Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Meat - It's What's For Dinner

Please Note: The following post contains images that sensitive people may find offensive.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
Sirloin steak, as we know it, being trimmed down for retail sale.

Readers of this blog know that I'm a fan of meat. Give me a nice ribeye steak, some grilled veggies, hot white rice and a big cigar and I'm happy as can be.

Lately, I've been getting into locally grown beef that's grass fed and free range. Unlike commercial beef that's raised on large ranches where the steers are confined in pens and fed a corn-based feed, these animals are allowed to roam around, eat grass and are herded in small numbers. It's what they call "Grass Finished" beef - meaning that the animals are left to eat grass throughout their existence until the last couple of weeks when they're fed a corn-based feed that fattens them up a little before slaughter. I realize that, to the non-cattlemen, the name sounds opposite to the reality, but that's how they categorize it.

This "old is new" kind of approach to beef gives great flavor, texture and quality to the meat. It's absolutely delicious. I can't get enough of it. Give me more.

In the interest of understanding where our food comes from (other than the refrigerated case at the grocery store), Spike, Mariano and myself headed up to Mount Airy, Maryland to visit the Meat Locker where the beef and pork that we consume is slaughtered and processed.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
Pork doesn't get any fresher than this.

It's an unassuming building in the very sleepy town of Mount Airy. You could pass it by and never know what was going on inside. There's a school across the street it's so innocuous. And considering the carnage that goes on inside, it's a strange juxtaposition that I can't help but to think of something as odd as Jeffrey Dahmer.

Not that there's anything sinister going on inside. The place is clean. Spotless even. The USDA has an inspector in the building at all times observing the processing at every step and checking for any problems or contaminants.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
Sides of beef waiting 21 days.

The animals come from select farms in the region who grow quality steer and pigs. They're loaded into holding pens at the side of the building which lead into the Kill Room.

The Kill Room. Concrete. Tile. Utility. There's nothing glamorous about the Kill Room or working in it. It's gruesome work. Pigs throats are cut and steers are shot in the head with a .22 caliber pistol. The animals are hung to drain their blood, then hit with hot water to remove the body hairs.

Many people find it hard to believe that our food comes from these animals. They'd much rather know their food as that plastic-wrapped cut they're used to. Watching how our food comes to be is slightly unnerving, but it instills respect. Respect for the animals that have been slaughtered so that we can survive. Respect for the meat so that it's cared for and cooked properly.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
Spike checks out the quality of the pork.

Walking into the Kill Room reminded me of being in the Philippines. The aroma was fresh - like that of the open-air markets. Men in jeans and boots did their deeds of slaughtering pigs and preparing them for storage then butchering. The USDA inspector taking their heads and inspecting their glands for any signs of problems or trichinosis. Brutal efficiency.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
A pig head after the USDA has inspected it for contaminants.

When looking at a 150+ pound pig, one has to wonder just how they take this animal and break it down? Once the hair has been removed from the carcass and the entrails removed, it must be split with a stainless steel chain saw.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
The Kill Room - splitting the carcass.

Once cut down, beef is kept in refrigerated storage for 21 days to "age" the meat. Pork can be used right away. The sides are rolled into large, refrigerated rooms and then are later brought into the cutting rooms where they are broken down into the pork chops, sirloin and skirt steaks we all know and love.

Mt Airy Meat Locker
The End gives us a new beginning.


Andy said...

Thanks for the tour Jay. I love working for Slow Food and my regional farms. I pick up 85-90% of my food from local sources. I think a lot of us have forgotten where we get our food and the deep politics, farm welfare, and corporatizing that has been done in the name of capitalism.

If you want to follow the rabbit all the way down the hole read some of Omnivores Delimma and build some relationships with your local markets.


Anonymous said...

Jay, this was a fun read. My dad is one of the farmers who sends his beef to my airy and I can attest that the process truly does make a difference. I live in Denver, AKA Steak Capitol USA, and I still only eat beef from our farm that my Dad packs in a cooler and hauls on a plane with him!

asha said...

And a fan of barbarically cruel assembly line murder. Touching.

onocoffee said...


Whew, it's just a shame that you chose to write without really understanding anything about the meat game.

Certainly there are operations across America that process animals in very unsatisfying ways, however, this place is not one of them. In modern times we like to give a lot of lip service to buzzwords like "transparency," I'm both pleased and comfortable that the suppliers we do business with practice transparency and their openness to having myself and others come in to tour the facility and witness their method of slaughter is testament to their commitment of transparency.

While I can understand your words of hate, I certainly will not agree with them.

Personally speaking, I think you should spend your efforts (and hatred) on farms and processing plants that actually treat animals poorly. Of course, getting access to those facilities as I have with Mt. Airy isn't possible because they have something to hide.

Your comments remind me of those misguided souls who spend their days angered by foie gras while ignoring the chicken farms that supply their daily needs.

Anonymous said...

and none of it is necessary. Humans do not require meat for survival. anyone who doubts that, please google the bodybuilder "Bill Pearl".

Factory farming is currently the worlds number one contributor to Co2 emissions, leading to global warming.

besides the horrific cruelty, the model is unsustainable. I believe we are living in the end of years.

the model is a linear one. One with a beginning and an end.

2/3rds of the worlds rainforest are already gone due to factory farming. it will be less than 50 years to clear the rest.

90% of the worlds fish stocks are already gone and the population of earth keeps growing.

The majority of this destruction took place in the last 50 years!

it all has to stop because the population only increases, and if every one wanted to eat meat... well I wont go on but you should watch "The Story of Stuff" as it also applies to food consumption.

thanks for posting and enlightening those who think meat just appears on the table.

onocoffee said...

Humans need food and nourishment. Merely because you deem to think that humans "don't need" meat for survival doesn't mean that we should go without.

Further, you mention "factory farming" - obviously, you're more interested in promoting some sort of BS agenda than actually reading what we're espousing here.

I'm a meat lover and am interested in the best quality possible. This necessarily means that the quality we seek is not "factory farming."

I'd go into it more but since you're the kind of person who chooses to post anonymously, it really isn't worth my effort.