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Midwestern Hospitality & The Andes

Midwestern Hospitality & The Andes

Hello and good day!

My dad founded one of the first-ever cattle investment funds in the United States.

This was back in the 1970’s.

Investors placed investment money with my dad and his partners, who in turn used the money to buy calves, feed, and land.

They raised steers and then sold the animals off to the next player in the supply chain.

The company got big fast and almost went public, but then Richard Nixon, responding to terrible inflation, froze the price of beef without freezing the price of feed.

The fund was completely wiped out within a matter of months.

It was the first of several times that my dad built up a company worth many millions of dollars only to have unfortunate external circumstances cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

After working in close proximity to cattle for several years, he gave up red meat, and he has stuck with that decision for the last 50 years, with about a half dozen exceptions along the way.

The only time that he has intentionally eaten beef is when he has gone back to his hometown of Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

There is a hot dog joint there called Coney Island Hot Dogs.

Pop grew up eating hot dogs in that joint and he has broken his rule for the sake of reliving pleasant childhood memories.

On those occasions, he has ingested a full roll of Tums prior to gulping down several hot dogs.

At least once, he ended up getting sick back at his hotel.

It may have happened multiple times, but he only told me about the one time.

His stomach no longer has the digestive enzymes to break down beef.

That is his theory anyhow.

We were a non-red meat family when I was a kid.

I ate soy bacon. We substituted ground turkey for ground beef.

Every burger I ever ate at home during my childhood was a turkey burger, and that was just fine by me.

My dad was brought up by a generation of Midwesterners who lived through the Great Depression.

There were two iron clad beliefs surrounding food in our home.

First, you don’t turn your nose up at food.

This was of course ironic because my dad turned his nose up at every plate of red meat he was ever served.

But that was on principal, not because he was a picky eater.

I was encouraged to always eat everything that anybody put in front of me (including beef), to clean my plate, and to do so with gusto.

The second belief that we held was that you must express the most effusive appreciation for any hospitality.

To us, common courtesy requires that you say thank you to the host or hostess for their hard work, and for having you over, and that you do so as many times as you can without crossing the line into becoming a weirdo.

It is a fine line sometimes.

You tell them what a good job they did on their meal, and in every way possible, you try to butter them up so thoroughly that they’d never dream of having another dinner party or BBQ without inviting you over.

Growing up, not all my friends shared this same ethos.

In particular, I remember a kid named Jordan who was a teammate on my Pop Warner football team.

He was the left guard, and I the left tackle, on the offensive line.

I had him over to my house to play one afternoon and we had such a good time that he called his father and got permission to stay the night.

Dinner time rolled around, and my dad suggested that he could make burgers for us. What red blooded American kid doesn’t like a good burger?

Jordan and I retired to the living room to watch a movie while my dad did the cooking.

My poor dad.

He panfried a turkey burger and served it on regular sandwich bread.

We were out of buns.

When Jordan got his plate, he scrunched up his nose and squinted his eyes and poked at the sandwich.

“What’s this?” he asked in a very condescending tone.

“It’s a burger,” said my dad.

“What kind of meat is this?”

“It’s turkey. We don’t eat red meat,” said dad.

“How did you cook it?” asked Jordan.

“I pan fried it.”

“My dad usually char broils our burgers, and he never uses turkey,” said Jordan.

I could see by the look on my dad’s face that he deeply did not appreciate the tenor or direction of this conversation.

Forget a breach, Jordan had outright detonated one of our most deeply held rules of etiquette.

My dad cut to the chase.

“So, what are you saying? You don’t want it?”

Jordan looked at the burger and scrunched up his face one more time.

“No, I don’t think I do,” said Jordan.

My dad grabbed the plate in a huff.

“How about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Any problems with that?” asked my dad.

“No. That sounds good,” said Jordan.

A few minutes later, my dad came out with a new plate of food and handed it to Jordan.

It was a PB&J in a hot dog bun.

“Enjoy. Your highness,” said my dad.

Pop got the last laugh and Jordan didn’t end up staying the night again.

I’m heading out from Lima to my wife’s hometown of Celendin, Peru today.

It is a very remote place, way out in the Andes mountains.

And it is a place that I truly love.

I’ve been taking trips to Celendin for twenty years and it is still flabbergasting to me that I, a skater kid from San Diego, somehow ended up marrying a woman from there.

Life can be so wonderfully strange.

The only way to reach Celendin is by a two-hour truck ride along a winding road through the northern Andes.

Along the way you have the privilege of casting your gaze upon some of the most miraculous countryside that you’ll ever lay eyes on.

High altitude grassland and monstrous brown and green mountain peaks that layer and multiply, all around you, one after another, forever, until they disappear as shadows fading into the sky.  

Out in those grass fields, living in and amongst the mountains, are high altitude farmers who have a lifestyle unlike anything that we have in the United States anymore.

If we have folks in the United States who build adobe houses in the middle of grass fields at ten thousand feet and live off the land with no plumbing, spotty electricity, and no running water, I am not aware of them.

After more than twenty years doing business in Peru, first in the mountains, and then in the jungle, with many people of humble means, I can tell you that one of the most endearing things you can do is eat a person’s food.

On the other hand, one of the quickest ways to alienate yourself is to get uppity over a meal that you've been served.

Anyhow, I am running long now.

Before signing off, I want to point out how interesting it is that Great Depression era Midwesterners and current day high-altitude Peruvian subsistence farmers share a very similar ethic regarding food.

Challenging conditions tend to breed a similar type of person.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day.


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