Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lessons learned from the meat science lab

Isn't it funny how memories of your childhood never leave you?  Between me and my brother, Jeff, we just don't forget things that happened many years ago. In fact, my parents are amazed at some of the things we bring up when we are able to get together. My short term memory is not like it used to be (I blame information overload and social media on that one), but my long term memory is...well...incredible!

Those farm kid memories have often come in handy when I address others on how things have changed in the agriculture industry. I reminisce a lot about my responsibilities on the farm as a young person, and I have some pretty good tales about my days in the College of Agriculture at Ohio State, too. Like the time we toured a meat processing facility in Columbus as part of my 500-level meat cutting class. What do I remember most from that tour? I remember how skilled the workers were at cutting meat and how they processed every part of an animal to benefit us. It was amazing!

The Little Food Science Guy
Animal Science Building, The Ohio State University.
I also remember the little guy who was majoring in Food Science that had a hard time getting over the sound of bones cracking when we would be working on carcasses. He was just a little fellow and he always stood in the back of the class when a demonstration was taking place. As the class would start watching the instructor demonstrate how to cut a particular section of carcass (beef, in most cases), it wasn't too uncommon to hear a "bang" and then a "boom!" This usually meant we lost the little food science guy.

Like clock work, the little food science guy would be out cold on the floor with his knives strewn close by him. At first we were shocked and feared for his safety because we thought he had a medical condition. But as time went on, we soon realized what was up. He was just weak-kneed over certain sounds. We actually started taking verbal bets as to how long it would take for him to pass out in the next class. Poor little fellow.  We all thought he'd never be able to pass the class, which to my understanding was required for his major.  But our great meat instructor had a tactful plan to fix that habit!

Processing Demo Day
There is no other way to get really great training than doing something hands on.  And when it came time to learn every aspect of properly preparing an animal for processing, processing demo day was it. And like most of my fellow classmates, it also meant you didn't know what to expect. You had to react quickly. You see, our instructor didn't preselect who would be doing the different roles on processing demo day. He'd just point and say, "Do it now!"

It was nerve racking, to say the least. But honestly, looking back it was the best way to learn. It was also on processing demo day that we feared for the little food science guy. Nothing would be worse than to see him pass out in the processing area.   

The Test of Endurance
It was 5:30 a.m. in the morning when all the students gathered in the meat lab to prepare for processing demo day. The instructor told us we would be putting down an older heifer and went over each procedure we would experience that morning. While we were excited to learn the processes, we also feared where he'd place us for our specific job. Nobody wanted the sticking job. Period. Mostly because we didn't want to screw up. But who we really feared for was the little food science guy.

As the processing started, the instructor went around the room pointing one by one to individuals to start doing certain procedures. Then, he turned to the little food science guy and said, " are doing the sticking...step right here and hurry....NOW!"

We all stood in silence as we watched, waiting in fear that this was it -- that the little food science guy was done for sure.

Behold how wrong we were! After quickly taking the sticking tool from the instructor, he did a picture-perfect procedure that would make any butcher proud. We all breathed a sigh of relief. But the most exciting part was that on this day he broke his fainting habit for good. (Well, at least in the meat lab!)  And I am happy to say, he passed the class with success.

This class was one of the hardest but most rewarding classes I ever took at Ohio State. It taught me a great appreciation for food animals and what they provide for us. We not only learned how to process animals the way they should be processed, but we also learned a lesson in facing the fear of the unknown. The little food science guy sure did! It was a class I'll never forget.   

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