Every once in a while, you come across an inspirational person with an inspirational story that brightens your day. Such an occasion befell me last week on a bus going down a Kansas highway.
I was tagging along on a Pasture to Plate tour sponsored by the Kansas Beef Council. On the bus were 24 chefs, foodservice professionals, culinary instructors and chefs-to-be who were seeing the beef business from the ranch to the packing plant and, ultimately, where it ends up in their world - in the kitchen and on the plate.
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Also on the bus was Barb Downey, a cow-calf producer who ranches east of Manhattan, KS. on a family operation with her husband and two teenage daughters. Barb does a lot of things beside raise kids and cattle—she is the current chair of the Kansas Beef Council, serves on the Kansas Livestock Association and NCBA board of directors, and is past president of the Kansas Angus Association, among other things.
She is also a long-distance runner. And the story she told the chefs about her personal journey is one of the most inspirational testimonies I’ve ever heard.
“I weigh about 130 lbs.” she told the chefs. “Three years before my first marathon, I weighed 260.” While she had always been active—ranching is pretty physical, after all—she wanted to improve her health. Her cholesterol was too high, especially her triglycerides, and she decided to take control of her life and make some major changes.
“What I started doing differently is I changed the way I eat,” she said. “I picked the South Beach Diet. I eat beef now twice a day. What that allowed me to do is finally get a handle on my appetite. It wasn’t until I changed my eating habits, where I was eating a lot of protein, a fair amount of fat and lots of fruits and vegetables, that the weight started to come off because I was making smart decisions.”
She also started walking. “But I was still reasonably heavy. I looked around and nobody was watching, so I started jogging.” And the jogging started out with baby steps. “Could I make it from this power pole to the next one without dying? Then it was, can I make two power poles? Then I did a half-mile. And it was absolutely unbelievable for me.”
That was about 10 years ago and Barb still maintains a regimen of running and eating beef. And she’s never been healthier. One of the chefs asked in jest, “What was chasing you?” Her answer was swift and heartfelt. “Fear of not seeing my kids grow up; that’s what was chasing me.”
But she emphatically told the chefs she could not have become a runner if she hadn’t changed her diet. Using herself as an example, she said, “260-lb. women can’t go running; but 130-lb. women can.”
While the chefs got a deep exposure to the beef business, speakers at every stop told them that the conversation needs to run both ways—beef producers need to learn from the chefs and hear how cattlemen can provide them with a product that meets their needs and their customers’ expectations.
If you had a chance to visit with a busload of chefs, what would you tell them about the beef business? If a busload of chefs had a chance to visit with you, what would you want to learn from them?
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