Montana beef educator works with students to teach and engage consumersWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Buffalo – Suze Bohleen is the chairperson for the Montana CattleWomen Beef Education for grades seven through 12. She spoke in Buffalo on Jan. 24 at the Women’s Ag Summit about how to engage consumers in the beef conversation.
“I married a Montana cowboy and followed him home. Beef is my business,” she said.
Bohleen owns C.R. Bohleen Cattle Co. and is involved in various beef advocacy organizations. She works with home economics and health teachers to bring beef education into schools.
“One of the things we have to remember when we talk about beef is that we have to engage people,” she stated.
She explained that speakers should use “I feel” instead of “you” and that they should ask their audience what they want to know.
“Don’t assume,” she noted.
Referencing Henry David Thoreau, Bohleen commented on the importance of explaining things in a conscientious manner.
“It’s not what we look at that matters. It’s how we see it,” she quoted.
Producers, she continued, want to tell their story and earn trust from consumers by watching how they speak but also by telling the truth.
“We need to tell people about our lives without using words that will come back to haunt us,” she said.
She explained that producers are not an industry – they are a community. They do not have an operation. They work at the ranch or at home.
Short and simple
“We have to personalize our work and our love,” Bohleen explained.
It is also important to keep explanations simple.
“Use short sentences, provide context and don’t use jargon. We want to paint a visual picture,” she noted.
Eighty-seven percent of consumers trust a friend.
“We have to befriend them and show that we are concerned about them,” she commented.
Consumers are concerned about taste, safety, nutrition, consistency and price.
“Beef is expensive,” Bohleen said.
When she goes into schools, she talks to students about ways to make beef more cost effective.
“Consider the price per serving when we look at the package instead of the price of the package,” she suggested.
Packaging can be deceiving when a single cut of meat is more than what would be served on a plate.
“We can buy larger cuts and slice our own,” she continued.
Per pound, the price of beef goes up with the amount of time that the butcher spends cutting it. By doing some of that cutting themselves, consumers can save money.
“Buy family packs,” she commented.
Bohleen uses a vacuum sealer to repackage cuts from larger packages and stores them in the freezer.
“We can hunt for bargains,” she added.
Keeping an eye out for coupons or sales makes it easier to afford beef.
“Ask for help. The butcher is our best source of information because meat is his business,” she stated.
The butcher can help consumers to decide what cuts best fit their needs and their budgets.
Bohleen also spoke about sharing the nutritional value of beef.
“When we are talking about a serving of beef, we are talking about a three ounce serving,” she explained.
She carries a hockey puck or a deck of cards with her when she visits schools as a visual representation of one serving.
“About 39 percent of our daily requirement of iron can be found in a three-ounce serving of beef,” she stated.
Iron deficiency is common throughout the world and is especially prevalent in young women.
“To get the same amount of zinc as in a three ounce serving of lean beef, we would have to have 13.5 three-ounce servings of salmon,” she added.
Beef is considered a complete protein, with 10 essential vitamins and minerals and 10 essential amino acids.
“Beef has ZIP,” she commented, referencing the acronym to remind students that beef contains zinc, iron and protein.
She also mentioned that beef is leaner today than it was 20 years ago.
“Considering total fat, today’s beef is one-third leaner than it was in the 80s,” she said.
Bohleen also discussed preparation and food safety when she goes to the schools.
“If my mother worked and didn’t cook, how was I supposed to know how to cook?” she asked.
She takes her George Forman grill to demonstrate how easy cooking beef can be and tells the students that there are four key words in food safety – clean, separate, cook and chill.
“Don’t cross-contaminate,” she explained.
It is important to keep a clean workspace and to use clean knives and plates when switching from raw to cooked meats.
“Cook to a proper temperature. A safe temperature is 160 degrees for hamburger, so we’ve killed any bacteria,” she continued.
Leftovers should be refrigerated to stay fresh.
Advantages of production
While she demonstrates food preparation, Bohleen uses the opportunity to discuss some of the advantages of beef production.
“Cattle and ruminant animals eat things that we can not,” she said.
This means that cattle can utilize land that would otherwise be unproductive.
“Cows are recyclers,” she added, noting that they eat almond hulls in California and barley in Colorado after it has been used to make beer.
“We are generations away from our lifestyle. We want to share our story and we want to earn trust,” Bohleen said.