Looking back ... with Sam Gazdziak
I joined The National Provisioner in 2004, and after a couple weeks of learning the lingo and conducting a few phone interviews, I made my way out to my first-ever visit to a meat plant. I was a little nervous; after all, I loved meat and believed that a good burger was proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. What if I didn’t like what I saw when the curtain was pulled back?
Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry. The first company I visited, Peer Foods in Chicago, had an excellent operation, and my fears vanished. More than anything else, I was fascinated at how quickly, efficiently and safely a plant could produce all the things I’d been buying at my local grocery store. I’ve been fortunate to tour a number of plants in over the last 12 years, and the thing that I always appreciate is the care that goes into producing safe, wholesome food. It’s a side that the public rarely gets to see, and that’s a shame. Of course, you can’t have tour groups tromping through a meat plant at peak production times, but I wish the public could see meat processing for themselves instead of believing whatever they read from their Vegan cousin’s Facebook page.
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The biggest change I’ve seen in my time with the magazine has been the development of our spin-off magazine, Independent Processor. I’ve written every feature story since it was launched in 2008, and it’s been an exciting journey. I’ve walked (carefully) through cattle pastures in California, played with baby quail in South Carolina and ventured across the border into Canada a couple times. I’ve sat in the late Bobby Hatoff’s office and stared at his walls of autographed photos and sports memorabilia. I’ve listened to Elmer Hensler of Queen City Sausage and Ron Fouche of Seltzer’s Smokehouse talk about their 50-plus years of experience in the meat industry. I tried beef tongue for the first time in an Austin, Texas, restaurant with Franklin Hall of Lone Star Meats. I’m grateful to all those companies who have taken me behind the scenes and shared their company’s history with me.
Like many others in the industry, the AAMP Convention has become a yearly family vacation for me. While I’m off meeting new association members or spending time at the American Cured Meat Championships, my kids have enjoyed their playtime with the children and grandchildren of the members. Both my daughters have won awards in the annual sausage sculpture competition, and there’s some tough competition!
As staff member on a magazine with such a long history, I’ve run into people who’ve read The National Provisioner for decades. Sometimes they bring up editors from the past, and while I don’t always know the names, it’s humbling to be a part of a magazine that has been an invaluable tool for so many in the industry. I’ve done my best to follow the examples of the talented writers who came before me. NP