Meat the Good & the Bad
In The Beginning
“Although cattle have been domesticated for less than 10,000 years, they are the world’s most important animal, as judged by their multiple contributions of draft power, meat, milk, hides, and dung…Evidence for the domestication of cattle dates from between 8,000 and 7,000 years ago in southwestern Asia. Such dating suggests that cattle were not domesticated until cereal domestication had taken place, whereas sheep and goats entered the barnyard of humans with the beginning of agriculture… domestication would have required a supply of animals that was initially met by capturing them from the wild. In the holding pens, some captive bulls and cows bred, and from these mating, calves were born. Their overall size was smaller, their temperament more docile, these aurochs born in captivity were kept as objects of sacrifice and allowed to breed. The next generation to follow reinforced the characteristics of the parents, and a gene pool that distinguished these bovines from their wild forebears gradually formed. No longer were they aurochs, but rather cattle…”—Cambridge World History of Food, Kenneth F. Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas [Cambridge University Press:Cambridge] 2000, Volume One (p. 490-1)
The Next Step
As villages’ turned into cities the abundance of livestock living in small pasturages or pens added not only to the odiferous air, but the streets were filled with their excrement. By the Middle Ages ordinance were put in place to reduce the numbers of free roaming animals and the wholesale slaughter of them on the streets. Just as the merchants of the day forced through edicts that suited them, they also knew how to ignore those that were not convenient. It would take almost two hundred years for butchers to bow to demands and start selling meat by weight rather than by the piece. Hygiene in the middle ages was anything but stringent; the cook was at the mercies of her nose and the free use of spices to cover less than the freshest of meats.
As the close of the little ice age came about the use of salt for preservation of meat became more common and those living in cities or seafarers now could carry salted meats in lieu of live animals. The quality and taste was far from good. The food of the common person’s diet throughout history has been devoid of variety up to the rediscovery of ice as a preservative.
An international boom in livestock ranching ensued from 1870 to 1890 both in America and Australia, where cattle were king. Transportation was a problem especially getting meat to markets in Europe. The cattle were in poor shape after 700 mile drives over dry lands and prairies. America had lead the forefront in canning of meat, but what was at hand was far from palatable. It wasn’t long till the cattle were being rested in the grass lands to allow them time to fatten before harvest.
The Chinese had been utilizing ice houses for the preservation of food since the eight century B.C., but it was the Shaker Ice houses and their expertise in layered insulation that enabled meat to eventually be transported in railroad ice cars from great distances. In the 1850s a Glasgow man who had immigrated to Australia designed and improved an ether-compressor which made it possible to manufacture ice and refrigeration.
Whenever you go into a market today you can have a ready selection of fruits, vegetables and meat, flash frozen for our convenience. The consumer thinks very little about the food, process or harvest of what they are eating. We assume that the quality of food at our finger tips is far superior to that of the Middle Ages; cleaner, fresher, tender, safer. However every year food recalls resulting in millions of pounds of potentially dangerous foods being discarded.
Most recently, Modesto Meat Company is recalling about one million pounds of ground beef products after seven people were sickened by E. coli contamination. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the Valley Meat Company had sold the potentially contaminated meat in California, Texas, Oregon, Arizona and internationally. This beef was processed Oct. 2, 2009 to Jan. 12, 2010. The company says most of the products are sold frozen and they’re working to remove them from grocery store shelves.
When I buy meat, I know the name of my rancher, where the animals have been raised and on what. For my money there is no beef better than those raised on ranch land in Eastern Oregon. I’ve never once had my T-bones recalled due to contamination and I’m supporting Oregon Ranchers.