Photo Credit: Lara Ferroni101 of you answered my question about how much beef you consume. You may be wondering why I was inquiring. Let's leave that for a moment and first check my study design and its inherent flaws.
I'm going to have to channel my college self here. Walk with me through memory lane as I plumb the depths of my past to find 20 year old me sitting in a Statistics class. It's 1991. My professor's nose is pinched, a thick mop of black hair hangs down threatening to de-throne his very round John Lennon spectacles. I'm sure I'm wearing flannel or at least thinking about wearing flannel real, real soon. I'm listening to the Indigo Girls on my bright yellow Sony Walkman, playing college basketball and wondering why I can't seem to get a date with a guy.
I'm a sociology major at a liberal arts college. I think it's fabulous and fascinating that I'm majoring in a science that studies people and groups. Despite this, I'm completely clueless about myself. I minored in English and Political Science, which means I'm now college-qualified to write a blog on how awful our past presidential equivalent was. But now's not the time for that.
I remember a few things about my statistics class; I'm getting a flashback of my professor saying that sample size is very important. For example, having 101 people tell me how many times they eat beef (34% report 1-2 a week) is probably too small, but what the hell, I'm not publishing this in the Annals of Beefological Inquiry. I remember that you are supposed to randomly select participants. I think just the fact that you read my blog makes you not random. And not random isn't random. Study design Fail, part #2.
My "scientific" inquiry is further confounded by the fact that I bet a representative sample of non-beef eaters probably don't read my sometimes meaty blog (except for Stacia, hi Stacia!) So that sort of skews my responses. Skew was a very important word in statistics. My friends and I would say "doesn't that just skew the bell curve?" every opportunity we got, regardless of context. As in, "doesn't that nasty white tofu on the salad bar skew the bell curve of tasty delights towards jiggly nastiness?" We thought we were oh so smart and sociologically relevant.
Now that you know that the sample size was too small and the results skewed because it wasn't a randomly selected group, do you still think there is any credibility in analyzing the results? Probably not. But back to why I asked you in the first place. Mostly I was just curious. I was wondering how much beef we're all eating, here in these days of E-coli scares, greater education about the treatment of animals in confined feed lot operations, and other health concerns. But I didn't ask you all what kind of beef you were eating and that's a significant question to overlook. All beef is not the same. Big difference between commodity beef and local rancher down the street beef.
I'm working on an article for Edible Seattle that I've been writing for the last few weeks. I had 4 chefs come to my house for a blind steak tasting of local Washington beef. I think many of us can agree that we need to learn more about the origins of our food. When you begin that investigatory process you should be prepared to have your eyes opened, quite wide. We eat a lot of beef in this country, far too much for what we can produce in any kind of humane, ecologically sound manner. Most of us have no earthly idea where our beef comes from.
I conducted a blind beef tasting because if I'm going to limit my intake from my current amount (1-2 times a week) then damn it I want to pick the best tasting, humanely raised beef from a rancher whose name I know. I even want to know the name of the steer.
The article comes out in September so stay tuned for more amazing photos from Lara Ferroni and the results of the tasting. A recent steak tasting I attended with the passionate Carrie Oliver of the Artisan Beef Institute was with the ranchers themselves, most of whom had never tasted their own steaks as compared to others. It was a fascinating experience. On the one hand you had the wine goddess, schooled in vigorous weekly wine tasting sessions (as she prepares to take the Advanced Sommelier Exam in October) saying she's getting flavor notes of fish, corn nuts, hay, earth and mushroom from the steak; on the other, you had the ranchers saying, "gee, it tastes like a steak to me!" Still, the ranchers did have ones that they favored more than others and it was a learning experience for all of us.
One stood out above all others to me, it fired on all fronts. On Saturday for the first time ever, April and I are taking a little road trip just south of Olympia to pick up a 1/4 steer. His name was "lil' runt" which is some sort of rancher inside joke because he weighed 800 pounds. It's time that I really walk the talk here. I felt the need to discover the provenance of my beef even if that means knowing his name.