Features

Where's the beef?

International

Issue: "Washington Gets One Right," Dec. 6, 1997

A tin of beef is a tin of beef? Not so. The canned beef shipped to North Korea more than a year ago by the Mennonite Central Committee is actually the stuff of legends. That's why it was so easily traced back to the MCC when a label from one of the cans was discovered aboard a North Korean submarine.

The Mennonites have a time-honored history of canning meat for shipment to places in need. Mennonite farming communities, usually with a steady supply of beef, are known to spend a week or more at a time canning for a specific overseas cause.

"A lot of people can connect to MCC ministries at that point who don't otherwise have the means or don't believe in traveling overseas," MCC spokesman Ray Brubacher told WORLD.

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The process has its own measure of lore. In the post-World War II years, Mennonite farmers in central Kansas supplied large quantities of beef to nearly starving Europe. It was shipped in glass jars for a time. When that became impractical, Hesston Mennonite Church pastor Jess Kauffman hit upon the idea of cans. He found someone at American Can Company in Kansas City to help him rig a portable canner that could be used in turns by far-flung farmers.

A group of Mennonite farmers financed the invention with a $5,000 bank note, according to Mr. Kauffman's son Ivan. As a boy, Ivan Kauffman recalls sweeping the local blacksmith's shop to make a place for constructing the canner. It's that same device that yearly makes a circuit of about 20 Mennonite communities, making possible the cans of beef that reached North Korea last year. Keeping it small-scale enabled Mennonite farmers to affix labels with Scripture references and mention of the MCC. That made the discovery aboard the North Korean sub possible.

If the canning project seems more interesting than significant in the face of widespread starvation, consider that of the 20,000 metric tons of foodstuffs that arrived in North Korea in October, none of it, according to tabulations by the UN-based World Food Program, contained meat. Grains and dry milk are the weapons of choice in the fight against famine. Nothing else can be so reliably shipped and stored. It follows that the MCC donations would be in high demand-even subject to pilferage.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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