Barbara Young

As I watched the trailers and clips for Food, Inc., the current “industrial-food-production-is-bad” movie, I thought of Conrad Kvamme who, for years, has been a positive voice for the meat industry on several fronts. These days he mostly travels across Minnesota teaching and preaching the American beef story. What he does flies in the face of the assertion in the movie that “the food industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you’re eating because you might not want to eat it.”

The Minnesota Beef Council (MBC) wants consumers to know what they are eating when they eat beef, and Kvamme, as its promotion consultant, is its great communicator.

“A cow can’t talk, but a cowman can,” he quips. By the way, he is thinking of writing a book using that same title.

Although Kvamme does hand out samples at supermarkets all over Minnesota, he is no ordinary functionary. He is a knowledgeable cattleman, who breeds and raises Holsteins through his Orbit Farms business. His stock is registered as satellite cattle. He grew up on his parents’ dairy farm in Minnesota’s Red River Valley. A graduate of North Dakota State University, Kvamme’s degree in agriculture includes minors in agriculture journalism, dairy science and horticulture. He taught agriculture economics at the University of Minnesota at Crookston.

Farm life with his father as his teacher, mentor and role model is where Kvamme found his vocation and avocation. “My dad was like a horse whisperer with cattle,” a prideful Kvamme says. “Animals liked him. He had the touch and the ability to talk with cattle, and he nurtured his livestock.”

In his “Chef Conrad” persona on behalf of MBC, Kvamme puts his love of cooking to use in more ways than one. He can whip up a dish showcasing beef with ease. He can then turn around and talk about nutrient values and benefits. He especially likes talking to kids about food and helping parents to get their recalcitrant and fussy eaters to understand and appreciate food. Chef Conrad can be heard asking young children this: “Did you know you get your zip from beef that has iron and protein?” Kids react honestly, Kvamme says, so if they say something is good they mean it.

Food Inc.’s message is that a bunch of fat cats just want to make money off the likes of industrial feedlots, which the movie showcases as a place where millions of cattle are crammed together stomping around in their own waste until slaughter. Restaurants are places where consumers gorge themselves on industrially produced meat occasionally laced with E. coli. Supermarkets are not spared in the movie either. A camera pans the aisles of a supermarket showcasing colorful, brightly lit and fully stocked shelves of produce as a voice intones: “There are no seasons in the American supermarket,” presumably as a negative rather than a positive.

I think Kvamme as a character in a movie would make good footage. This traveling chef loads up his pickup with a top containing essential tools for his road show, including portable indoor grills, stainless equipment for cooking, tables, displays, recipes and unlimited cooking tips. In the supermarket, he would be the man wearing black pants, a clothesline-fresh white shirt and a billed cap with the logo of “Beef It’s What for Dinner.”