Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cows, Waterbeds, and Bovine Sleeping Habits

Update Feb. 2016: What Do Cows Want?
This rancher says “grass fed” and “pastured” are buzz words consumers want to hear, but he contends that animals perceive them differently at times.

Nightwalkers with Hooves

One night when I was seventeen, I woke up on the front lawn, a kaleidoscope of stars overhead, a light summer breeze keeping the dew off the grass, and me in my sleeping bag—that is, me along with a small herd of cattle wandering around in the dark, near enough so I could see that crazed gleam of freedom in their eyes. I occasionally slept under the stars, and our feedlot cattle occasionally did jail breaks, but the two occurrences had never coincided before, so this had me panicked. My dad and brothers probably helped me herd them back in, and I imagine I finished the night inside where I was less likely to get stomped by hooves while sleeping—although my younger brothers had their moments as stampeders. 
Happy Cow on Waterbed
Even back when I lived on the farm, I didn’t give much thought to the sleeping habits of cows. I’d see them in that classic position with legs tucked under and cuds a chewin’, or they might stand still in the fields looking as if they were waiting for someone to tip them over. Grass, straw, or mud in the feedlot seemed to work just fine for them. I did pay attention to our old Guernsey milk cow’s sleeping cycle because you couldn’t milk her if she was asleep; but aside from those twenty minutes twice a day, we let her find the freshest bedding so she could dream what it would be like to live without teenage boys tugging at her udder.

Get Your Cow a Waterbed

Now I read about farmers in Ohio who provide waterbeds for their milk cows.  And wouldn’t you know it, they rationalize it enough to make me think that maybe it’s a good idea. They reckon that healthy, happy cows turn out more milk of a higher quality. The owners of the farm doled out $70,000 to rig up waterbed stations for 240 cows, but they think they will recoup their costs in three years.
Apparently, cows in 18 countries enjoy the comforts of waterbeds; the trend began in Europe 15 or 20 years ago. I can picture a French Holstein lying back on the bed, cigarette holder in one hoof, a glass of white wine on the nearby three-legged stool, a copy of Le Monde opened to the funny pages. The Ohio farmers laugh at the good-natured ribbing they’ve received, but they swear that comfortable, content cows make them more money. Happy cows equal happy farmers.
So now I realize why our cattle went walkabout so often: They were just looking for a better place to get a good night’s sleep.  by dan gogerty  (photo:  

Click here to view a video that includes interviews with the farmer and a happy cow.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Please Deliver Burgers, Sushi, and Sweet Potatoes; Hold the Embalming Fluid

Updates--August 2013:  

This article looks at the possibilities of 3-D printing that could create a steak in the future. It also examines "breathable" supplements and foods—inhalable caffeine is already on the market. 

Two big restaurant delivery websites will provide diners in 500 cities the convenience of ordering from thousands of restaurants with just a few clicks on their computer. 

Speaking of delivery services...

Burgers, Sushi, and Pizza?  Fine. Hold the Anchovies and Embalming Fluid 
So, Burger King will now deliver.  I’d be a bit worried that the creepy-looking, oversized king in their old ads would come to my door, but I can see how this tactic might gain them some business. Nobody wants to peel themselves from the couch while watching The Biggest Loser to go all the way to the nearest fastfood establishment if they can pay two dollars extra to have burgers and fries delivered like room service.
BK might be the first burger company in the United States to deliver, but apparently, similar fastfood chains have been doing so in other countries for years. I can’t say for sure; I’m not much of a burger aficionado. But I do know from first-hand experience that food deliveries in some countries have been way beyond the pizza stage for decades.
Yakiimo--sweet potato--delivery truck.
When we lived in Japan during parts of the 1980s and 90s, a hungry apartment dweller could order just about anything—assuming his sketchy Japanese language skills didn’t let him down: Obento box lunches, teishoku meals of the day from a local noodle shop, sushi and sashimi from the fish master who regularly went to the famous Tokyo fish market. Men in rubber boots and white shop coats would zip around town with a spill-free, shock absorbent carrying device on the back of their 150 cc motorcycles. Service was quick, efficient, and here’s the kicker: no tipping in Japan. Ramen shop owners would even leave the soup bowls and pick them up later. We were spoiled.
Pizza delivery started claiming its share of the turf during that era in Japan, but a few of the truly traditional delivery services were also still making the rounds.  We could hear the single, high-pitched note of the tofu man’s horn as he pushed his cart down our neighborhood streets every afternoon.  And during cold months in Tokyo, the yakiimo—sweet potato—truck would pass by. A recorded chant would blare from a speaker on top of the truck’s cab, and in the bed of the vehicle, a cast iron wood burner would leave a vapor trail of thin white smoke and the aroma of rich, starchy potatoes. The glow from the fire in the back of the truck seemed like a comforting hearth moving through the neighborhood.
Back to the present, and back to the United States. We’ll see if the Burger King delivery gambit works. I doubt if we could call in an order from the Midwest farm where my folks still live. It’s four miles from the nearest town, a metropolis of 511 people.  But now I think of it, the small farming town was way ahead of the game. In the 1970s, we could order a pizza and Fred would bring it out. His wife ran a little pizza joint on Main Street, and Fred was the town funeral director.  I don’t recall that he ever used the hearse for deliveries—just for pick ups. It was fine pizza, and the funeral home has a good reputation, but I don’t think the marketing angle ever caught on. Hard to entice eaters when your company delivers pizza and picks up the deceased.  
By Dan Gogerty  (photo from

Friday, January 13, 2012

What Would Make You McHappy?

May 2014:  Toy, Yogurt, or Book? Hmm....

General Mills has struck a deal with McDonald’s to supply the fast-food giant with an exclusive Yoplait Go-GURT yogurt product for its Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals in the United States.

October 2013:  An advocacy group is criticizing McDonald's announcement that it will include books in its Happy Meals to promote literacy. The fast food chain also announces it will provide more than 20 million books to families in the U.S. and give 100,000 additional books to the literacy non-profit Reading is Fundamental. McDonald's has been aggressively trying to improve its menu offerings and image, announcing last month it would offer more fruits and vegetables.

You Want Fries with That Book? (earlier post from 2012)

According to a report in the Huffington Post online, McDonald’s will provide a book rather than a toy with Happy Meals served in England. The Brits are such literary show-offs.  A bit of Shakespeare, maybe? “But soft, what book through yonder burger and fries beckons?”
Apparently, the chosen text will be Mudpuddle Farm, a charming children’s selection written by Michael Morpurgo. Sounds good, and it might alleviate the bad taste left by the Happy Meal struggle in San Francisco where city officials banned the toys altogether.  A few critics in England still aren’t “happy.”  They complain that it promotes fast-food childhood obesity, but general reaction seems positive.
The booklet apparently comes with a finger puppet, so it’s probably best that George Orwell’s Animal Farm wasn’t chosen.  Napolean the dictatorial pig would not be much of a role model for the kids. They probably will also avoid a cow finger puppet. Might be tough explaining to your imaginary finger friend why you’re eating its cousin.
But many will look at this as a public relations victory for McDonald’s.  This goes along with their new ad campaign that praises the ethical, hard-working ranchers and farmers who provide beef and other products for the corporation. It’s slick—kinda makes you feel as if Lonesome Dove Duvall took time off his cattle round-up to serve you a freshly grilled burger.  The public media drive must be working: McDonald’s recently announced thousands of new job hirings.
I’m not much of a McFoodie, but I’ll leave it to others to decide about their eating choices.  I am a big proponent of reading, so who knows—maybe this will start a trend.  I can envision all fast-food restaurants providing books for kids.  Sounds good as long as the reverse doesn’t happen.  I’d hate to see a child check a book out and the librarian ask, “You want fries with that?”  by dan gogerty (photo right from cherylbooks.wordpress; photo left from businessinsider)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Talking Turkey: Feathers, Proselytizing, and Hidden Videos

     I grew up on a pig and cattle farm, and the few chickens in the shed did not make us a poultry business. Because we ended our small egg-laying operation before I was out of elementary school, my images are few: walking into the haze, dust, and floating feathers to collect warm eggs from the nests; watching dad rig up patchwork fencing to keep chickens in and foxes out; fearing and anticipating the typical butchering day with chopping block, headless birds, and smelly steamed feathers.
     One other disclosure before delving into the new video controversy: Even though I hired out for farm work on several neighbor farms, I never had the joy of working at one of the numerous large turkey operations in our part of the state.  The closest I came was one evening when a carload of us high school age American Graffiti wannabees were driving the gravel roads, and we stopped along a large pen where hundreds of turkeys were enjoying the night air. We found that if you pitch your voice just right and start chattering nonsense like a B-grade televangelist, the turkeys would gather and gobble along like an adoring audience. We were tempted to pass the hat and ask them for money.
     Aside from what appears at Thanksgiving feasts and in footlong Subway sandwiches, I don’t see turkeys close up, so the recent video spread by an activist group is attention-grabbing. Is is fair?  Every time one of these pig/chicken/turkey undercover clips surfaces, charges are leveled at both sides: the food producers are accused of animal abuse and the activists are accused of sensationalizing isolated situations for financial reasons. These two links give a sense of the issue:
      I imagine an objective consumer could spend many hours researching the issue, but some things seem to be common sense: Farmers I know want to treat their animals well. Those who don’t should face consequences. Consumers should demand safe products from ethical producers. From what I see, that’s what most in the food industry strive for too.  
      But the key issue here might be something a bit different: some groups do not want any animals to be used as products at all. On one hand, that view would have saved me a lot of manure pitching on dad’s farm, but I just can’t see the world abandoning animal agriculture, so maybe all sides could work together to make it as safe and ethical as possible. by dan gogerty