The Food We Eat Part II–My Education and Resources

I shared with you last week in Part I my background of growing up on a farm and ranch. That obviously had a huge influence on my values and opinions.

This week, I want to tell you a little more about how my education has formed who I am and what I believe. I will also share with you a couple of key events that helped shape my current way of thinking when it comes to agricultural issues.

College

In undergrad, I had to take the most dreaded class EVER—statistics. To this day, I shudder when I think back on it. I mean, I love math, but for some reason it was just a ridiculously hard class for me. However, I did manage to learn and retain a few key things.

Statistics is basically a math and science class that deals with teaching you how numerical facts (data) is collected, classified, and analyzed, and then showing you the different ways that data can be interpreted.

This is useful, because in today’s world where vast information is literally at our fingertips, you have to be able to sort through the bullshit given info. For example, you know how sometimes you can read two different newspapers that are both reporting on the same hot topic of the moment? But after reading each article you are confused because even though they may have had the same studies or data to report on, they may have reported it differently.

If you have an understanding of statistics you can look at that data that the newspapers were using to report their story and be able to critically analyze and draw your own conclusions from the data. That is useful in all walks of life, not just agriculture.

Similarly, in grad school I had to take an equally fun class called Research Methods. At the time, I didn’t understand the value it would have—in my career OR just in my life in general.

If you don’t already know—I am kind of a nerd. I actually enjoy reading not just the Diagnostic Medical Sonography journals that I subscribe to, but medical journals, new research about breastfeeding, nutrition, fitness, and lately, even economics. Which is a whole other subject I used to find completely mind-numbing but am now trying to teach myself.

Anyway, research methods class. Useful education came in the form of being able to read a study and know how valid the results may be. It taught me about different research designs, the methods used, the methods of how they collected the data, sampling and sample sizes, the ethics of the study, it’s validity and reliability, and importantly—if the research was unbiased or not.

Also, it taught me an important lesson on how the media reports on the results of studies. It’s important to be critical sometimes—for instance, a TV station may report that “An overwhelming majority of Americans believe x, y, z.” When you get your hands on the data, the study reported “51% of Americans believe x, y, z.” So while the media did not lie, they didn’t tell the whole truth.

That was a simple example, but how about a study showing that “this diet pill proved to have this effect of 99% of the research subjects.” When you read the study, the sample size was only 50 patients. So a good study? Not really. It would need to be reproduced on a much larger population or sample size for the hypothesis to hold water.

MBA

Last week I told you about the Master’s of Beef Advocacy (MBA) online class that I completed. Despite growing up on a farm and ranch, I still learned A LOT over the course of the class. This really allowed me to reason that if I learned a lot, imagine the position of the average consumer (because I know that 98% of the American population has little or no direct connection to production agriculture) and what I could help you learn.

For example, my parents’ cattle are grain-finished (meaning after their first few months of only their mother’s milk and grazing on green grass, they are supplemented with hay, corn, and other grains along with their yummy green grass), as are the cattle at the Gasseling farm and ranch. It was enlightening for me to learn about the method of grass-finishing beef (meaning they only get their mother’s milk and grass for the first few months of life and then only grass) since I was not very familiar with it.

The same goes for the wealth of knowledge provided about feeders and backgrounders, feedyards, and packing plants. When you have never spent much time off your own farm and ranch, it’s easy to become closed-minded about all the other techniques and methods of raising beef.

This led me to applying for–and being accepted–into the Top of The Class program to further my knowledge and my ability to bridge the gap between farmers and ranchers like myself, and the consumer like you.

Top of The Class

This two-day, intense, in-depth class took place in Denver at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Headquarters . I will admit, this was an organization I had heard of, but never really understood just exactly what they did. Let me tell you, I was SO surprised to see what all goes down here!

Food

Can I just tell you first—the food that was served over the course of my two days there was phenomenal! If I had known prior to my trip that this was where the “Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner” test kitchen  was located I would have known I could expect the absolute best meals featuring beef.

I digress, but this does bring me to one of my favorite parts of the two days—I got to practice a “live” TV food demo. Which I LOVED, because you all know I enjoy showing you my recipes and how I meal prep—but guys, I sucked at this. Mainly because we were supposed to keep it between 3-5 minutes and I kept talking too much! Imagine that….but the recipe we demonstrated is one of my family’s new favorites—Crispy Cuban Shredded Beef .

If you guys want to check out more amazing recipes that the test kitchen has perfected, head here.

Nutrition

Ok, so besides EATING amazing food and COOKING amazing food, I also got to sit in on a session with a Registered Dietician who works at the NCBA, along with meeting a couple of others. It was kind of a Beef Nutrition 101 class, if you will. And you all KNOW my inner nutrition nerd soaked up EVERY word.

You may think that my background or my current position as a ranch-wife gives me a certain bias towards beef as a key food in my nutritious diet. But I have LONG loved all things related to steak or a great grilled burger. And in my college years when I became more active and started running half marathons and paying closer attention to my nutrition and how it related to my performance—I soon realized the value of nutrient-dense foods like beef. You can read more about why I include beef in my healthy diet HERE.

So, I enjoyed getting more in-debth knowledge about beef as a foundational food for good health. Along with the presentation, I was given excellent resources to more nutrition research studies (I told you I was a nerd).

A couple of my favorite interesting facts: Did you know that thanks to increased trimming practices by butchers, the external fat in retail cuts of beef has decreased by 80 percent in the last 20 years? This means that a sirloin steak for example now contains 34 percent less fat than it did 50 years ago.

Secondly, beef gets a bad rap for fat content. But did you know that 10 percent or less of saturated fat and total fat in the American diet comes from beef and that beef is actually considered one of the top sources of monounsaturated fat (the same good kind of fat found in olive oil). About half of the fatty acids in beef are monounsaturated fats. Good news, right?

Social Media

Since the main focus of this educational trip was beef advocacy, we also had one-on-one sessions about finding our niche on social media, blogging, and a mock media interview.

This last one was a BEAST. We were told before the trip to choose an agriculture-related topic that interests the consumer and come up with a few questions we would like to answer about said topic. Well, had I known that we were going to be put in training, on camera, one-on-one, with a director of one of the world’s top Public Relations agencies…..let’s just say I would have chosen an easier topic!

It was nerve-wracking to say the least, but I emerged much more confident in how to handle questions from consumers. I also have a new respect for anyone who does TV interviews. It’s hard to keep your cool and stay on track. Check out this interview with a registered dietician—I admire her ability to keep her composure.

The study that she was answering questions about in the short video above actually brings me to another awe-inspiring part of the NCBA headquarters—their social media room and the technology that they have to keep an eye on trending beef or ag-related topics. This could be on Facebook, Twitter, the news—you name it and they have their eye on it. Sometimes they provide intervention before something even becomes an issue. Technology amazes me!

My Fellow Classmates

I promised to introduce you to the other four class participants, because not only were every single one of them awesome to meet, but we all come from different walk of life and have different areas of agriculture or beef that we are experienced in. You might find that you relate to one of them!

The five TOTC participants, plus Anne Burkholder, one of the Keynote speakers.
Lindsay Chichester

I will start with Dr. Lindsay Chichester who currently resides in Nevada and writes “Agricultural with Dr. Lindsay.” She was a fellow Nebraska girl for six years, working at the Extension Education office at UNL, where she focused on livestock, ag, food systems, and 4-H, meaning she got to share her knowledge with adults and kids.

If growing up on a cattle and sheep ranch and her career history isn’t enough experience for you, she also has a Master of Science in Animal Science, a Master of Art in Speech Communications, and a PhD in Systems Agriculture from West Texas A&M University. Whew! What does that mean? It’ mean’s she one of my new go-to persons for any agriculture-related questions.

And it’s what she does on her blog too—addresses consumer questions about agriculture practices, meat selection, cooking, and storage tips, AND—what I love—she shows stories about people who grow and produce our food.

Cassidy Johnston

This girl—she has quickly become one of my tribe. She lives on a large cattle ranch in Colorado, and as you can see in the picture, is due with baby #2 in a few weeks. On her blog “Cow Country Blog” she shares with you the raw hard-work and joy it takes to raise beef in the US while raising a family too.

Cassidy posing with me in front of the conference room doors at the NCBA.

We have bonded over cattle and kids, but her background and education are completely different than mine! While at the University of Colorado at Boulder, she worked on a ranch (where she met her now-husband) and wrote her honors thesis about ranching and environmentalism. She now has a degree in Environmental Studies. That is something I know very little about, but now I have a great source of info for all of my sustainability and environmental impact questions.

Johnny Prime

Remember that I told you that all five of us have wildly different backgrounds? It’s actually what I think is so awesome about the Top Of the Class. We are so diverse and have different “specialties” if you will.

Johnny Prime from “Johnny Prime Steaks” has one of my dream jobs—he is a steakhouse reviewer (and photographer) in New York City. Actually a lawyer by trade, he now has a wildly popular presence on social media, not just from sharing his foodporn, but his website is legitimately funny AND educational. I disliked New York City when I was there as an 18-year-old, but his blog alone has convinced me that another trip back someday would be totally worth it to visit some of the steakhouses he showcases.

He also provides cooking tip and videos, recipes, and tons of meat info. In fact, just trying to write this, I kept getting sidetracked reading about wet-aging steaks vs. dry-aging. He realizes we all can’t eat at steakhouses every day, so he shares his knowledge about cooking great beef dishes at home.

Last but definitely not least, he provides well-written commentary about agricultural issues too. I personally thank him for committing the time to take the MBA class and the TOTC. I appreciate when someone learns about the facts and truth when it comes to agriculture instead of relying on the fear-mongering and lies about our industry that exist.

Kita “Girl Carnivore” Roberts

Another east-coast participant, based out of Deleware, Kita is a self-described city-girl who, until her recent quest for facts about agriculture, had never set foot on a farm or ranch.

She has two blogs, “Girl Carnivore” which I actually stalked quite a bit before meeting her because as a food photographer and blogger, her pictures are mouth-watering. She even develops her own recipes on occasion. She also blogs at “Pass the Sushi” about travel, blogging, and photography.

You can guess from the name of Girl Carnivore that her blog and social media accounts are unique and besides foodporn, you can find recipes for not only amazing beef dishes, but lamb, poultry and pork too! I adore her sassiness and the fact that she breaks through the stereotype of meat being just a “manly” topic. I also admire her for pursuing more knowledge about the background of agriculture and how all of her tasty beef dishes get from farm to table.

In Conclusion

Hopefully I gave you a little more insight into all the things that shape my agricultural views. I am constantly reading, constantly learning, and always open to reading both sides of every story. There’s often more than one right way to do things, and more than one opinion that is valid.

I will never pretend to have all the answers, but as you can see–if you have a question that I am not 100% sure on, I have a great crew of resourceful people and organizations I can turn to.

Thank you for letting me continue to advocate for agriculture, and thank you for continuing to want to learn from a more-reputable source than marketers or advertisers, who may not have your best interest in mind.

I will see you next week for Part III in the Series about The Food We Eat!

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One Reply to “The Food We Eat Part II–My Education and Resources”

  1. […] Part I, and how I have now moved from city-life for 12 years back to my husband’s family farm. In Part II I shared with you a few more key experiences that have shaped my […]

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