Meat eater or not, the U.S.'s abundant food supply is to thank for our choices
Vegetarian or meat eater, the United States is blessed with abundant food.
It was important to keep vegetarian hot dogs and hamburgers from having any contact on the grill with any meat-based products. The instruction came as I prepared to cook for the company picnic.
It was no big deal — diets are personal choices that ought to be respected. Years ago, a friend whose family raised beef cattle returned from college and said that he had stopped consuming meat, eggs and milk because a new girlfriend convinced him the meat industry was inhumane.
Being a meat-and-potatoes person and farm-raised, I objected to his condemnation of an entire industry. A farmer who abuses livestock won’t last long in a demanding industry. The livestock community also works at self-policing and urges farmers to use best husbandry practices.
Per capita consumption of livestock and poultry meats since 1960 reached a high of 149.6 pounds in 1971 and stood at 110.1 pounds in 2020. Approximately 3% of the U.S. population considers themselves vegetarians, which represents a modest growth in recent years.
There was a time when it seemed that nearly every Hollywood starlet credited vegetarianism for maintaining their youthful appearance and some celebrity doctors urged avoiding meat. The pendulum has swung a bit back to all things in moderation.
It was unthinkable that my friend’s eating habits, and philosophy, could be turned on its head after one year of college.
He said he felt healthier eating more fruits and vegetables and admitted to but one vice — Jell-O, which was introduced more than 100 years before. Pearle Wait and his wife, May, made cough medicine in their home before concocting a fruit-flavored dessert they called Jell-O. Lacking funds to develop the product, they sold the trademark to a deep-pocketed businessman for $450.
My friend may not have been well-informed about vegetarianism because he did not know that a key ingredient in Jell-O is gelatin, which is an animal collagen found in animal tendons, ligaments, and bones. A bit self-defensive, he said at least his vices don’t include hot dogs.
“Do you know what’s in a hot dog?’’ he asked.
I never needed to know — mostly because Mother possessed great skill in curing our meat in the smokehouse, a small and modest building that resembled a one-seater outhouse. Hams, bacon and sausage were smoked with hard maple and corncobs. Blood and liver sausage as well as headcheese kept us well fed.
Headcheese ingredients — head jowl, tongue, and other meat — made for a great sandwich splashed with vinegar. Mother mixed the sausage ingredients in the same huge metal bowl that she used in bread-making.
Eldest daughter Sarah upended our household when it was decided to butcher her 4-H steer. Sarah vowed that if we followed through on the decision, she would never eat meat again. A compromise was reached in which we traded her steer for a neighbor’s fattened animal. A similar standoff ensued and eventually solved when daughter Rachel’s pet turkey was harvested.
The German prisoners of war who weeded fields were thankful that they hadn’t been captured by the Soviets and had plenty of food to eat. As the war took its grim toll back at home, the German population filled their bellies with bread with sawdust as its main ingredient. Sawdust shaped in pork roast form eased hunger pangs.
Vegetarian or meat eater, the United States is blessed with abundant food. We are reminded as the weather turns cold, and Thanksgiving approaches that food insecurity is worsening. Local food shelves need donations to restock shelves as the holidays approach.
Consumers, in recent months, have been shocked that some items that they routinely purchase cannot be found on store shelves. Suppliers say that spot shortages will gradually work themselves out as the pandemic eases.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.