Connections: Where’s the Beef?

    My mother’s admonition, and perhaps your mother’s, too, to eat everything on the plate because of the “starving children in [fill in the blank]” — in my case it was China — didn’t make much sense to me when I was a kid. (How would stuffing myself help someone else? Would my gratefulness for having wholesome food increase with each bite?) It makes even less sense now that health experts, and Michelle Obama, are making sure we know that being overweight in childhood can lead to serious medical problems.
    Nevertheless, I bet there are plenty of parents who still say this kind of thing to their children. Today, the hungry children cited are apt to be in Africa, where there is horrendous drought and famine in some countries.
    Regardless of my mother’s good intentions, however, she left me with a deep sense of guilt about wasting food. So it happened that I felt terrible when, in New York City recently, I threw away a pound of ground beef that my husband had just bought at a Gristede’s market.
    We don’t go for hamburgers very often, but something prompted us to do so that night. As I opened the package, he suggested we add Worcestershire sauce or mustard or horseradish and cook the beef in one big mound. I wasn’t charmed by these suggestions. As I divided it into two chunks, however, I was confronted by a sight that might have made a vegetarian out of a less delicate soul.
    The meat was coated on all sides with fresh-looking, reddish beef about a quarter-inch deep — but, inside this casing of fresh beef, the rest was a nasty-looking brown. Not the typical gray hue you sometimes see with beef, but something stranger. I was horrified and, before we threw it away, asked Chris to take a picture of it with his phone, which was handy. To what end, I am still not quite sure. (Possibly so we could scare people with the gross photograph, I guess.)
      The label on the package read “Angus Ground Sirloin Product of U.A.S.” That’s right, U.A.S. Credulous, I came to the quick — if, on reflection, far-fetched — conclusion that our hamburger had been imported from the United Arab Emirates. (Can you imaging the cattle ranch in the desert sands south of Abu Dhabi?) We settled instead for baked potatoes and salad, which was better for us anyway. But I couldn’t let the matter rest.
    Two days later, at the East Hampton I.G.A., I pushed open the swinging door to the meat locker and called out a “hello.” My favorite butcher wasn’t working that day, but another took my description in stride. The discoloration was the result of the beef’s having been stacked under pressure for some time, he said. “That’s why we grind our hamburger every day.” 
    And, I asked, the label that read “Product of U.A.S.”?
    “That’s easy,” he said, laughing. “The letters got switched. It should have said U.S.A.”
    Oh, okay. Globalization horror story averted.