut down.

Since then, Nebraska has become one of the fastest-growing hot spots for the novel coronavirus in the United States, and Grand Island has led the way. Cases in the city of 50,000 people have skyrocketed from a few dozen when local health officials first reported their concerns to more than 1,200 this week as the virus spread to workers, their families and the community.

The dismissed warnings in Grand Island, documented in emails that ProPublica obtained under the state’s public records law, show how quickly the virus can spread when politicians overrule local health officials. But on a broader scale, the events unfolding in Nebraska provide an alarming case study of what may come now that President Donald Trump has used the Defense Production Act to try to ensure meat processing plants remain open, severely weakening public health officials’ leverage to stop the spread of the virus in their communities.

Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage said the governor explained on the call with local officials that the plant would stay open because it was declared an essential industry by the federal government. Two and a half weeks later, as cases were rising among the state’s meatpacking workers, Ricketts, a Republican businessman whose father founded the brokerage TD Ameritrade, held a news conference and said he couldn’t foresee a scenario where he would tell the meatpacking plants to close because of their importance to the nation’s food supply.

“Can you imagine what would happen if people could not go to the store and get food?” he asked. “Think about how mad people were when they couldn’t get paper products.”

“Trust me,” he added, “this would cause civil unrest.”

In the last two weeks, small meatpacking towns across Nebraska have experienced outbreaks, including at a Tyson Foods beef plant in Dakota City, a Costco chicken plant in Fremont and a Smithfield Foods pork plant in Crete. With the governor vowing to keep plants open, the companies have only in recent days decided to close for deep cleanings as cases have grown to staggering levels.

In Grand Island, two hours west of Omaha, the consequences of the governor’s decision came quickly. The CHI Health St. Francis hospital, which has 16 intensive care beds, was soon overwhelmed. At one point in April, it had so many critical patients that it had to call in three different helicopter companies to airlift patients to larger hospitals in Lincoln and Omaha, said Beth Bartlett, the hospital’s vice president for patient care.

JBS workers felt the strain, too. Under pressure to keep the food supply chain flowing, some of the plant’s 3,500 workers, many hailing from Latin America, Somalia and Sudan, said they were told to report for work regardless. In a letter to the governor last week, Nebraska Appleseed, a nonprofit advocacy group, said a JBS worker had been told by his supervisor that if he tested positive, he should come to work anyway and “keep it on the DL” or he’d be fired. Some workers who’d been told to quarantine after being exposed told ProPublica this week that they were called back to work before the 14-day window recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — even if they felt sick. One worker in the offal, or entrails, section recently fainted in the plant, they said, but was told he couldn’t go home.

Cameron Bruett, head of corporate affairs for JBS, said the company has worked in partnership with local officials to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and did not influence the governor’s decision to keep the plant open. He pointed to . . .

Continue reading.

Good example of not learning from experience.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2020 at 11:33 am

Best Beef Stroganoff recipe

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Just got a comment on this recipe, which reminded me of it.

Written by Leisureguy

17 February 2020 at 7:46 pm

Confessions of a slaughterhouse worker

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The BBC has this report from a slaughterhouse worker:

About 100 million animals are killed for meat in the UK every month – but very little is heard about the people doing the killing. Here, one former abattoir worker describes her job, and the effect it had on her mental health.

Warning: Some readers may find this story disturbing

When I was a child I dreamed of becoming a vet. I imagined myself playing with mischievous puppies, calming down frightened kittens, and – as I was a countryside kid – performing check-ups on the local farm animals if they felt under the weather.

It was a pretty idyllic life that I dreamt up for myself – but it’s not quite how things worked out. Instead, I ended up working in a slaughterhouse.

I was there for six years and, far from spending my days making poorly cows feel better, I was in charge of ensuring about 250 of them were killed every day.

Whether they eat meat or not, most people in the UK have never been inside an abattoir – and for good reason. They are filthy, dirty places. There’s animal faeces on the floor, you see and smell the guts, and the walls are covered in blood.

And the smell… It hits you like a wall when you first enter, and then hangs thick in the air around you. The odour of dying animals surrounds you like a vapour.

Why would anybody choose to visit, let alone work in a place like this?

For me, it was because I’d already spent a couple of decades working in the food industry – in ready-meal factories and the like. So when I got an offer from an abattoir to be a quality control manager, working directly with the slaughtermen, it felt like a fairly innocuous job move. I was in my 40s at the time.

On my first day, they gave me a tour of the premises, explained how everything worked and, most importantly, asked me pointedly and repeatedly if I was OK. It was quite common for people to faint during the tour, they explained, and the physical safety of visitors and new starters was very important to them. I was OK, I think. I felt sick, but I thought I’d get used to it.

Soon, though, I realised there was no point pretending that it was just another job. I’m sure not all abattoirs are the same but mine was a brutal, dangerous place to work. There were countless occasions when, despite following all of the procedures for stunning, slaughterers would get kicked by a massive, spasming cow as they hoisted it up to the machine for slaughter. Similarly, cows being brought in would get scared and panic, which was pretty terrifying for all of us too. You’ll know if you’ve ever stood next to one that they are huge animals.

Personally, I didn’t suffer physical injuries, but the place affected my mind.

As I spent day after day in that large, windowless box, my chest felt increasingly heavy and a grey fog descended over me. At night, my mind would taunt me with nightmares, replaying some of the horrors I’d witnessed throughout the day.

One skill that you master while working at an abattoir is disassociation. You learn to become numb to death and to suffering. Instead of thinking about cows as entire beings, you separate them into their saleable, edible body parts. It doesn’t just make the job easier – it’s necessary for survival.

There are things, though, that have the power to shatter the numbness. For me, it was the heads.

At the end of the slaughter line there was a huge skip, and it was filled with hundreds of cows’ heads. Each one of them had been flayed, with all of the saleable flesh removed. But one thing was still attached – their eyeballs.

Whenever I walked past that skip, I couldn’t help but feel like I had hundreds of pairs of eyes watching me. Some of them were accusing, knowing that I’d participated in their deaths. Others seemed to be pleading, as if there were some way I could go back in time and save them. It was disgusting, terrifying and heart-breaking, all at the same time. It made me feel guilty. The first time I saw those heads, it took all of my strength not to vomit.

I know things like this bothered the other workers, too. I’ll never forget the day, after I’d been at the abattoir for a few months, when one of the lads cut into a freshly killed cow to gut her – and out fell the foetus of a calf. She was pregnant. He immediately started shouting and throwing his arms about.

I took him into a meeting room to calm him down – and all he could say was, “It’s just not right, it’s not right,” over and over again. These were hard men, and they rarely showed any emotion. But I could see tears prickling his eyes.

Even worse than pregnant cows, though, were the young calves we sometimes had to kill.

A physically demanding role

On its website, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) says the UK meat industry has some of the highest standards of hygiene and welfare in the world.

Many of its members, it says, “are at the forefront of abattoir design with facilities designed to house the animals and help them move around the site with ease and without any pain, distress or suffering”.

Meat processing in the UK employs about 75,000 people of whom approximately 69% are from other European Union member states, the BMPA notes.

“The barrier to British people taking up roles in meat processing is an unwillingness to work in what is perceived to be a challenging environment,” it says. “Most people, while they eat meat, find it difficult to work in its production partly because of the obvious aversion to the slaughter process but also because it is a physically demanding role.”

At the height of the BSE and bovine tuberculosis crises in the 1990s, whole herds of animals had to be slaughtered. I worked at the slaughterhouse after 2010, so well after the BSE crisis, but if an animal tested positive for TB they would still bring the entire herd in to be culled – bulls, heifers and calves. I remember one day in particular, when I’d been there for about a year or so, when we had to slaughter five calves at the same time.

We tried to keep them within the rails of the pens, but they were so small and bony that they could easily skip out and trot around, slightly wobbly on their newly born legs. They sniffed us, like puppies, because they were young and curious. Some of the boys and I stroked them, and they suckled our fingers.

When the time came to kill them, it was tough, both emotionally and physically. Slaughterhouses are designed for slaughtering really large animals, so the stun boxes are normally just about the right size to hold a cow that weighs about a tonne. When we put the first calf in, it only came about a quarter of a way up the box, if that. We put all five calves in at once. Then we killed them. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

On the whole, I think a whole-food plant-based diet offers many health benefits, and I now see that we could add “mental-health benefits” to the list.

Written by Leisureguy

31 January 2020 at 2:29 pm

Mayonnaise improves grilling meat

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J. Kenji López-Alt reports in the NY Times:

For the past couple of years, I’ve been seeing a trend among the online community of sous-vide cooking enthusiasts: rubbing meat with mayonnaise before searing it. A parallel trend has also been hitting the grilled cheese forums (there’s a message board for everything), where folks are slathering their bread with mayonnaise before griddling, insisting that mayonnaise produces a golden-brown crust that’s superior to the one you get with butter.

. . . [Y]ou should try it! I first let mayo get intimate with some sous-vide steaks a couple years ago. The steaks browned like a dream. Next I rubbed some mayo on my grilled cheese. It’s true: Mayo really does brown better than butter (though these days I use both).

More recently, I’ve been testing the limits of cooking with mayonnaise and discovering it may just be the most magical marinade ingredient I’ve ever encountered. I mean it.

There are a few reasons mayo is so effective. For starters, mayonnaise — a seasoned emulsion of oil in water — is mostly fat, making it a great delivery mechanism for the fat-soluble flavor compounds found in many aromatics, while leaving behind no distinct flavor of its own. (This means that mayo-marinated meats don’t taste like mayo once they are cooked.)

Moreover, that fat is suspended in an emulsion. An emulsion is a homogeneous mixture of two or more liquids that typically don’t mix together. Fat droplets have a natural tendency to coalesce when suspended in water. (Think: the shattered pieces of the liquid metal Terminator coming back together.) To make mayonnaise, the trick is to break up that fat into droplets that are so fine that they have difficulty reuniting.

p class=”css-exrw3m evys1bk0″>Emulsions are always more viscous than either of their independent constituents, which is what gives mayonnaise its semisolid texture. This quality makes it easy to spread a mayonnaise-based marinade evenly across the surface of a piece of meat — and more important, it stays there.

Mayo also improves Maillard browning, which are the chemical reactions that take place when you sear foods.

Functionally, we can think of mayonnaise as consisting of three ingredients: Along with fat and water, there is also egg protein. As the mayonnaise on the surface of a piece of meat cooks, its water content eventually evaporates away, breaking the emulsion and leaving behind a thin, evenly distributed layer of fat, as well as a very, very thin coating of egg protein.

This extra source of protein and fat can increase browning on naked meat or in watery or low-sugar marinades. This comes in handy when you want to minimize the time a piece of meat spends on the grill or in a pan. Thinner cuts — skirt steak, flank steak, skinnier pork chops — typically have trouble browning before they overcook in the center. A chicken cutlet will be cook through on a hot grill or skillet in under four minutes. This isn’t a lot of time to properly brown, but with a thin coat of a mayo-based marinade, it’s easy.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to work with sweet sauces like barbecue or teriyaki, which have a tendency to burn as your meat grills. Mayo solves this problem by diluting and coating the sugars with fat and egg protein. Combining a sweet sauce with mayonnaise before rubbing it on the meat allows you to grill as hot as you like without risk of burning. Also, that sauce flavor really sticks to the meat.

Perhaps the greatest advantage a mayo marinade gives you is the ability to easily incorporate flavors. I tried combining mayonnaise with a wide range of sauces and condiments — chimichurri, pesto, Thai red curry paste, barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce, Buffalo sauce — before marinating and grilling chicken cutlets, steaks, pork chops, vegetables and fish fillets, and tasting side-by-side with mayo-free counterparts.

Every marinade and sauce was improved — every single one. This was true with both homemade and store-bought mayo.

Another neat thing I discovered: Mayo-marinated meat can be cooked in a cast-iron or nonstick skillet as is, no extra oil necessary. The mayonnaise provides all the fat the pan needs. . .

Continue reading.

He seasons the meat with salt and pepper and rubs it with a combination of some saurce of marinade combined with some mayo. He lets it marinate, cooks the meat, and serves it with the remaining sauce.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2019 at 4:37 pm

The price of plenty: how beef changed America

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Joshua Specht writes in the Guardian:

The meatpacking mogul Jonathan Ogden Armour could not abide socialist agitators. It was 1906, and Upton Sinclair had just published The Jungle, an explosive novel revealing the grim underside of the American meatpacking industry. Sinclair’s book told the tale of an immigrant family’s toil in Chicago’s slaughterhouses, tracing the family’s physical, financial and emotional collapse. The Jungle was not Armour’s only concern. The year before, the journalist Charles Edward Russell’s book The Greatest Trust in the World had detailed the greed and exploitation of a packing industry that came to the American dining table “three times a day … and extorts its tribute”.

In response to these attacks, Armour, head of the enormous Chicago-based meatpacking firm Armour & Co, took to the Saturday Evening Post to defend himself and his industry. Where critics saw filth, corruption and exploitation, Armour saw cleanliness, fairness and efficiency. If it were not for “the professional agitators of the country”, he claimed, the nation would be free to enjoy an abundance of delicious and affordable meat.

Armour and his critics could agree on this much: they lived in a world unimaginable 50 years before. In 1860, most cattle lived, died and were consumed within a few hundred miles’ radius. By 1906, an animal could be born in Texas, slaughtered in Chicago and eaten in New York. Americans rich and poor could expect to eat beef for dinner. The key aspects of modern beef production – highly centralised, meatpacker-dominated and low-cost – were all pioneered during that period.

For Armour, cheap beef and a thriving centralised meatpacking industry were the consequence of emerging technologies such as the railroad and refrigeration coupled with the business acumen of a set of honest and hard-working men like his father, Philip Danforth Armour. According to critics, however, a capitalist cabal was exploiting technological change and government corruption to bankrupt traditional butchers, sell diseased meat and impoverish the worker.

Ultimately, both views were correct. The national market for fresh beef was the culmination of a technological revolution, but it was also the result of collusion and predatory pricing. The industrial slaughterhouse was a triumph of human ingenuity as well as a site of brutal labour exploitation. Industrial beef production, with all its troubling costs and undeniable benefits, reflected seemingly contradictory realities.

Beef production would also help drive far-reaching changes in US agriculture. Fresh-fruit distribution began with the rise of the meatpackers’ refrigerator cars, which they rented to fruit and vegetable growers. Production of wheat, perhaps the US’s greatest food crop, bore the meatpackers’ mark. In order to manage animal feed costs, Armour & Co and Swift & Co invested heavily in wheat futures and controlled some of the country’s largest grain elevators. In the early 20th century, an Armour & Co promotional map announced that “the greatness of the United States is founded on agriculture”, and depicted the agricultural products of each US state, many of which moved through Armour facilities.

Beef was a paradigmatic industry for the rise of modern industrial agriculture, or agribusiness. As much as a story of science or technology, modern agriculture is a compromise between the unpredictability of nature and the rationality of capital. This was a lurching, violent process that sawmeatpackers displace the risks of blizzards, drought, disease and overproduction on to cattle ranchers. Today’s agricultural system works similarly. In poultry, processors like Perdue and Tyson use an elaborate system of contracts and required equipment and feed purchases to maximise their own profits while displacing risk on to contract farmers. This is true with crop production as well. As with 19th-century meatpacking, relatively small actors conduct the actual growing and production, while companies like Monsanto and Cargill control agricultural inputs and market access.

The transformations that remade beef production between the end of the American civil war in 1865 and the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act in 1906 stretched from the Great Plains to the kitchen table. Before the civil war, cattle raising was largely regional, and in most cases, the people who managed cattle out west were the same people who owned them. Then, in the 1870s and 80s, improved transport, bloody victories over the Plains Indians, and the American west’s integration into global capital markets sparked a ranching boom. Meanwhile, Chicago meatpackers pioneered centralised food processing. Using an innovative system of refrigerator cars and distribution centres, they began to distribute fresh beef nationwide. Millions of cattle were soon passing through Chicago’s slaughterhouses each year. By 1890, the Big Four meatpacking companies – Armour & Co, Swift & Co, Morris & Co and the GH Hammond Co – directly or indirectly controlled the majority of the nation’s beef and pork.

But in the 1880s, the big Chicago meatpackers faced determined opposition at every stage from slaughter to sale. Meatpackers fought with workers as they imposed a brutally exploitative labour regime. Meanwhile, attempts to transport freshly butchered beef faced opposition from railroads who found higher profits transporting live cattle east out of Chicago and to local slaughterhouses in eastern cities. Once pre-slaughtered and partially processed beef – known as “dressed beef” – reached the nation’s many cities and towns, the packers fought to displace traditional butchers and woo consumers sceptical of eating meat from an animal slaughtered a continent away.

The consequences of each of these struggles persist today. A small number of firms still control most of the country’s – and by now the world’s – beef. They draw from many comparatively small ranchers and cattle feeders, and depend on a low-paid, mostly invisible workforce. The fact that this set of relationships remains so stable, despite the public’s abstract sense that something is not quite right, is not the inevitable consequence of technological change but the direct result of the political struggles of the late 19th century.

In the slaughterhouse, someone was always willing to take your place. This could not have been far from the mind of 14-year-old Vincentz Rutkowski as he stooped, knife in hand, in a Swift & Co facility in summer 1892. For up to 10 hours each day, Vincentz trimmed tallow from cattle paunches. The job required strong workers who were low to the ground, making it ideal for boys like Rutkowski, who had the beginnings of the strength but not the size of grown men. For the first two weeks of his employment, Rutkowski shared his job with two other boys. As they became more skilled, one of the boys was fired. Another few weeks later, the other was also removed, and Rutkowski was expected to do the work of three people.

The morning that final co-worker left, on 30 June, Rutkowski fell behind the disassembly line’s frenetic pace. After just three hours of working alone, the boy failed to dodge a carcass swinging toward him. It struck his knife hand, driving the tool into his left arm near the elbow. The knife cut muscle and tendon, leaving Rutkowski with lifelong injuries.

The labour regime that led to Rutkowski’s injury was integral to large-scale meatpacking. A packinghouse was a masterpiece of technological and organisational achievement, but that was not enough to slaughter millions of cattle annually. Packing plants needed cheap, reliable and desperate labour. They found it via the combination of mass immigration and a legal regime that empowered management, checked the nascent power of unions and provided limited liability for worker injury. The Big Four’s output depended on worker quantity over worker quality.

Meatpacking lines, pioneered in the 1860s in Cincinnati’s pork packinghouses, were the first modern production lines. The innovation was that they kept products moving continuously, eliminating downtime and requiring workers to synchronise their movements to keep pace. This idea was enormously influential. In his memoirs, Henry Ford explained that his idea for continuous motion assembly “came in a general way from the overhead trolley that the Chicago packers use in dressing beef”.

Packing plants relied on a brilliant intensification of the division of labour. This division increased productivity because it simplified slaughter tasks. Workers could then be trained quickly, and because the tasks were also synchronised, everyone had to match the pace of the fastest worker.

When cattle first entered one of these slaughterhouses, they encountered an armed man walking toward them on an overhead plank. Whether by a hammer swing to the skull or a spear thrust to the animal’s spinal column, the (usually achieved) goal was to kill with a single blow. Assistants chained the animal’s legs and dragged the carcass from the room. The carcass was hoisted into the air and brought from station to station along an overhead rail.

Next, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.


Written by Leisureguy

11 May 2019 at 8:39 am

Perfect evening (with photos)

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Where to start? Right now I’m having a wonderful Manhattan, made with Gibson’s Finest Rare 12-year-old Canadian whisky (which back in the day meant rye whisky, but probably a rye-and-wheat mix—I’ll have to get some genuine rye: Crown Royal Northern Harvest or Odd Society Prospector (scroll down)), Martini & Rossi red vermouth, and a dash of Angostura, of course. (The great cartoonist Vip – Virgil Partch – did cartoons for their ads for years. “Don’t forget the Angostura!” It’s burned into my brain.) Example at right.

But for the past few hours I’ve been letting this flat-iron steak rest at room temperature (“tempering” the steak). Note the unusual grain, running lengthwise through the steak rather than across (as the in T-Bone, Porterhouse, rib-eye, NY/KC strip steak, etc.). It’s a very tender steak, however. In the photo I have already applied a thin coating of extra-virgin olive oil. I cooked mine this way in my No. 8 Field Company pan, which I heated in an oven to 500ºF, and using the sauce described at the post.

And while the oven came to temperature, I used this recipe to make 8 oz sliced Crimini mushrooms (scroll down). I discovered that my 11 7/8″ Matfer Bourgeat carbon-steel skillet is ideal for this. It provides a lot of room, and I can heat it on the range top rather than in the oven. And, like the cast iron, it is nonstick.

Here are the mushrooms before:

and after:










With the steak and mushrooms I had a glass of an inexpensive Côtes du Rhône.

And to add to all that, I’m reading “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea,” which offers an escape when the Amazon Prime Video “Hanna” becomes too tense. I do think translating the movie into a series is working well: makes you more conscious of the texture.

Written by Leisureguy

19 April 2019 at 6:11 pm

To Cook a Steak, First You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned

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Emily Timberlake has an interesting article in Taste on the way to cook steak over coals. From the article:

Conventional Wisdom: Remove your steak from the fridge and temper it for 20 minutes before cooking.

Franklin Steak SaysTwenty minutes won’t make any difference at all. And in some cases, it’s better to throw your steak on cold!

“For super-thin pieces, I’ll sometimes throw it in the freezer, wait until it’s really, really cold, and then put it on the grill,” says Franklin.

The first time I read this piece of advice in the manuscript, I was certain it was a mistake. But the more I think about it, the more Aaron’s counterintuitive advice makes sense. If you’re cooking a steak thinner than one inch, say a skirt, hanger, or even a thinly cut strip, and if your goal is rare or medium-rare doneness, then you want to slow the cooking of the interior to give yourself enough time to develop a proper crust on the outside of the steak.

A giant piece of meat, by contrast—say a bone-in tomahawk rib eye, which might weigh as much as 2 1/2 pounds, or a standing rib roast—benefits from tempering, since it will take quite a bit longer for the interior of the meat to reach doneness, and you risk drying out the exterior if you start grilling meat when the interior is super-cold. But for a piece of meat that massive to reach room temperature could take hoursPersonally, I’m fine leaving a hunk of meat on the counter for that long. The USDA, not so much. “We did check the gradient on how fast a steak warms on the counter,” says Mackay, “and it’s very slow. Taking it out of the fridge 30 minutes before you cook it, or even an hour, especially for a thick piece of meat with a bone in, ultimately does very little.”

I do this right: when I cook a thick steak, it sits out for around three hours.

Conventional Wisdom: Don’t flip your steak too often—let it rest in one place on the grates. You know, for those magazine-worthy grill marks that are clear sign of the perfectly cooked steak.

Franklin Steak Says: Those grill marks are a lie. The goal is an allover crust, so flip early and flip often.

This doesn’t really apply for indoor cooking so much, but I do get my cast-iron skillet good and hot before the steak hits it. (See this post.)

Conventional Wisdom: Rest, rest, REST!

Franklin Steak Says: As soon as you can touch your steak without burning your fingertip, slice the thing and serve.

And this too I’ve been doing right.

Read the whole thing. More tips in it, along with a couple of recipes.

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2019 at 2:09 pm

The wonderful iKon 102

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This RazoRock silvertip from Italian Barber has quite a large knot, but it did a fine job with Meißner Tremonia’s Woody Almond shaving paste. Their shaving paste is very nice, but it does get used up faster than their shaving soap. Still, very fine lather and wonderful fragrance: the Italian bitter-almond but with cedar.

Three passes from my 102 removed all traces of the 2-day stubble, leaving clear and undamaged skin, to which I applied a good splash of Phoenix Artisan’s Spring-Heeled Jack, a coffee-fragranced aftershave that to my nose includes some chocolate notes, though that may be an olfactory illusion.

And the beef shanks are on, with the recipe revised somewhat based on what I actually did.

Written by Leisureguy

11 February 2019 at 8:49 am

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