Just Harried

Little Harrys on the Prairie

Smoothie Recipe: Banana Pumpkin Coconut

1 cup coconut milk or almond/coconut milk blend (I used Almond Breeze Unsweetened Blend)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1 small banana
1 cup/handful fresh spinach
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
5 ice cubes

Blend all ingredients together and enjoy!

Now, I used the almond/coconut milk blend I had on hand because that was all I had this morning.  I was worried the slight coconut flavor would ruin it, but it actually gave it this great tropical finish I did not expect, and it was in perfect harmony with the banana and pumpkin.

  • You can use whatever kind of milk you want.  I don’t recommend water – the consistency gets weird.
  • Slice up the banana first.
  • Ice cubes are optional, but I like the little extra volume it gives the smoothie.
  • For protein, add an inch-thick slice of firm tofu.  (I didn’t add any because I had a protein pancake on the side.)  You might need a little more milk to make it blend-able.

Enjoy!  If you make it, please comment and let me know your thoughts!

Smoothie Basics

I’ve been incorporating home-made smoothies into my diet for nearly six months now, and I’ve learned lots of tricks of the trade.

I started out by getting into Herbalife, and I got out pretty fast.  I know a lot of people that swear by the product line, and I believe it is a good fit for some lifestyles, but it simply was not for me.  First, it was really expensive, especially compared to the way I approach smoothies now.  I’d rather spend my money on whole nutrients instead of processed powder.  The powders they recommend that go into a smoothie (there are two of them) contain about 200 calories alone, not leaving much room for calories from fruit and extras that make the shake yummy.  Plus, it messed with the lower half of my digestive track, and I felt like 100% crap when I would run.  When I couldn’t even make it through a 5 mile run one morning, I knew I couldn’t keep up with Herbalife.  Again, Herbalife wouldn’t be as popular as it is if it didn’t help many people feel great and reach goals, but it just wasn’t for me.

Then I found Spiru-Tein.  It is a protein powder with a good amount of protein and a clean taste with only 90 calories, allowing me to add more fruit and yummy stuff to the smoothies.  I kept a trick I learned from Herbalife and added a tablespoon of sugar-free pudding mix to create different flavors like pumpkin cheesecake, Butterfinger, etc.  I was still making my shakes with these ingredients until I decided to try to eat clean with no sugar added for the month of January.

I also purchased several smoothies at places like Smoothie King, GNC, etc.  Never again.  Too much guesswork goes into how they are prepared, and again, too much sugar and too many additives.  I’d rather have one when I get home.

So, how do I approach a smoothie now?  It depends on what I have on hand and what I am in the mood for, but the following are always true:

  • No sugar added.  Now that I am desensitized from sugar, I find that I don’t need additives to sweeten a smoothie – the sweetness from the fruit or the kick from some spice is all I need.
  • If I want protein in my smoothie, it’s coming from something in its whole form, no processed powders.
  • It’s going to be green.  I add spinach that ends up tasteless, and it gives me another dose of power food in a really easy way.
  • I will whip it up in one of these bad boys from GNC (the non-deluxe version).  I’ve had mine for almost 6 months now, and it’s still going strong (AND it came with two cups with lids).  I only paid $20 for it, and I would gladly pay $20 for it again whenever mine poops out.  It takes up very little space and the cleanup is way less than a traditional blender.

The reason why I decided to post about smoothies is because they are a regular part of my diet now, they are super awesome, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error, and I made a damn good one this morning that was totally my own creation!

That means…

my first smoothie recipe will be posted tomorrow!  But there will be no food porn shots because 1) I’m still working on my skillz, and 2) if you do a search in Google images for “green smoothies,” you will see that pretty much every smoothie with spinach in it looks the exact same – nasty!  But believe me, you cannot even tell there is spinach in them, so don’t be afraid!

What the Heck Did I Eat in January? Part V

Here it is, January 29.  29 days of no sugar added eating down, 2 to go.  Then, first thing on Wednesday, February 1, I am running to the nearest convenience store for a Diet Coke, an ice cream sandwich, and a bag of Skittles.

Nah, just kidding.  I do not find myself counting down the days of this challenge at all.  I’ve been working on my weekly meal plan and shopping list, and nothing on the list has added sugar in it.  There is nothing with sugar added that I am dying so bad to have that I must have it right away.  There are recipes that call for ingredients like honey or agave that I would like to try, but nothing urgent.  My priority is to use up some reserves I have in the pantry and fridge, like gnocchi, butternut squash, and mozzarella cheese, and my recipes of choice for these guys are all no sugar added.  There’s no point in seeking out a recipe or item with added sugar after Feb. 1 just because the eating challenge is over.  I think, my friends, I’ve developed a good habit.

Here is how I know I will be different from now on:

  • No more soft drinks.
  • No more sweetener in my morning coffee. (I might even ditch the almond milk!)
  • No more processed lunch meats.
  • If a nutrition label reads more like a lab assignment in high school chemistry than a recipe, I’m not eating it.
  • I will bake my own bread.
  • No more artificial sweeteners – only the real thing.
  • If I am at a restaurant or a work event with food, I will be extra careful about what I put on my plate.  (This includes never eating another Olive Garden breadstick again!)
  • Desserts will be whole, decadent, and special.
  • Dried fruit for fuel during long runs; no more gummies.
  • No more protein powder in my smoothies – tofu all the way.
  • No more store-bought salad dressings.
  • No more using the scale to determine how healthy I am.
  • I have a wish list of really cool/helpful kitchen gadgets to help me prepare food more quickly and with more ease.  The first thing I bought was an oil sprayer so I no longer need to use cooking sprays to lube up my pans and skillets.

Here is what I will do without any guilt:

  • Enjoy alcoholic drinks in moderation.
  • Have TWO slices of birthday cake on my birthday.
  • Eat out at restaurant or a party and not care about the ingredient list every now and then.
  • Enjoy sushi – none off-limits.
  • Make truly decadent desserts and savor every bite.

To learn more about eating clean and expand my recipe box, I have subscribed to Eating Clean Magazine, and I have found a bunch of blogs related to eating clean and/or sugar-free that I hope will keep my taste buds entertained and education fueled, and I’m looking for more.

Final thought:  I started what seemed to be an impossible challenge, and it quickly morphed into a fun, educational, tasty adventure that has forever changed the way I eat.  The challenge might be almost over, but the never-ending journey to a healthier me is still going strong!  I encourage others to think more about what makes a good food choice and consider the principles behind clean eating.  I know I’m sold.

What the Heck Did I Eat in January? Part IV

This is the post I’ve been most excited to write.  It’s just going to be four simple lists: what I ate, what I didn’t, what I had when I slipped up, and what regrets I have about the experience.

What I Ate

What I Didn’t Eat
This is what I would have had if it weren’t for this challenge – foods from specific occasions I know I chose not to eat.

  • Countless diet soft drinks
  • Splenda in my coffee every morning
  • Dessert, rolls and suspect sauces/pasta dishes at several work meetings
  • Lots of wine and beer
  • Sweet treats at several ribbon cutting events (work)
  • Sushi rolls drenched in tempura and mystery sauces
  • Fried items at restaurants
  • Brownies with peanut butter chips
  • Jam and jellies
  • Bread crumbs
  • Prepared lunch meat
  • Tortillas
  • Celebration cake with my running club
  • Bacon wrapped weenies and saucy meatballs
  • Ice cream from one of my favorite local spots

My Cheats

  • Sushi (I though I was being good by avoiding tempura and sauces, but I learned later that sugar is normally added to the sticky white rice.)
  • Wine/beer on five occasions
  • Crumbies from my brownies, a scoop of peanut butter chips
  • A couple overdoses of almonds and dried berries, Larabars, and nut butters
  • Vegetables and pork loin at a work function that had added sugar
  • Pita bread, hummus, and spinach dip from unknown origins at a young professional social
  • Salad dressing three times (I learned that parmesan cheese or shredded cheese is a great substitute.)
  • 1/2 of a turkey reuben sammich
  • Korean food – there had to be some sugar in that sweet sauce and bulgogi
  • Sometimes I had more natural sugar per day than recommend, like an extra piece of fruit or extra dried crackberries, er, cranberries.

My Regrets

  • Nothing!  I don’t feel like I was deprived of anything.  Rather, I feel like I had the extra support to stay disciplined and make good food choices.
  • The little cheats I had, I was able to move on from them with more self-love because I knew I was so disciplined well over 90% of the time, and it was really great to reframe each day/situation into What Didn’t I Eat for a quick boost of positive reinforcement.  It was way more encouraging to think of what I declined to eat than to think about the small slip ups.

Next post: What the Heck Will I Eat From Now On?

What the Heck Did I Eat in January? Part III

So as soon as I tried to start eating clean with no added sugar, I cured cancer.  I also fixed the U.S. economy and delivered a baby with my bare hands.

I also started to feel pretty darn good.  Normally, when I wake up in the morning, it’s not Cecilia that comes down the stairs for some coffee; Spike does.  Spike is what Andrew has decided to call my grouchy, crabby, leave-me-alone alter-ego.  Sometime during the first week, Spike stopped coming down for coffee.  Andrew and I were amazed at how chipper and happy-to-be-up we were at 5:30am.  Getting outside to run in the dark or down to the basement to BodyRock was a little easier.  This feeling is less noticeable now, but still present.

I weighed myself Jan. 1.  I have always let the scale dictate my eating efforts, but I had decided in December that I hated stepping on that thing everyday just to see those normal fluctuations.  I hated “being good” all week and then going nuts with my food choices on the weekend because I thought I could.  No wonder I had reached a plateau with my appearance.  I just know there is a six-pack in my belly, and damn it, I want to see it!  I knew the secret had to do with my diet because I am very disciplined when it comes to exercising.

I haven’t weighed myself since, (“And it’s freeeeeeeeeeee-ing!” she said in her best Oprah imitation) and I will no longer judge my fitness and make my food decisions based on that scale.  I know I’ve made progress toward my goals because my clothes are fitting better, and yes, those ab muscles are revealing themselves little by little.  The weekend is no longer a green light to eat whatever.  It’s still time to be disciplined.  I have no idea how much weight I’ve lost (it can’t be that much), but it doesn’t matter to me because I look and feel better.

But I must stress that this food discipline is not the same as going on a diet to lose weight.  I believe that because I’m getting my calories from more nutrient dense foods in whole states, I am fueling my body with a higher level of octane.  My body’s loving the extra good fuel and using it more wisely, and I’m eating less overall because the whole foods make me more satiated over the day.

AND I’m not craving sugar and sweeties all the time like I used to!  Very few callings for pudding, brownies, etc.  There was the time I overdosed on home-made Larabars, but we don’t really talk about those 36 hours.  The other day, I made brownies with peanut butter chips in them for a work meeting, and while I was very good while making them and didn’t lick the spoon/taste the batter, I did eat the crumbies that came off the knife as I cut them, and I did eat a little scoop of those totally processed peanut butter chips that don’t even really have peanut butter in them.  A moment of weakness, but I think the more I eat clean, the less anything like that will appeal to me.  But when I think of all the stuff I didn’t eat because of this eating challenge, I don’t feel so bad.

Tomorrow: What the Heck Didn’t I Eat in January?

What the Heck Did I Eat in January? Part II

Monday, January 1, 2012 – bring it on, all you sugar added foods!  I know who you are and I don’t care!  I don’t need you!

2:30 pm – What do you mean there’s sugar in wine?  No wine?  Really?  OK.  I can do it.

Then I found out as I grocery shopped the next few days that sugar is added to almost EVERYTHING.  Everything prepared or processed, that is.

Did you know that if you see one of these 50 items listed under ingredients on a label that’s it’s really sugar?

Bread?  Sugar in it.
Tortillas?  Sugar in ’em.
Crackers?  Sugar in ’em.
Tomato sauce?  Sugar in it.
Lunch meat? Ham? Rotisserie chicken?  Sugar in ’em all.
Cottage cheese?  M-effin’ sugar in it!
Hummus?  Yap.
Your mom?  Deez nuts?

I was so sad!  I saw my go-to lunch of a whole wheat tortilla with sliced ham and cottage cheese get flushed down the loo.  But it really opened my eyes to see how much food we think is 100% good for us has stuff added to it to make it taste better, sit on the shelf longer, look more appealing, etc., and we really need to think if those additives take away from the goodness of the food, especially when there are cleaner alternatives out there.

So, I researched and found some crackers that don’t contain added sugar (Wasa).  I used The Gracious Pantry to help me find recipes to bake my own bread. (OMG that could be a post within itself!)  I made my own marinara sauce and froze it (hot damn it is better than anything I could buy in a jar with sugar in it).  I started roasting my own chicken to cut up for lunch meat.

I did say eff it about eating cottage cheese.  There was maltodextrin in the ingredient list of my low-fat cottage cheese, and I decided I was going to make an exception.  I did not try to hunt down a version without it in it because (as I will get to), it’s been more expensive eating this way.  It can’t be much, and I can’t be perfect!

So, what the heck did we eat that first few days?  “Probably just crappy crackers that were mushy from your tears of pain because you can’t eat anything that tastes good!” some of you might be thinking.  Nay, I say to you!

Here’s what I’ve been eating for breakfast (with grunts of pleasure, mind you):

  • Protein pancakes – seriously these sound totally gross but are totally yummy!
  • Broccoli slaw omelettes with cheese
  • Bread with peanut butter
  • Green smoothies: banana, tofu, almond milk, and spinach (!) with some combination of peanut butter, oats, berries, or cocoa powder

Here’s what I made for lunches and dinners those first few days:

And – shocker – I’ve been eating more fruit and veggies since they don’t have added sugar (although I did limit my fruit to three servings as best as I could so I didn’t consume much naturally occurring sugar either).

I’m also training for a marathon while I’m doing this, and naturally all those little goos and gummies I use to fuel my longer runs are FULL of sugar.  I have been using dried apricots instead, and they have been great!

Now, all these recipes called for new pantry staples and other specialty items that I cannot get at the local grocery store.  I live 20-40 minutes from the nearest Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, etc.  I found a coop about 20 minutes from me, and I nearly exploded when I saw the bulk foods section.  It was so rad!  I went a little nuts on grains and spices, but I’m glad I did, because now I can make tons of stuff with exotic flavors.

I did mention that this has been expensive, and it has.  I didn’t have things like whole wheat pastry flour, and tortillas made with no added sugar are more expensive than the kind you find on the shelf in the middle of the grocery store.  But, I see it as a great investment.  Sure, I spent like $10 buying all the bread making supplies, but I don’t even know how many loaves I’ll be able to make with all of it.  So far, I’ve made 6 or 7, and that’s way cheaper when you look at the big picture than the artsy fartsy 12-grain stuff I’d been buying for $3/loaf.

One way I’ve been able to make it cheaper is by using this cool little weekly meal planner.  I find recipes that will use some of what I already have in the house, plan out the whole week, and go shopping once per week for the specific items I need.  It’s been money-saving and time-saving.  Win win.

Next blog: How I’ve Been Feeling (or even better, how I’ve been looking!  Ow ow!)

What the Heck Did I Eat in January? Part I

In December, I knew there was something up with my lifestyle. I knew I was being “healthy,” that is, exercising regularly, eating within an appropriate calorie range most of the time, choosing relatively healthy choices, etc. But something was up. I wanted a little sweet treat EVERY day. If I worked out that morning, I allowed myself a Diet Coke at work. Then the holidays came, and I gave myself the green light to eat whatever as long as I got my runs in.

I know – it’s the holidays – it’s impossible to not indulge some, and it was actually a success that I kept my fitness routine up while going lax on my nutrition routine. However, just before the holidays, I started learning about clean eating, and I had no idea what it was before I did a search for some answers, and this blog appeared toward the top of whatever I put in the search box:

The Gracious Pantry

The blog’s owner, Tiffany, did a great job of spelling out what clean eating is and how to start adopting a diet of clean eating.  This was all very interesting to me in the last half of December, food for thought while I ate food for festivating.  I thought about it here and there while on my holiday travels, and I’m not sure where I would be on the topic today if it weren’t for this post arriving in my email on Dec. 29.

There was Tiffany, calling out to me from cyberland to make a drastic change in my eating my habits, starting Jan. 1.  I’m not one to make new year resolutions, but in this case, why not?  I would have tried this Jan. 1, April 12, July 22, whenever.

The basic challenge was to eat a clean diet with no added sugar for two weeks.  She also threw out there that we could really challenge ourselves and go for a full month if we wanted to.  I decided to do a month, and surprisingly, Andrew agreed too!

In a nutshell, the challenge of not eating foods with no added sugar interested me because I wanted to get away from having a treat every day.  Doesn’t it stop being a treat when you have sweet every day?  Also, I wanted to know more about clean eating, so why not dive in and base my meals around these no added sugar meal plans and see where it takes me?

That one little post gave me all the background, tips, recipes, and cheerleading I needed to really explore her website and get started.

Turns out, getting started was the easy part!  Isn’t it always?

What the Duck Day

In early October, Andrew and I visited a local farm as part of the Kaw Valley Farm Tour. Vesecky Family Farm is – wait for it – a family farm, obviously. They had lots of cool stuff going on that weekend, including a hay ride tour of their grounds. We saw free range chickens and other birds living up the Kansas fall, which is beautiful, by the way.

We wanted to support this local family farm, which was selling various meats. We decided that we would get some duck, a pound of duck to be exact. Before we could specify how much, a Vesecky child came around the back of the house with a whole duck.  A whole, dead, plucked, headless duck, but a whole duck nonetheless.  So instead of a pound of duck, we found our newly informed selves with 5 lbs. of duck.  WTD – what the duck are we going to do with a whole duckin’ duck?

Duck it, we’re going to have a dinner party, and it’s going to be great practice when I have to roast a whole turkey (which we preordered from the same family farm) for Thanksgiving.  We invited a couple that we really like, and it  would be our first evening “entertaining” in our home!  So exciting.

Preparations for What the Duck Dinner (a Saturday) started the previous Tuesday.  It takes 4-5 days for a frozen 5 lb. duck to thaw.  Wait. I need to back up!  How could I forget the need to order THIS?  How could I forget the jubilation when after Kohl’s majorly ducked up my order and sent me a tank top and children’s flip-flops, THIS finally arrived?

Fast forward to What the Duck Day.  I had the menu in my mind for at least two weeks.  I blocked out the whole afternoon.  I had spent some researching how to prepared and cook the duck and found some delicious sounding recipes online, but I decided to do just a plain, old salt/pepper/paprika rub to really enjoy the duck itself.

Andrew prepared the duck for preparation.  Look how happy he is with his task.

I prepared the duck.  Look how happy it is.

I imagine you saw the above food porn shot, and thought, “Wow.  She still sucks at food porn.”  I would agree with you!  But bear with me.  I really do think that my pics will get sexier with practice.

Like this one.  I think this is sort of sexy.  I learned a tip that putting the food against a white background helps.  I think it does.  Fresh rosemary is duckin’ awesome.  I’ll never buy the dried crap again.

So here is what we ate:

Triple-Cheesy Pepperoni Pizza Poppers (recipe from Hungry Girl)

Herb-Roasted Root Vegetables (brussels sprouts, carrots, sweet potatoes, and parsnips) with Duck

Which photo is best?  I think they all suck.  Think about how much more they would suck if I didn’t have that white plate!

I also made parmesan-herb mashed potatoes, but it’s so hard to keep those duckers hot, I didn’t have time to take a picture.

P.S. We don’t know how to carve a bird, but we sure do know how to eat one.  And it was duckin’ delicious.

See that little boat of gravy on the table?  Yeah, it sucked royally.  Gravy is an art I have not yet mastered.  It fell out of  the boat in one disgusting blob.  Sorry about that, dinner guests.

Would I roast a duck again?  Oh yes.  It was really good, but to be honest, I have only had duck a few times in my life, so I don’t have much of a memory of how it’s supposed to taste.  I think I may have cooked it too long.  It wasn’t dry, but it wasn’t as moist (ugh I hate that word) as it was supposed to be.  A cookbook said to cook the duck 30 min. for every pound, but I also have a meat thermometer so I could watch the temp.  The bird hit the desired temp way sooner than I expected (one hour 15-30 minutes), and I listened to the cookbook instead of the thermometer and let it cook nearly two hours.  Next time, I’ll listen to the thermometer and see what happens.

I made Pecan Pie Bites (also by Hungry Girl) for desert.  I didn’t take photos of them either, much to your displeasure or elation depending of what you think of my food porn.  They were delicious and will make a second appearance at Thanksgiving, as well as the roasted root vegetables, which I’ve made at least a dozen times and love!

So I learned a few lessons about duckin’ around with duck, and I would happily try my luck again.  Everything was really delicious, except for the gravy, and it was so fun to be a hostess in my own home for the first time.  I suppose I can stop using duck as an expletive now.

A Very Harry Halloween

I have always loved Halloween.  I used to plan out at least one costume in advance and map out several evenings out and about.  I loved traveling to Madison, WI for the coldest, but best Halloween bar crawl with a great friend.  By my late mid-20s, I had enough costume pieces that I could be something different every night in October leading up to Halloween.  If it weren’t for having a life, I would have done so!  In sum, I.  Love.  Halloween.

Then I moved off to graduate school, sold most of my worldly possessions, shipped my costume trunk up to my parents’ house in Minnesota, and didn’t dress up for two entire years.  Not a wig, sequin, or eyepatch.  So sad.

The decorations came out two weekends ago.  The costume trunk was opened promptly at the end of the work week.  It’s on!

We dressed up to hand out candy at my town’s downtown Halloween kid fest on Friday.  I was a belly dancer and Andrew was a pirate, and a darn good one at that.  We walked back to our car hand in hook after hours of kids sniffing for candy.  I also saw the best costume ever.  A little girl was dressed as a Nancy Drew book!  It was like a sandwich board book that fit around her, and her head poked out where Nancy’s head is on the cover!  You could tell she painted it herself, and it was accurate down to every color and letter in the description on the back of the book.  Of course, she got robbed during the costume contest.  The injustice!

Saturday was a beautiful, chilly fall morning!  We dressed up for our first Halloween 5K in costume.  I have always wanted to run a race dressed as Cher, and finally, I was able to realize the dream.  The perfectionist in me was sad because a) I had to run in sneakers and to pass on the black boots for health reasons, and b) my totally awesome leather jacket is still at my parents, so I had to improvise with a canvas Dickies jacket.  Andrew was not going to dress up for this one, but changed his mind when he found a sparkly pirate-themed thong bikini in my treasure chest of costumes.  He donned it over his running tights and Under Armor and wore it like the running Adonis he is.  I’d share a photo of him from the back, but I don’t think he’d appreciate that, and I like being on his good side.

It was a super fun time.  I lost the costume contest to “cereal killer” (cough cough real original cough), but there is something about running as Cher that made the race that much better, and I suspect that if I were to dress as Cher all the time, life would also be just a little bit better.  Andrew set a personal record of 21:50 and finished 3rd in his age group.

We were going to go to an Irish restaurant for breakfast, but we had some time to kill, so we went to The City Market.  I had only been there once before, years ago, and it was on a weekday morning, and only the few authentic restaurants/delis were open.  This weekend hosted a farmers market, AND I appreciated all the different ethnicities represented in the restaurants and delis this time.  We had fresh coffee, pierogies, and a gyro pocket to satisfy us post race, and then we bought so much stuff to take home (produce, meats from the Italian deli, Nutella cookies, and pork chops straight from the farmer) that we had to go home right away and skip the Irish breakfast this time.

What a spread!  My favorite finds were spices, sun dried tomatos, and prosciutto!  Those Nutella cookies were amaze-balls too.

So for dinner that night, I made an amazing dish of whole-wheat spaghetti, tossed with green pepper and sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, with Sicilian sausage on top.  For a side, I made Eggplant, Squash and Zucchini Casserole, and I served asparagus wrapped in prosciutto for an appetizer.

I recently learned two things.  1) Photos like the ones above are referred to as “food porn.”  2)  My food porn sucks.  I mean seriously.  Look at the lighting.  Look at that sausage just slapped on top of a bed of pasta.  The casserole looks like vomit.  Would you want to eat that?  I wouldn’t, but sweet Paula Dean, everything tasted amazing, y’all.  I’ll work on the presentation, I promise.  Perhaps my food was a little too shy for its first food porn shoot.  I’ll try to coax it out of its shell next time, and we’ll see what happens.

Sunday, we went to church, watched football and carved pumpkins.  Somewhere between all of that, I had a great solo 8.5 miler in the sun, with shorts and a t-shirt.  Surely that was one of my last with limbs exposed for the year.  I toasted the seeds with sugar and spice, and they were delish.

Can you guess who carved which pumpkin?

So, as you can see, we were in the Halloween spirit and ready for some trick-or-treaters!  This was our first Halloween in our house, and we live at the end of a dark cul-de-sac, so we didn’t really know what to expect for action.  I bought $10 worth of candy, and I think we had 9 kids come by, 3 of which were kids of friends that we begged to come by so we could at least have a few kids see our pumpkins.  All weekend, we built up our Halloween cheer, and it puckered out last night!  Now, as I knew would happen, we have a crap-ton of candy left, and I don’t want it in the house because I’ll eat it.  At least we avoided the cardinal sin of Halloween and didn’t run out!

Tour of a Meat Processing Plant

Last week, I was in Dodge City, KS for a work convention. As part of the program, I could take one of three tours: a dairy farm, community, or meat packing plant tour. The choice was super easy – meat packing plant, duh!

I wanted to go on the tour because I’ve done some looking into where my food comes from. I’ve watched Food Inc., and I’ve read Fast Food Nation. For awhile, I’ve believed in knowing where your food comes from and buying local. I have never lived somewhere with easier access to local meat and produce than Leavenworth County, KS. There are plenty of farmers markets and co-op programs, and most of it is very affordable.

I do not buy beef at the grocery store, but this girl likes all things BBQ, the occasional beef burger, etc., so I probably come into contact with the products of a large processing facility at least a few times a month. Also, I do buy chicken and turkey, and while I’m sure the processes are very different, they are essentially the same as how beef is processed, so I thought that in order to truly see where my food is coming from, I should take this opportunity, as I will probably never have it again.

We took a whimsical trolley to Cargill Meat Solutions in the morning.  The moment I stepped off the trolley, the smell hit me.  There’s no way I will ever be able to describe it.  It was like a hamburger on the grill with a twist of poop and hay.

By the way, for those reading, I’m not going to give a play-by-play of everything I saw.  Let’s just say that if A is the cow walking into the plant and Z is the cut of meat ready to be loaded into a truck for delivery, I saw the process with my own eyes from step E to Z, and I saw steps A to D on a closed-circuit TV in the control room.  This article has a few graphic photos, and some statistics about the facility.  The photos do not capture the action, the verb, happening at that moment.

We toured from “clean” to “dirty,” meaning we saw the process from end to beginning.  “Clean” is very accurate for the last portion of the process.  I saw measure after measure in play to prevent contamination.  “Dirty” does describe the start of the process because of much stuff you are trying to get out/away from the final product.  I would say there’s nothing clean about the slaughter and preparation of an animal, but even in those very early post-slaughter steps, they are taking great caution to prevent contamination.

Think of Ford’s auto assembly line.  Cargill’s plant can best be summarized as, let’s be real, an animal dis-assembly line.  The further along we got into the tour, the more and more the product resembled the animal that it came from until it was a whole cow, hide and all.

Will I Still Eat Meat?

Yep, I sure will.  In fact, I had a roast beef sandwich for lunch and several different meats for dinner that evening, although it did have a funny taste because of the smell from the plant that I could not shake (I swear I woke up the next day with it in my mouth, blah).  I am worried that the smell of meat on the grill will never be quite the same again.

I am 100% glad I toured the facility and can say that I really do know where that hamburger came from.  Dare I say that while there’s nothing pleasant about watching a process like this, it wasn’t as awful/brutal/disorganized as I thought it would be.  I have high confidence about the quality/cleanliness of the beef that comes out of that plant.  They use every little part of each cow except for the tip of its tail, it’s brain, and the spinal cord, and I can only imagine the long list of products I love that are made from plasma and other bits.  To refuse to NEVER eat meat from a plant again would also mean to refuse my favorite makeup and other products, and I’m just not interested in doing that.

I still stand by seeking out and buying local meat and produce, or buying as directly from the farmer/rancher as possible.  This weekend, I purchased some pork chops at the farmers market directly from the pig’s owner.  He came all the way from Oklahoma, and yes, I get that lots of gas went into that pig coming into my kitchen, but that Cargill plant ships beef to 30 different countries, and the pork at my grocery store was not raised and killed behind the store, so I do feel this is a better choice that sits well with my conscience.

We bought a duck and reserved our Thanksgiving turkey at a local, family owned and operated farm.  Ideally, this is how I want to purchase my meat, but due to logistics, it’s not always feasible.

Economic Observations

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share some of economic ripple effects I thought of during the tour.  I actually thought more about this stuff than I did about consumption of the product.  This is a giant plant in the middle of Kansas, an hour or two from I-70.  Dodge City is 30,000-ish in population.  Around 80 “dead heads” – those are semi trucks that are empty – come into Dodge City every day to haul away the product.  In heavier populated areas, fewer or no dead heads are needed because there is enough product coming into the community for consumption.  I thought about all the fuel costs of that, plus the fuel costs of shipping product from Kansas to literally, the rest of the meat-eating world.

The plant employs around 2800 people, and a significant portion of those people are immigrants, people who are here legally.  Safety rules and regulations are posted on the walls of the plants in over 12 languages.  The starting wage is over $13/hour, and the average wage is significantly higher.  The employees work incredibly hard, and there is higher turnover the closer you get to the beginning of the process, but overall, turnover is low, and the bulk of employees have been there 5 years or longer.  In a world where rich people love their meat but don’t want anything to do with how it gets to their plate, someone has to get it there, and I’m glad they are receiving good wages for doing so.  Two people working make $60K – $80K or more a year in a community with an overall low cost of living, pretty damn good for a household.  In fact, the plant can’t hire enough people, in part due to a housing shortage.  Knowing that in a way, eating a hamburger helps a family way out in Dodge City, I’m more inclined to order it at the restaurant.  Also, when it comes to the great immigration debate, I wish people were more aware of how important immigrant workers are in our economy and society.

In closing, I shared this because it really made me think about things that are important to me as a consumer and as an economic developer.  The intention was not to make the case for the beef industry, against vegetarianism, or anything else.  I just wanted to share the experience and how I’ve been thinking about it.  I’m not anywhere near done thinking about it.

My next meat adventure includes a 5 lb. duck, a roasting pan, and a baster.  It should be interesting, and please God, let it be tasty.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: