Molding minds with meat



When we’re too tired to cook, we only have 1 carryout option that passes muster among everyone:


Fast food chains peddling burgers and fries? No dice.

“Ug, I’m not eating a salmonella-laden burger! I don’t want beef from a cow that’s been standing in a feedlot in its own poop!”

That’s Cayden speaking, not me.

But I’m Oz behind the curtain; I’ve tainted the kids with beef production propaganda.

I didn’t intend to warp them and I never thought that they’d shun a Happy Meal, but it’s happened. They haven’t eaten a McDonald’s burger in months. (Though we still dine at sit-down restaurants that are just as feed-lotty as the rest of them.)

But since we subsist on local milk and farm-fresh eggs, the next logical step was beef. And we live in an Ag community, so purchasing a locally-raised steer (or part of one) wasn’t difficult.

The steer owner (another horse person) provided me with a beef chart to select our preferred cuts, based on the animal’s anatomy. Most of it was obvious. Flank and sirloin? I wanted steak, not ground. But other sections left me mystified. Primal rib? The choices were rib steak, rib eye steak or rib roast. I dunno, what’s the difference? What’s better?

When in doubt, I selected “ground” for the shoulder, elbow and other beef hinterlands. As a result, we are flush with six-ounce sleeves of burger meat.






We skipped the blind taste test, like the one conducted with the milk and eggs. But the taste differences in the meat are similar to those with the milk: the beef is more flavorful than the store-bought variety, but it’s difficult to explain why. Apparently, the steer was raised largely on grass and alfalfa, but finished with grain — a common practice; otherwise the meat is too lean and the flavor too strong.

Even so, prior to cooking, the local meat has a faint gamey odor — by no means unpleasant, just a little reminder that yes, this was once an animal. We’ve tried the steaks and the ground beef and they’re a huge hit, especially among the kids, who spout their anti-feedlot doctrine at every opportunity.

Martin did register one request: “Can you not use the word ‘gamey’? It kind of freaks me out.’

Duly noted…

…now I use the word gamey as much as possible.


Burger, anyone? Just don’t use the G-word.

Taste Test



Our milk tastes better.”

For years that’s been my mantra. I’ve touted the local dairy’s milk, which is delivered in glass bottles to our house. It’s better than store-bought milk — creamier and pure in taste. If nothing else, grocery store milk is condemned by the plastic jug that taints smell and taste.

But I think that there’s more to it. I think the local stuff is smooth and silky. (If you’re wondering, it’s not a pasteurization issue.) And the local milk seems thicker when the kids spill it; it spreads slower than grocery store milk. (Unfortunately, opportunities to observe spill rates abound…)

Yet, while I’ve trumpeted the superiority of local cows and their output, I’ve wondered if there’s truth to what I say.

Like everyone I like the idea of local products. Local means fresh, wholesome… fewer chemicals, hormones and other sketchy stuff. So it’s better tasting, right?

Last week I decided to test my theory, with milk and farm-fresh eggs.

I needed volunteers for my study. As luck would have it, Cayden and Hadley were psyched to assist. But like any participants, they were biased: local is good, store-bought is bad… Go local milk! 

This would have to be a blind test.



The good stuff


For my study, I chose 2% milk. I thought it would be tougher to discern between local and mass-produced.

And this would be just a taste test; I wasn’t ready to spill milk and measure spread, in the interest of science.

So I poured same-sized samples of each product into identical glasses. Then I summoned my volunteers.

Cayden and Hadley slugged back their glasses.

Immediately, they correctly identified the local milk and store-bought products. When I retested them — secretly swapping the glasses and altering the order in which they tasted them —

— they answered correctly.

In typical kid fashion, they couldn’t describe the differences. But they were emphatic in their views.

“This one tastes better,” Cayden said, gesturing to one glass, “and that one,” he said with disdain, “that one, is store-bought.”

So they nailed the milk taste test.


But I didn’t expect the same results with the eggs.

Certainly, local eggs look fluffier when they are cooked. And the visual difference is a no-brainer: farm-fresh egg yolks are rich in color. More orange than yellow.

But I’ve read articles and internet reports which suggest that the flavor difference between farm-fresh and grocery-store eggs is negligible. 

So I didn’t expect much. A day after the milk test, we held the egg showdown.

To avoid skewing results, I scrambled the eggs in two separate frying pans. I even used separate spatulas. (This was scientific, dammit.)

I scrambled each egg sample at the same heat level, for the same amount of time. This required serious ambidexterity.



The farm-fresh egg, 5 seconds in the pan




The grocery store egg, at the same moment.


For this taste test, the kids closed their eyes… to guarantee impartiality.

As they sampled the eggs, I read their expressions.

They were uncertain.

“Um… this one?” Hadley asked, after chewing. “Is this the store-bought egg?”

They both guessed incorrectly.

Cayden and Had were disappointed when I delivered the results. And there wasn’t much point in repeating the test. It was purely a guessing game.

When they left the table, I sampled the two plates, knowing full well the origin of each egg. It was hard to tell them apart, especially after chewing a few times. But there was a vague, discernible difference in the grocery store egg. A mild distaste… the faint smack that reminded me of a heap of scrambled mound, scooped from a buffet breakfast at a middling chain hotel.


… and maybe I just wanted it to taste that way.






Our 5-year-old daughter Hadley believes in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. And God.

It’s the last one who rocked me back on my heels.

In this house Santa and his brethren benefit from a hearty promotional blitz. We make every effort to substantiate the existence of chocolate-toting bunnies.

God, however, does not prosper from the same PR boost. He isn’t mentioned in casual conversation and our church attendance is woeful. Every Christmas Eve as we exit the evening service, our church pastor smiles warmly and tells the kids, “My, you’ve grown so much since I saw you last year….” 

A few times my mom’s shuttled the kids to Sunday school. But overall, we’re once-a-year-attendees.

So I was astonished when one day Hadley declared, “I believe in God.”

What? You believe in God?

I didn’t realize that she’d even heard of Him. (Or Her, depending on your belief.)

“I pray to God,” Hadley added.

“Really? You pray to God?”


“Like when?” I asked, a little accusingly. “When do you pray to God?”

“Well, like the other night when Brynn woke up in the middle of the night and wanted a bottle. And you and Dad wouldn’t get it for her.”

I remembered the night. It was 2 am and I told Brynn to go back to sleep.

“Well,” said Hadley, “I got the empty bottle out of Brynn’s crib. And then I prayed to God, ‘Please let there be milk in the door of the fridge where I can get it.’ And I opened the fridge… and God answered my prayers.”

I didn’t know what to say. After a beat, I thought about popping her balloon. I could’ve pointed out that the local dairy — not a higher deity — deserved credit. God didn’t answer her prayers. It was the milkman who delivers three gallons every Friday morning.

But I didn’t say a word.

I let God take the credit.