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From Farm to Table: Where Our Burgers and Steaks Come From

Most Americans are completely disconnected from the source of their daily sustenance. In the 1950’s, the decade of my birth, 12.6% of the American work force consisted of farmers. In 1900, 38% of American workers worked on a farm. Today, only 2% of American families operate a farm or a ranch. Small family farms have become a relic of a bygone era as major corporations and large acreage farmers dominate farming. Our food supply is increasingly in the hands of multinational corporation who care only about the bottom line. Years ago, a farmer in the church I was pastoring at the time told me that the on-hand American food supply was dwindling, and that it would only take one nationwide crops failure for Americans to find themselves starving. Disconnected from where food really comes from, Americans go to the grocery thinking that there will always be a ready supply of eats.

Ask the average child raised in the city or the suburbs where hamburger comes from and they will likely say the supermarket. Even here in the rural heartland, children are increasingly ignorant about where their food comes from.  Our supply of meat is controlled by a few multinational corporations and large concentrated animal feeding operations (factory farms) These farms hide from public view the horror that goes on behind closed doors. Why is it factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses never offer tours of their facilities? I would think they would want everyone to know where their food comes from.  For most Americans, all it would take is one tour to turn them into vegetarians.

I have spent most of my life in farm country. Though my Dad wasn’t a farmer, we lived in many a farm-house and often visited the farming operations of my Dad’s brother and brother-in-law. At an early age I learned where food came from. Knowing what I know, I have struggled for years with eating meat. Knowing what goes on in factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses, I often find myself sickened by the very thought of eating a burger or streak. Yet, in time, my guilt will assuage and off to Fort Wayne I’ll go with Polly to eat a steak at Texas Roadhouse. This is one area where I deliberately ignore what I know to be true, going against my moral and ethical values. I know what I SHOULD do, but my craving for meat almost always wins the battle between desire and morality.

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    Bruce, you have hit a few posts this week that have taken me down memory lane. Thanks for that. I essentially grew up from the age of 5 until about 14 on a small farm in New England. We had about 150 head of milking cows…so we did not slaughter them for beef…chickens, brooder’s which we did slaughter…horses, we did not eat…and pigs, we did eat. I became familiar with the butchering routine at an early age so it did not bother me. We were also involved in helping our cows give birth to the calves. That made me a bit more squeamish. I do remember one time after we had slaughtered one of the family hogs, that my mother stated she could not eat “Ruthie!” We also hunted deer in the fall so our freezer was always full and we did the butchering ourselves.

    Asia presents a much different place for the purchase of meat. It is typically done at outdoor markets where every part of the cow, pig, chicken…and sadly I have seen dogs for sale in China, but ALL parts are on display. It is an affront to the senses the first time you experience it but after many years of living there, I got used to it. Americans are soooooooo naive and I would say immature on this very practical business. Most Americans can gut a fish or a chicken, but when it comes to the larger animals…somehow that is repugnant! I don’t get it.

    Yes, I do draw the line on Spot and Trigger, although I have had horse meat in the states some years ago. Since I have traveled much of the world, I have learned to eat what is put in front of me. I love camel meat! There is a restaurant in South Africa that is permitted to serve many of the wild game from the preserves there. It is a careful culling of herds and provides some wonderful exotic dishes.

    Anyway my friend, thanks for taking me to another place today.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      You are the well traveled eater. 🙂

      My Dad was a hunter so I started hunting at an early age. By the time I was 12, Dad let me hunt on my own or with friends. Killing, gutting, and eating….that’s the process. We’ve industrialized it, but the process hasn’t changed.

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    It’s good to think about it. I’ve never hunted but my Dad was big on road kill deer and I helped him field dress one. Sure it is disgusting and we naturally have empathy for animals since we are animals, but should be a prerequisite to eat meat. These Amish cattle here aren’t typical of the factory conditions most are raised. It is quite deplorable, but a necessary evil. Perhaps someday meat can be artificially produced from animal cells and tissues. This would be a more applicable venue for factory farming, the goal of the technology to make completely artificial cuts of meat, with bones where desired (and without when not) It is a long way off, but when it does occur I suppose eventually cattle may join their auroch predecessor in extinction. That too is a bit sad as well.

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    I like your honesty about your struggle with this, Bruce. I also have struggled with the ethical issues of eating meat (at least factory-farmed meat). I made the decision to cut out meat and dairy after my bout with the flu about six weeks ago. I still will have fish if my husband go out to eat and there are no other veg options.

    So far, I am loving it.

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