Dr. Janeal Yancey
Dr. Janeal Yancey

In my job, I have lots of great opportunities to see the inside of food processing facilities and farms that most people don’t get to see.

That’s part of the fun of being a meat nerd. I am always amazed by the sheer size and scope of the industry when I get to see these facilities in action.

For example, I was in a pork processing plant last summer and I was standing in the middle of the bacon slicing room. The slicers are these huge machines with circular blades like 4 feet across. They move so fast you can’t see them. They sliced pieces of bacon faster than I could count. I found a really cool bacon slicing video on youtube.

Its a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE industry! At the plant I was visiting, I think there were six lines slicing bacon all running at the same time, at least 16 hours a day, 5 days a week. That is an incredible about of bacon. That plant harvested 19,000 pigs per day in 2011. Processors get about 15.4 lbs of cured bacon out of every hog, that’s 292,600 lbs of bacon, PER DAY, in one plant! The daily hog slaughter in the US in 2011 was 438,630 PER DAY, that’s 6.7 million pounds of bacon, PER DAY!!!  

Of course, there are 313 million people in the US and they usually eat three times a day, seven days a week. Not to even mention exports.

(See how I can get lost in the enormity of our food system! I’m just a meat head.)

Its a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE industry! We went on a tour of farms with some ladies earlier this summer called Moms on the Farm Tour.

Some local chicken farmers, Jared and Anita Munyon were nice enough to allow our group to tour their farm on a Saturday morning. They have four chicken houses where they raise broilers for a company called Simmons. Each of their chicken houses hold about 20,000 chickens. That’s 80,000 chickens on their farm!

They will get about 5 sets of chickens each year, so this one farm produces 400,000 chickens each year. There are about 30,000 farms that raise chickens in the US, and 95% of them are family-owned like the Munyon’s Farm.

Americans eat, on average about 83 pounds of chicken each year, so we need lots of them to keep us supplied in chicken nuggets, breasts, and chicken wings, over 37 billion pounds of chicken meat.

Its a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE industry! The beef industry is even more amazing to me because the cattle come from so many different farms in so many different places in the US.

There were over 34 million calves born in 2012 and the US produced over 26 billion pounds of beef, but 90% of the beef farms in the US have fewer than 100 head and the average herd size is 44 head.

That means a whole lot of people have input in the beef industry; from folks like my dad with 8 cows to the Deseret Cattle Co. in Florida with 42,000 cows.

That’s right; the largest cattle ranch in the US sits between Disney World and Cape Canaveral.

Its a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE industry! Then there are the hotdog numbers: It’s hard to know exactly how many hotdogs are consumed in this country, but it is estimated that Americans consume 20 billion hotdogs each year, which works out to about 70 hotdogs per person.

On Memorial Day alone, US consumers will enjoy over 150 million hotdogs. That’s enough hotdogs to stretch from Washington DC to Los Angeles five times!!! During the summer time, US consumers will eat 7 billion hotdogs, or 818 each second.

All of this meat has to be produced by somebody. According to industry stats, the meat and poultry industries employ over 2 million workers paying them over $68 billion in wages. See what I mean about a HUGE industry?!?

When we buy our 2 or 3 pounds of meat at the grocery store or a steak a restaurant, it’s easy to forget that there are 313 million people in the US who are buying their few pounds of meat for this week, too. Our food system is huge! It’s really amazing to me that we can produce and distribute so much food each day.

It’s also sad to know that so much food is wasted each day, but that’s another day’s post.