Recently, I’ve had an email conversation with another grass fed/finished producer. Surprisingly, the conversations have left me a bit uneasy. He is a strong advocate of “mob grazing”, thinks that land conservation, soil nutrition, animal humanness and water conservation are all important elements of a good operation. Everything that I believe in and advocate.
Unfortunately, we parted company on one key item. He flat out told me he didn’t agree with how BCC raises the calves to ten to twelve months and processes them while they are still suckling. He is a strong advocate of grass finished. This entails weaning, and placing them on grass for another twelve to fourteen months and processing a larger animal. He went on to say that he not only didn’t agree with our program but that he would not promote it or recommend it to anyone else. I was a bit taken back to say the least.
He did not consider it a viable “industry model”. Reason, it didn’t produce the beef he thought should be produced for the market. In other words, it didn’t taste the way he thought a perfect cut of grass fed/finished beef should taste.
He then went on to say that he thought most grass finished beef was substandard and that it was marketed as “lean” to hide the fact that it was poorly produced.
He naturally thought his method – which he maintained produced a much fattier product – was what people really wanted and that he was out to set the “industry standard”.
Now, I think everyone should be proud of their product – otherwise how could you look people in the face and sell it! And I don’t quibble with whether his product is good or not. It may be great.
My problem is the idea that there should be an “industry model” or “industry standard” for any kind of food. That’s what has put us in so much trouble to this point. Food turned into a “one size fits all” widget that can be “economically” produced using set standards to turn out large volumes. I don’t want to eat sneakers. I want to eat a steak!
I strongly believe that it is this attitude that you can “codify” taste that is far more detrimental to the development of a vibrant, healthy, regional food system. I don’t want all my cheese to taste like Velveta. I don’t want all my chickens to taste like Tysons. Can we stop thinking that diversity is the “hobgoblin” of a good business plan and embrace tastes in all their variations!
Aside from the hubris of thinking that one model is the only good model, I think it is insulting to the consumer to believe that they cannot be discerning to tell the difference between “good” beef and “bland” beef. Nor do I think that his concept of the “perfect” beef is that – “perfect”. Again, food should be appreciated for its nuances – created by such variables as region, practice, environment, and practitioner - and that applies to a great piece of meat as much as it does to a great cheese or wine.
When someone starts dictating “industry models and standards” for food it starts to cater to the least exciting taste of the most people – a sure way to reduce even a “great tasting cut of beef” to cardboard.