A Ransomware Case for Local Foods
There are many arguments for why eat local foods. One is clearly the freshness and quality. The other is helping your local economy. Some prefer to favor the smaller carbon footprint. Regardless of the arguments for and against local foods, one that feels like a “Doomsday-er” theory is that it creates food security.
So, let's talk about food security, and what it actually means. It means you don’t starve in a disaster.
Up until about 18 months ago, we would have never imagined that there would be a food supply-chain issue in this country. Then enter COVID-19. In a matter of weeks, the virus wreaked havoc on supply chains. Grocery stores were out of food and prices were reflecting the shortage. This, however, was not the case at Fresh Fork or with the local farmers. We were fortunate to have healthy, quality food and our prices remained constant.
Enter 2021 – Cyber Criminals Lock up Red Meat
Just when the impact of the pandemic on our food system was starting to lift and the consumer was beginning to forget their local farmer, a nefarious “hacker gang” - spread across the globe in remote nodes – banded together to create a wicked technology that could capture sensitive business data and hold its prey hostage.
The result. The world’s largest meat packer shut down the world’s 5 biggest slaughterhouses in the US – and additional facilities in Brazil, Australia, and Canada.
First you must understand these facilities...
Some might react to this as if was like the Robin Hood scenario – except these criminals didn’t have an altruistic intent. They just wanted money. They could care less about the environmental, health, and economic impacts of these large meat packers.
These facilities we are talking about are massive. Many are directly integrated with a feedlot as well. The feedlot is a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) where beef are “finished” on a concentrated energy ration of corn and soybeans. These operations rely on therapeutic medication – particularly antibiotics – to counter the potentially deadly impact of infectious disease and sanitation issues.
Some of these facilities may be associated with feedlots housing 100,000 or more beef. The kill plant might slaughter up to 10,000 head per day. Just think about how to handle all the waste: hides, bones, internal organs, and even manure!
About Dry Aging vs Wet Aging
Then there is the issue of how to handle the carcass. “Fresh Beef” doesn’t mean it was killed that day. Beef in general gets better with a little age. At Fresh Fork and Ohio City Provisions, we generally “hang” our beef 2 to 3 weeks to help the meat firm up, dry out a bit (evaporation), and tenderize. There are enzymes in beef that slowly break down the meat – think about it as controlled decay – and make it more tender with age. Not all parts of the beef benefit the same, but a well marbled ribeye at 35 to 45 days can be very nice.
Now that you understand what dry aging is, think about a cooler with ten cattle hanging in it. Each weigh about 800 lbs. Each carcass enters the cooler "hot," meaning with the body temperature still in it. It takes a lot of energy to chill that meat down to below 40 degrees and keep it there.
Now think about how big of a cooler it takes to hold 1,000 cattle. It would have to be enormous. Now if you slaughter every day and hang the carcasses for 14 days or longer, you are talking about a cooler with tens of thousands of cattle.
You can start to see the logistical issue here. As a result, some time ago the industry figured out that you can debone a beef carcass “hot” – meaning it is still warm from the kill. The individual pieces could be put in a vacuum bag and passed through a chill tunnel to chill them down more quickly.
The packing plant now gets to sell extra moisture (that hasn’t evaporated) and move it out quickly – sometimes, same day. In this scenario, some steaks are now marketed as “wet aged.” They might get locked up in a cooler for 2 weeks, but in a bag as opposed to in the open air.
This Just-in-Time Inventory Caught Up to Us Last Year
When COVID hit last year and the shutdowns caused a shift in demand, this just-in-time inventory model failed us. The grocery stores wanted more meat but the packing plants didn’t have it. Then to compound the issue, the plants faced labor issues as illness struck the labor force.
But We Didn’t Learn
Here, a year later, many Americans are back to the same model trusting that their grocery store will have plenty. And now we have to deal with cyber criminals.
I’m not Aesop, but I can tell you about the Chore Boy
OK, I think you get the hint...and I’m thanking you for voting for local food with your grocery dollar. I hope you’ll share this with a friend and consider stocking your freezer with local meats for the next unforeseen crisis.
But I’m done preaching to the choir here – now I’ll simply make the awkward transition to our slaughterhouse and their lack of technology.
The Chore Boy is an Alternative to a Computer
Our slaughterhouse will not ever be attacked by ransomware. In fact, they aren’t connected to the internet at all. This is hard to explain, but I’ll do my best.
Up until about 2 years ago, I couldn’t even email our packer. Then, his church allowed email through a fax server. This is common now in Amish and Mennonite communities where emails are sent to a server that converts them to a fax. On the other end, the recipient can send a fax to the email server that emails me. As you can imagine, it is clunky.
Now, some of the more conservative Mennonite communities are allowing home computers as long as they don’t connect to the internet. The Amish and Mennonite are very resistant to the internet (but you must understand there are many very localized sects and rules, so this varies a lot). In general, though, they believe that the internet – and even Microsoft – is the same thing as porn. I’m not kidding. It’s a sad misunderstanding that has perpetrated the community.
So, in the case of Newswanger Meats, there is a guy in their community who has received permission from the church elders to sell computers to the Mennonite community. His machine -called the Chore Boy by a company called Conservative Technology Solutions (which doesn’t have a website, of course) – is 20-year-old technology that is in a wood cabinet case. His claim to fame – this machine absolutely cannot access the internet. He even sells them with a guarantee that if anyone connects to the internet, he’ll pay them.
We are Going to Patent the "Chore Child"
I joke with the one meat cutter that I’m going to get him a cell phone one of these days. He says it might be OK as long as it’s not a smart phone. My response back – I’ll just bevel out a 2x4 and drop an iPhone in it. You can call it a "Chore Child" and it will be acceptable. He gave the idea a full belly laugh.
But overall, while it may be frustrating sometimes to communicate with members of the Amish and Mennonite communities, I’m very grateful for the silver lining – that our food supply is secure and that I know today, tomorrow, and in to the future that I’ll have a healthy meal on my table.