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Time to Grow

Written by Dennis Sun
    I’ve always thought that everyone who raises beef, lamb or pork should visit a packinghouse or some kind of a food processing facility. Anyone who has made such a trip will tell you the experience will stick with you. I’ve always thought of the packinghouses as the “middlemen of the meat chain.” Producers like those of us in Wyoming are “ground zero,” or the first and most important link in the chain.
    Good producers in modern America have to look at the whole picture, starting with genetics and stretching through to consumer trends and to what the public wants on their dinner table each evening. The consumer controls the entire meat industry, including those of us in Wyoming. That’s difficult when you take into consideration that they quite often know very little about where their meat comes from or how it arrives on their dinner plate. Most really don’t care about the details, but look for confidence as it relates to health, safety, nutrition, taste and environmental health.
    Meat is taking a hit in the consumer world as of late. It’s largely a result of “hatchet journalism.” As we have all read, both locally and nationally, meat products have been reported as “non-environmentally friendly.” Meat’s safety and health benefits have also been called into question. It’s ironic to think that just a few years ago our products were earning the endorsement of doctors advising their patients in weight loss. The combined public does have a short memory, don’t they? It’s amazing the wide swings on which public opinion can take us. That same food activist who points their finger at the industry goes home and asks, “How would you like your hamburger prepared? Anyone for rare?”
     The latest trend in journalism, as we all see on cable news and through other avenues, is “point of view journalism.” It is a popular form of reporting and legitimate, too. Some journalists, however, are lazy and go to the extent of bashing their subject without investigating the truth. Others use their personal biases as reason enough to report untruths. In reading about “point of view journalism,” it is still essential to state that others disagree or that evidence points to a different conclusion. As one editor said in an editorial “it keeps the writer honest and the story fair, and encourages further discussion, which is every journalist’s ultimate goal.”
    The latest recession has changed the consumer’s eating habits, specifically as it relates to the frequency and location of dining out. Casual dining is in, as is dining at some fast food restaurants. Fast food is acceptable only if it is low in calories. Is that possible? Angus and Wagyu beef are popular due to some great marketing from the industry. They are saying the newest trend is “fast casual,” while steakhouses and seafood restaurants fall behind in popularity.
    Hamburgers remain “king” with 95 percent of consumers enjoying a good burger. One out of three is willing to pay more for a premium burger, but most still prefer a basic burger. Over 75 percent ranked the quality of the meat as first or second most important attribute in their burger selection.
    Quality is where producers from our region come in — we can assure the premium quality the consumer wants while maintaining their trust.
Dennis