Monday, October 26, 2015

The sky is not falling on hotdogs and bacon

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) processed meats have been classified as a Class 1 Carcinogen. News stories are quick to point out that asbestos and tobacco are also Class 1 carcinogens. You might like to know that other things in that list include sunlight, birth control, alcohol, and hormone therapy. Red meat was classified as a Class 2A, along with working as a hairdresser and grilled food. The IARC has looked at hundreds of items and only one has made the ‘not carcinogenic’ category. Furthermore, just because a substance is in the same classification as tobacco and asbestos, it doesn’t mean that its relationship to cancer is as strong as those substances. 

I’m not telling you this because I want you to spend the rest of your life eating bland food in the dark; I just want you to know that the sky is not falling.

I’m not ‘that kind of doctor,’ but I know that cancer is a very complicated disease. Everyone wants to find that one silver-bullet prevention, but it’s just not out there. Genetics, exercise, medicine, whether or not you’ve had a baby, and diet can all affect your cancer risk. 

Processed meats are important

The ingredients and processes used to make hotdogs and bacon and sausage are about more than creating tasty treats to eat at tailgates. Processed meats help us to use meat more efficiently, waste less food and feed more people. 

Processed meats allow us to use the whole animal. There are lots of cuts on the animal that wouldn’t taste very good if we just tried to cook them like fresh meat. They may be too tough, too small, or too fatty. Meat processors grind them up and mix them all together to make sausages and hotdogs. 

Processed meats allow us to store meat for longer times. Ingredients like salt, sugar, and nitrites help fend off bacteria that cause it to go bad. They also keep it from becoming rancid. Think about how long hotdogs and ham last in the fridge in comparison to fresh steaks and burgers.

Processed meats are a good source of inexpensive protein. Foods like hotdogs and sausages are inexpensive, but they provide protein. People need that protein, especially kids. Protein helps you feel fuller, longer after a meal. It also helps build and repair muscles as kids grow. Research has shown that kids fed protein perform better in school. In some poor families, processed meats are the only way they can afford to feed their kids protein.

Processed meats help prevent food-borne illness. Ingredients like salt and lactates help keep dangerous bacteria, like Listeria, from growing, and nitrites are added to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes Botulism.

There is lots of good information circulating today about the benefits of processed meats and the complicated issues around this new classification.

I really like this interview from CBS News this morning, looking at this study in the real world.

So, think about the benefits of processed meats. Enjoy them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Grannie Annie’s Pozole

I don’t often do recipe posts. Honestly, I don’t often cook. But my friend Sarah Shotts is working on an awesome new adventure, Project STIR. She wants to create videos of families cooking together and passing down recipes and kitchen secrets.

Her project really hit home for me as I lost my Mother in August and my Dad’s Mom last October. What I wouldn’t give for a few more hours in the kitchen with either one of them.

So many of the things that make a dish delicious can’t be found on the recipe card. I hope Sarah’s project helps to preserve dishes for other families and cultures.

I decided to share my Grannie Annie’s Pozole.

Like most grandmas, Grannie Annie was happiest with a
 baby in her lap. That's Vallie at about 3 months.
I grew up in Texas, but my Dad’s family lived for several years in New Mexico. In those years, my Grandmother picked up several culinary traits from the Hispanic and Native American cultures in the Jemez Mountains. She made homemade tortillas and sopapillas and put green chilies in everything.

Pozole is a prehispanic soup traditionally made with pork and hominy. According to Dad (and verified by Wikipedia), the word pozole actually translates to simply ‘hominy’ in the native Aztec language.

Our family always ate Pozole on New Year’s Day, but I wanted to share it because it’s one of the most unique dishes we eat.

Bonus! It’s super easy and can be made in the crock pot!

I had to call my Dad for a recipe. Turns out there’s not one written down, so he recalled the recipe from memory.


3 big cans hominy (drained)
2 cans of Green Chili Enchilada sauce
1 can for chopped green chili
Jar of chopped pimentos
Pork or chicken cut to bite size
Salt and pepper

You may need to add a little water to cover all of the ingredients in the crock pot.

It takes 3 to 4 hours for the meat to cook and it is ready to eat.

He said Grandma used to make it with dried hominy that she soaked overnight, but it was just as good with canned hominy.  Grandma was very particular about how her dishes looked in the bowl, so she would buy some yellow and some white and then add pimento to make it look pretty.

We fixed the Pozole late morning and let it cook for most of the afternoon.

We made ours with chicken, but pork works just as well. I wanted to take a picture of the cut-up chicken, but I was chasing kids while Dad was doing the work.

Even the kids enjoyed it.

I love a good crock-pot recipe.
So easy and great for this time of year.

We topped it with shredded cheese and ate it
with flour tortillas. Dad warmed the tortillas in the
skillet to take the ‘store-bought’ taste out of them.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

You will never be lonely again ~ a Meathead’s take on the Microbiome

I was invited again this year to attend the Alltech Symposia to learn about new and emerging technologies in agriculture and food production. Alltech is a global food and Ag company that produces feed ingredients and supplements for all parts of agriculture including cattle, swine, fisheries, equine and crops. They view agriculture as a whole food system, and are very interested in tackling global health issues with solutions applied to food and crops.

One of the most interesting sessions I attended covered the Microbiome, led by Dr. Rowan Power, an Alltech scientist.

He said that we used to say, “You are what you eat.”

But now, he says, “You really are what 100 trillion and one of you eat.”

Each person plays host to about 100 trillion bacteria (that doesn’t even count fungi and viruses). These bacteria live on and in your body, including on your skin, in your nose, mouth and eyes, in your lungs, and, of course, in your digestive tract. Over 1,000 species of bacteria live in your intestine, mostly your lower intestine. Yummy.

A few more facts about your microbiome:

  • Bacterial cells out number human cells 10 to 1
  • The microbiome comprises 1 to 3% of your body mass (that’s 2 to 6 lbs on a 200 lbs person)
  • The total microbiome may consist of 10,000 species
  • The bacteria in our gut allow us to digest foods
  • The number and variation of the bacteria will vary from person to person

Microbes and weight loss

Doesn’t everyone have that one friend who can just think about going on a diet and lose 5 pounds? Scientists like Dr. Power are finding that the way our bodies react to changes in what we eat is largely dependent on the bacteria in our gut. What we eat is not as important as what the bacteria in our gut do with the food we eat.

In one study, scientists removed the gut bacteria from some lean mice and introduced it to mice that were completely germ free.  They did the same with bacteria from obese mice. The mice that were given bacteria from the lean mice became lean, and those given the obese mice bacteria became obese. So, the bacteria in your gut may have an impact on how lean or obese you become.

Dr. Power also said that when scientists looked at the bacteria in lean people, there was more variation in the bacteria in their guts than in obese people. People with more variation in their diets had more variable bacteria to digest their food and were leaner. (Makes me second guess my oh-so-consistent breakfast routine.)

Microbes and feelings

You know how some foods make you feel so good? Most neurotransmitters (the chemicals that send signals within and from our brain) are derived from nutritional factors. So, the way our microbiome breaks down food can actually affect how good we feel. Get me some happy bacteria!

How do we change our microbiome?

The microbiome will change based on what you feed it. If you eat a diet of fat and sugars, your microbiome will adjust to digest fat and sugar. If you eat more leafy greens and vegetables, the bacteria will change to digest those. So, the more variety in your diet, the more variety in your microbiome.

Medicines like antibiotics can also change your microbiome. Everyone has been a little sick to their stomach after taking antibiotics (or you’ve had a sick child that has developed a nasty diaper rash after being on antibiotics). Even the bacteria on your skin can be affected by antibiotics. This is why doctors suggest that you eat yogurt after you’ve had to take antibiotics. Yogurt is full of healthy bacteria and you need to re-populate your gut with healthy bacteria after you’ve had antibiotics.

Scientists are figuring out new ways to alter the microbiome in humans and animals all the time. There are foods and supplements that can encourage the growth of good bacteria and discourage the growth of bad bacteria. Of course, we all know the benefits of eating yogurt and drinking acidophilus milk. Cattle farmers have been using feed additives called ionophores to optimize the microbiome in their stomachs and help cattle digest feed more efficiently for years.

Dr. Power said that pretty soon, human health efforts will encompass care for the human as well as care for the microorganisms that live on and within the human. We may be able to treat chronic diseases in humans by treating and altering the bacteria that live within them.

Personally, I am excited about this emerging science in microbiology. I think it will be neat to see the medicine and treatments for diseases like Krohns and diabetes that might emerge from our new understanding of the microbiome.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Tales from the Livestock Barn ~ Washington County Fair

Although I live in neighboring Madison County, I was thrilled when I was asked to write something about the Livestock Barn for the Washington County Fair. Full disclosure: In exchange for this post, the Washington County Fair is supporting the promotion of local agriculture by making a donation to my Moms on the Farm program – but my words and enthusiasm for the fair are all mine.

When you bring your family to the fair, it may be a little intimidating to enter the livestock barn. There are sure to be a few sights and sounds (and smells) that your family may not be used to. Since my 4H kid is only 7, we are new to the world of being a livestock show family. So, I reached out to some other, more seasoned livestock show moms from Northwest Arkansas and around the country to get their input on the things they think you should know about the Livestock Barn.

My little 4Her with her
first calf, Water Lilly.

The kids showing the animals are in charge of cleaning up the poop, but it’s a full time job. The first year my daughter took her calf to the fair, she was especially excited about getting to clean it up! She was about 3 or 4 and that excitement hasn’t really faded… yet. Here are a few tips:
  • Don’t wear your favorite pair of white shoes.
  • Poop can be a little slippery, so be careful. 
  • Wash your hands or use hand-sanitizer after you leave.

A sheep isn't truly clean until
everyone in the family is soaked
Family time.

When I was growing up, we didn’t go on vacation to Disneyland or the beach. We went to livestock shows. The animals are the kids’ projects, but it’s really a FAMILY endeavor. Hundreds of hours are spent together (mom, dad, brothers and sisters), working for a common goal of presenting an animal at the fair.
Success in the Livestock Barn is a family accomplishment. When our family won at the show, it wasn’t my ribbon or my trophy, it was OURS.

Small kids – BIG animals 
My daughter loves to show off her
show calf and have her friends pet it,
 but not all animals are so gentle
and tolerant of little people.

Livestock can be a little scary! The kids showing animals have spent hours and hours working with them getting them ready for the show. They know each other quite well and the animals are used to being handled by their owners. But, even gentle animals can bite, and even when an animal is comfortable with some kids, he or she may not be ok with all kids. Always ask for the owner’s permission before petting any animal in the livestock barn.

Good to know: There is a great petting zoo at the Washington County Fair where your kids can pet ‘til their heart’s content

Jenny sent this picture of two of
her boys with the their dairy cattle
at the county fair in Illinois.
Teachable moments.

The kids who are showing animals want to show off their hard work to everyone at the fair, not just the judges. If the kids are around, be sure to ask them about their animal. Ask the animal’s name, what it eats, where it came from, how old it is… You will be amazed what you will learn from these kids.

My friend and fellow 4H mom, Jenny Schweigert said it best, Last week's county fair was very successful, but my favorite moment wasn't the ribbons or trophies. It was when our middle son kneeled down with a little girl he didn't know and started explaining the difference between dairy cattle and beef cattle.

Lots of smiles. Maybe a few tears.

Vallie and her calf last year
For the kids showing animals at the fair, it’s like the District Championship game for kids who play sports - It’s a Really Big Deal. They’ve been working all summer in the heat and the mud getting their animals ready, and some will go home with lots of ribbons and trophies, but some won’t. Sometimes the animals act up and sometimes the judge doesn’t see it the way we do. It’s hard and frustrating (for kids and parents) when it doesn’t go the way you wanted it to.
But at the end of the fair, it’s not the prizes that matter. It’s the sense of accomplishment. It’s the family time. It’s the lifelong friendships. It’s the lessons learned. It’s teaching new people about how their food is produced. 
When you visit the livestock barn, you are not just seeing the animals. You are seeing the next generation of agriculture. You are witnessing the development of the people that will feed the world for years to come.

Let’s go to the fair!

The fair is letting me give away some ride tickets to a lucky local reader! Share a comment on this post about your favorite memory of a county fair to be entered to win $50 worth of ride tickets

(Info about entry prices can be found here). If you haven’t gone to a fair before, tell me what you hope to see or do at the Washington County Fair this year on your first visit. I’ll choose a winner at random from the folks who enter and be in touch to get your tickets to you.

The Washington County Fair has posted a schedule online, and also provides information about being a part of the fair by entering their contests and competitions through their Exhibitor Handbook.

Keep up to date on happenings at the fair by following them on social media at one (or all!) the links below:

Be sure to search the #MyWCF15 hashtag on social media to see what other folks are doing at the fair.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

AgriCultural Fusion

It takes a village… a global village

For the past several years one of the hottest trends in food has been cultural fusion, two or more cultures contributing to one dish or a restaurant concept. For example, last year after the Alltech Symposium we went to a little place called The Local Taco where I enjoyed the fusion of Asian and Latin American dishes with my Korean BBQ Tacos. I also had a Buffalo Chicken Taco. Another fusion of cultures. Oh my goodness! They were amazing!

As I was thinking about this year’s conference, my mouth watering in anticipation of some more Korean BBQ tacos, I realized that those culturally-infused tacos were a kind of symbol of where agriculture is going in the future. We have to embrace AgriCultural Fusion or we will get left in the dust.

This was my third trip to the Alltech Symposium. Last year, I wrote about the things that global agricultural companies do for the average consumer. It’s always an enjoyable time, a great time to interact with my blogging buddies, enjoy some fermented beverages, and learn about the next big thing in agriculture.

This symposium is by-far the most international meeting I attend regularly. This year, 88 countries were represented among the attendees. The conference is translated into 6 languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese. Alltech is involved in agriculture all over the world. The founder’s son, Dr. Mark Lyons, is currently in China working for the company.

I love meeting and visiting with people involved in agriculture from all over the world. This year I made a new friend from the Netherlands. In year’s past I’ve met folks from Mexico, Venezuela, and several from Ireland. Every one of them has a place in global food production.

Everyone involved in agriculture is thinking about and preparing to feed the 9 billion people that will populate the Earth in the year 2050. In the livestock industry, we are especially concerned with the 3 billion people will enter the middle class in that time and be demanding more animal-based foods like meat, milk, and eggs.

It will take a global effort to get us there; a global village to raise all the food we need and get it delivered to people in a safe and sustainable way. In agriculture, we will have to learn to embrace doing things in new ways to produce enough food to feed everyone.

General Colin Powell was a speaker at the conference and I think he had a great quote about China. He said, “The Chinese have a different system, and they like it. They used it to pull 400 million people out of poverty.”

I don’t mean that we will have to all do things exactly the same way, but we need to have some AgriCultural Fusion to improve everyone’s productivity. We will learn things from South Americans and Africans and Asians and Europeans and Australians and apply what works in the US. They will do the same in their country.

You wouldn’t sell many Korean BBQ tacos if that combination didn’t taste good. (mmm… tacos)
Feeding the world is going to take thinking globally and acting locally. AgriCultural fusion shows itself in lots of ways already.
  • It is as small as me trying to figure out how to grow Chinese cabbage in my back yard.
  • Cattle breeders in the US use Japanese cattle breeds such as Wagyu or Akaushi to improve marbling in our beef.
  •  It may be applying techniques of Korean natural farming to farms in Hawaii.
  • Students at Abilene Christian University research techniques for raising goats and share them with African farmers.
  • Americans teach pork and dairy farming techniques to farmers in China.
  • Charities, like Heifer International, give livestock to families in the developing world and teach them how to care for them.

AgriCultural fusion is happening all around us. Thanks to technology, our chance to learn from other cultures is only limited by the speed of our smart phone.

It will be so exciting to see where we go from here.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Microblog: My American Girl Doll

On my mother's side, I'm the oldest grandchild by several years. One year when I was in college, my grandfather was planing to give all the younger girls an American Girl Doll for Christmas. 
At 19, I was a little old for a doll, so Papaw asked Mother what I needed instead. I was preparing to be on the meat judging team at Texas Tech, and I needed a pair of steel-toed boots to wear to packing plants for practice and competitions. That was my gift that year. 
I still refer to them as my American Girl Doll. All the cousins got Samantha or Kirstin or Felicity. I got steel-toed boots. 
However, almost 18 years later, I'm still wearing my American Girl Dolls. I think about my Papaw just about every time I put them on.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Don’t judge cooked meat by its color.

Just… don’t.

Everyone, myself included, does it. We look at the color of the inside of a burger or chicken to determine if it’s cooked. Is it pink? Nope. Chomp chomp!

Here’s the problem: Color is not a good indicator of safe cooking temperatures. You have to use a meat thermometer to be sure meat is cooked to safe temperatures.
Meat turns from pink to brown because the protein that makes meat red (myoglobin) is denatured as it is cooked. The protein is damaged and doesn’t reflect light in the same manner anymore, so the meat appears brown.
Lots of factors can affect how quickly or slowly the protein is denatured as it is heated. Meat color changes can vary due to the pH (acidity) of the meat, the age and gender of the animal, how long it was stored, the way it was packaged, whether it was frozen, even the feed and water of the animals can affect cooked meat color.

Sometimes meat turns brown too soon!

Meat scientists call this phenomenon Premature Browning. It can be really dangerous because meat looks done, but it hasn't been cooked to a safe temperature.

This photo is from a great fact sheet about beef color from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Both of these patties were cooked to an unsafe temperature (55°C or 131°F). Patty A looks very undercooked, but patty B looks done.

I have a previous blog post about fresh meat color. Remember that we talked about meat being oxygenated (red), deoxygenated (purple), or oxidized (brown)? Researchers at Kansas State found that when patties were cooked in the oxidized (brown) state, their cooked color was brown, even at temperatures that were too low to kill deadly bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella. Other research has found that the packaging can cause meat to brown faster, too.

Regardless of why the meat turns brown at too low of a temperature, sometimes it happens. The best way to insure that your meat is cooked properly is to use a meat thermometer.
Ground beef should be cooked to 160°F and poultry should be cooked to 165°F.

Sometimes meat stays pink too long!

Meat scientists call this phenomenon Persistent Pinking. It is not as much a food safety issue as it is a perception and eating quality issue. When meat looks pink, even if it’s been thoroughly cooked, people will think it’s undercooked and will keep cooking it until its way overcooked. When it’s overcooked, it tastes terrible.
I am conducting research on persistent pinking in ground beef this summer. 
These patties were all cooked to exactly 160°F.
You can see how some of them are still pink in the middle.

Research has shown that a high pH (more basic) can protect the proteins at greater temperatures and keep them from turning brown. They may also stay pink because of a higher concentration of the myoglobin protein. Right now our research is creating more questions than answers, but it sure is interesting.

Persistent pinking can also be caused by outside substances interacting with the meat and creating the pink color.
Nitrites are a good example of one of these outside substances. Sometimes we want this pink color to appear, like in the case of ham, sausages, or bacon. However, very small amounts of nitrites can get into the meat (especially poultry) and create a pink color that kind of looks like ham. If you don’t expect the meat to be pink and it is, you may think it’s undercooked.

These pictures were sent to me by Dr. Jim Claus at the University of Wisconsin. He is one of the leading researchers in persistent pinking in processed meats. These are a pair of turkey slices and some tuna chunks with persistent pinking problems. All of these were cooked to a safe temperature, but some clearly have some color issues.

This is a pork chop that was cooked wrapped in bacon. Looks like the nitrites in the bacon seeped into the pork chop and created a pink color.

Sometimes the ovens that cook the meat can introduce gasses that react with the muscle and cause it to turn pink. We like it when this happens in smoked meats, but when you don’t expect it, you may be concerned it hasn’t been cooked enough.

This is a smoked sausage from an awesome BBQ restaurant in south Texas. See how the smoke has created the ring of pink around the edge of the sausage?

When you see pink color in meat, look to see where the off-color is within the pieces. Undercooked meat will be pink in the middle, but persistent pinking issues are more likely to occur on the surface.

Even what the animals (especially birds) eat or drink can introduce substances that can change the cooked color of their meat. Nitrates and nitrites that occur naturally in the feed and water can remain in the birds and create some color problems, especially around the bone.

This is another picture of some cooked chicken pieces from Dr. Claus. You can see some really severe pinking problems in them.

If you are served something that you think looks underdone, it’s OK to ask what temperature it was cooked to. Sometimes meat is just stubbornly pink, but sometimes it may actually be underdone. When it comes to my kids, if I think a piece of meat they've been served may be underdone, you bet I'll ask the waiter about it. 

The best way to know is to use a meat thermometer.
Cook it to a temperature not a color.

The USDA has a great fact sheet about meat color that gives more detail about persistent pinking and premature browning.