I just returned from the Reciprocal Meat Conference in Lubbock, Texas, hosted this year by Texas Tech University. (the “Reciprocal” is indicative of the reciprocation sessions, or basically what is a lesser structured seminar with lots of idea exchanges). The meeting attracts representatives from academia and industry alike, and the group really is like one big family.
Of course, there are the people you attended meat class with, the past instructors and mentors you’ve had. Everyone knows pretty much everyone else. That network is hugely interconnected in our industry, and for me, it goes beyond even that!
Here’s why: Troy.
The meat processing equipment company
It goes back to my hometown – Troy, Ohio. I cannot ever escape it because pretty much every meat plant has a Hobart meat grinder with Troy, Ohio plastered on the side of it. I learned to ice skate and had my high school graduation ceremonies in Hobart Arena. Many of my relatives worked for Hobart, along with the relatives of a whole slew of my school and 4-H cronies. The Hobart Corporation is still located in Troy. I should pay them a visit.
I work in the food industry and am always challenged as to how to improve the traceability of food. After all, industry transparency and accountability has never been more demanded by consumers. Troy is home to a Marsh grocery store where in 1974 the first barcode scanner was used. Now I find myself playing with RFID ear tags and 2-D images for product identification. I bought orange juice and pretzels at that store last month.
And the kicker … The pork packing plant
There used to be a pork packing plant in Troy, Ohio, situated along the Great Miami River and just south of Ohio State Route 41. My great grandfather used to drive the lard truck for Braun Brothers Packing between Troy and Springfield, Ohio, every day. After his time, there was a Dr. Frederick K. Ray (Professor and Extension Meats Specialist – Emeritus, Oklahoma State University) who worked for a bit in that plant — he was also one of my first meat science professors at OSU (now he runs a meat business in Vegas). That packing plant is where he met is wife, whose childhood home sits on the same road as my own, about 1.3 miles apart. I had dinner with the Ray’s in Lubbock. A hog buyer for that plant, at the time operated by Dinner Bell, was one Mr. Knipe, father of Dr. Lynn Knipe. Lynn is currently an Associate Professor and Extension Meats Specialist at The Ohio State University (I abbreviate this one TOSU). Mind you, I did not know either one of these guys until after I left Troy to attend OSU. I had the chance to meet Mrs. Knipe in Lubbock. The plant in Troy is still there and is operated by ConAgra (I think). I remember when it was still a Dinner Bell plant — we sold pigs to it when I was a kid. I need to get a tour next time I’m home.
The US meat industry is indeed a small one. Though I’m certain the plant follows all of the environmental safety rules, I really have to wonder if there is something in Troy’s water!