No Meat Left Behind

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Have you ever wondered how a new food product comes about? No? Me neither. I mean, unless it’s something like a chocolate chip pancake wrapped sausage on a stick. Products like that leave me wondering. But typically, if I spot a new product at the grocery store, the only thought that runs through my head is “is that something on my grocery list?” If the answer is no, then I’m gone. If the answer is yes, I’ll pick it up and look at the nutritional information and price. If all looks good, into my basket it goes. The end.

Basically, I’ve never asked myself why someone would offer a particular product or what conversations must have been had about this product leading up to it’s launch. Who does? Okay, okay… unless you work in the food industry. And, even then… maybe you randomly got tossed into the food industry, but you’re really just a photographer? Kinda like me. Even then you don’t think about these things. At least, I don’t.

As a refresher, I am a “creative type”. I’m sure the words “creative type” immediately force some sort of stereotype to the forefront of your thoughts. And, yep! I’m sure that’s me. Overly emotional? Check. Scatterbrained? Check. Dramatic? Check. Insanely awesome? Check. Enough about me.

So, when I’m asked to photograph the happenings at Pederson’s Natural Farms, I pretty much just look at it as work. It’s a job to be completed. I mean, I’m photographing people making bacon. It’s a process. Period. I kind of relate photography for Pederson’s to a college speech class. (Just stay with me here.) There are four main types of speeches, right? One of which is the demonstrative or instructional speech. No one really gets hyped up about the demonstrative speech day in speech class because… well… it’s not all that exciting. It is what it is. Step by step. The idea of going to Pederson’s to photograph production generates the same feeling that I have about demonstrative speech day. Meh. It’s okay but definitely not thrilling. (Aren’t my metaphors top notch?)

Anyway, let me lay a little bit of ground work here other than the ground work I’ve already laid. That stuff was all about me. Ha! The ground work coming up is the pertinent stuff. This is the short version: Pederson’s Natural Farms is now providing a line of fresh beef products exclusively to Whole Foods Market stores nationwide. Pederson’s processes and packages the beef products, which are designed to utilize the whole animal, and customers can now find them at Whole Foods Market stores.

How or why did this come about? Whole Foods Market is continuously looking for ways to promote environmental stewardship and reduce waste. That said, it goes without question that Whole Foods Market seeks to utilize the entire beef in a fashion that supports and aligns with their core values. Let’s face it… all beef cannot be a ribeye or t-bone. Bummer. So, what to do with the more obscure cuts? Prior to now, these cuts were most often used for ground beef.

Side note: Upon high school graduation, when you’re asked where you see yourself in 15 years, I never ever, ever, ever would have imagined that I’d find myself talking about cuts of meat. This is just nearly a foreign language to me. Ha!

So, those in the food industry know that these cuts of meat can fulfill a higher calling than ground beef. The problem, however, is that the average folk (me!) have NO idea what to do with something called chuck pectorals. Listen… I have an idea of what part of the cow this is but only because I work out. See? How in the world am I going to know what to do with that?

The goal, then, is to offer the highest quality natural beef in economical cuts other than ground beef. These fresh beef products must be easy to cook, insanely delicious, and impossible to mess up. The results of making this happen? Expanded value options for consumers, reduced waste across the board from production to consumption, and a delicious meal.

Prior to being approached by Whole Foods Market, Pederson’s had hoped to begin producing a preseasoned, fresh meat line. Thus, the Pederson’s research and development team had already been diligently working on concocting and perfecting several superb dry rubs. What the average folk (me, until recently) may not know about Pederson’s Natural Farms is that they’ve got some serious expertise and some seriously distinguished palates responsible for creating their flavors.

So, when Whole Foods communicated their ideas to Pederson’s, Pederson’s was able to hit the ground running lickity split. Thus, this new product development process has moved along rather quickly. We’ll skim over the early parts of the process. Basically, the dry rub flavors were selected and perfected. The particular cuts to be offered were settled upon. The label design was concepted, created, and approved. What’s to be done next?

You guessed it! It’s demonstrative speech day! (You probably didn’t guess that.) It’s time to focus on the step by step. Keeping the goals in mind, how is this going to be prepared and packaged? In other words, how exactly are the Pederson’s team members going to be cutting this meat? How thick? How much dry rub will be used? How much will go in to each package? Thus, a date was scheduled for a team of Whole Foods Market meat experts led by Becky Faudree, Associate Global Meat Coordinator, to spend the day in Hamilton, Texas, at the Pederson’s Natural Farms Plant.

And, this is where I enter the equation. I’m supposed to be there to photograph this party. “Pay attention,” I’m told, “to what’s being said so you can write about it later.”

So, I’m thinking not only do I have to photograph a demonstrative speech, but I will then have to write a demonstrative speech, too? But, alas! It turned out to be WAY more fun than a demonstrative speech! What ensued in that meat production plant on that day intrigued me, educated me, and solidified and grew my respect for both Whole Foods Market and Pederson’s Natural Farms.

As we all (probably around 20 of us) gathered into the refrigerator a perfectly climate controlled area of the plant dedicated (that day) to cutting beef, they wasted no time getting down to the nitty gritty. There before us, on a chilled stainless steel cutting station, sat pounds upon pounds of fresh chuck pectoral. The first decision to be made? Should the pectoral be cut into several smaller pieces or left in one big piece? Immediately (and quite honestly, surprisingly to me), the conversation turned to the consumer. What would be easiest for the consumer to handle, to cook? After much discussion, it was decided that one large piece would be best. After all, a larger piece is easier to grill.

Now that the basic decision has been made on the size, it’s time to discuss the actual method of trimming and cutting the beef. Keeping in mind that Pederson’s is famous for bacon, cutting beef is a new experience for the plant team. They’ve certainly mastered working with a pork belly, but pork belly and beef pectoral are two very different beasts.

Cutting meat is an art. I’m serious. You don’t just start taking a knife to it and think everything’s going to be okay. And, that is an art in which I am not proficient… or even a novice. I, along with the Pederson’s plant team, learned a few things about cutting meat that day. The Whole Foods folks demonstrated the best way to trim the meat and cut it into the correct size for packaging. What stuck out to me most during that conversation was when one of the Whole Foods meat experts mentioned that the meat should be cut across the grain. Yes, we’ve all heard that, haven’t we? But, what I never in a billion years would have thought about is that if it is cut across the grain in production, the consumer will naturally follow the same line when cutting the beef after it’s cooked. So, even if you’ve never been told to cut meat across the grain to make it more tender, those things have been thought about FOR you.

Simple things in life please me, I suppose. I realize that this is not earth shattering information. However, the fact that these companies are thinking about you or me throughout every step of the process… that impresses me. The following statement is quoted directly from Whole Foods Market’s core values:

“Our customers are the most important stakeholder in our business. Therefore, we go to extraordinary lengths to satisfy and delight our customers.”

A lot of companies say things like that. Sometimes, though, I’m left feeling like they’re just blowing smoke up my skirt or, in this case, up my hair net. So, when a company is behind closed doors, and every word that is spoken and each decision made aligns with those values? I call that integrity, and there is no quality that earns my respect or loyalty faster.

And, that was just the beginning. In talking about trimming the meat, there was a lot of discussion about necessary fat versus excessive fat. You’ll be pleased to know that you won’t be paying for excess fat when you buy these fresh beef products. Sometimes when I buy things like… oh… boneless, skinless chicken breasts, I feel like I’m paying far more than I should seeing as I have to trim off all sorts of yuckiness before it’s edible. Not the case with Whole Foods and Pederson’s.

Moving on to other things that impressed me. Here is another statement taken directly from Whole Foods Market’s core values:

“We see the necessity of active environmental stewardship so that the earth continues to flourish for generations to come.”

A big part of that for them is waste reduction. So, take a look at this chuck pectoral:

See that perfectly good piece of meat hanging off the side there? Well, that piece of meat needed to be cut off to align with the standards decided upon for the beef chuck pectorals. But listen… the Whole Foods Market meat expert that was handling that particular piece of meat was not about to cut it off until he knew what would be done with it. “If I cut this off, what’s going to be done with it?” he asked. And, ultimately, it will be used in another fresh beef product in this line: Grillers. It’s called the “No Meat Left Behind Initiative.” Okay… it’s not really. I made that up. Ha!

Really, though, I was impressed. This line of products has been well thought out. These folks know what they’re doing! Remember the goals above? Accomplished! They’ve definitely expanded the value options for consumers. Rather than all of this meat being turned into ground beef, we’ve now got some other beef options that are not steak and not an enormous cut like a brisket.

Which brings me to the second goal. Waste reduction. Here’s what I think is SUPER cool about this fresh beef project. All of this beef is being used in production, yes. No doubt. But, what impresses me about Whole Foods Market and Pederson’s is that they sought out ways to reduce waste on the consumer side, as well. Say you’re a family of four, and you’d like to have some brisket. Typically, your options would be to go buy the quantity you need already prepared, or you could buy an enormous $30 brisket that could feed your family of four for a year. So, you’ve spent more than is necessary, and you’ve got tons of leftovers. And, I don’t know about you, but if I’ve got a TON of something left over, I may eat it once or twice, but I’m over it after that. It’s waste. This fresh beef chuck pectoral is really very similar to a brisket. (I didn’t know that. I was taught that. And, a taste test confirms. Ha!) The biggest difference? It’s sized perfectly for a family. Clever.

The third goal mentioned above? It must be easy to cook, insanely delicious, and impossible to mess up. I can attest to the insanely delicious part. It’s insanely delicious in part because it’s already perfectly seasoned for you. I need that. I do okay if I’m sticking with good ol’ standbys like salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc. But, when I want something a bit more flavorful, a bit more impressive? Eh. I tend to either overdo it or underdo it with the seasonings. With this, I don’t even have to bother. Yes!

I think I can do this, y’all! I think I can cook up one of these pectorals and be the talk of the house… at least for that one night. This “just another demonstrative speech work day” turned out to be pretty awesome. I left with some serious enthusiasm and passion about Whole Foods Market, Pederson’s Natural Farms, and fresh chuck pectorals. Who would have guessed? A big ol’ high five goes to Whole Foods Market and Pederson’s Natural Farms for developing this awesome line of fresh beef products!

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