Friday, July 5, 2013

The Saga of the Smuggled Meat...



My wife Adriana and I visit her native Romania every summer. We try to eat pretty strictly Paleo. But that is enormously difficult in Romania because the meat here is simply horrible. First off, you probably heard in the news about the controversy wherein Europe learned
what it thought was beef was actually at least half horse. That meat reportedly came from Romania. Now, I'm not actually opposed to eating horse, just so long as it's fresh and clean and I know what I'm getting. But you can understand that a place where what is marketed as beef is anything but is just not a reliable place to truly enjoy meat.

What meat you do see in stores you can just tell is shot full of chemicals and hormones, not to mention hygienic standards that saw that meat from slaughter to the plate.

This year, however, we conceived a risky endeavor. What if we attempted to smuggle excellent organic meat from the United States to Romania? 

Here was the plan. We would put into our checked luggage a quantity of frozen meat and hope that it would still be there when we arrived in Romania.

I tried to look online as to whether this was really prohibited. I couldn't find clear directives regarding Europe-bound travel. But it is very prohibited if you are going from Europe to the United States.

We decided to go for it. One bag received eight pounds of a combination of packs of ground bison and organic grass-fed ground beef. (That luscious stuff simply doesn't exist in Romania.)  I formed it into a cube to reduce surface area and then put it in a plastic bag. Then it went in an insulation bag, which I pulled tightly around the block with duct tape. The other bag received a similar eight pound block of beef and bison, but additionally ten pounds of organic chicken breast. Same treatment with the insulated bag. 

Both blocks were put back in the freezer, which I then set to the lowest possible temperature setting, 14 below zero.

We didn't take them out of the freezer until we went out the door to head for the airport.

The clock starts ticking: 1:00PM Eastern Time, Monday, July 1.

We were scheduled to take off at 5:30PM and arrive in Copenhagen for a connection that would leave for Bucharest, Romania at 8:10AM local time. We would arrive in Bucharest at Noonish and be putting that meat in the freezer an hour later. If everything went according to plan, that meat would spend 16 hours out of refrigeration. We were confident that, between the deep freeze, the insulated bags, and the fact that checked bags fly in a pretty cold cargo hold, the meat would still be at least cold when we unpacked it.

But things did not go as planned.

We arrived in Copenhagen and saw on the board that our flight to Bucharest did not yet have an assigned gate. We waited and waited. We were getting nervous when we still saw no gate a half an hour before we were supposed to board. And then, the electronic board changed.

Copenhagen - Bucharest: Cancelled.

WTF?????

We ask around and find out that we need to go to the Transfer Center to receive further information about
rebooking, etc. But my first thought was, that meat is officially in jeopardy. Luckily for us, all the signs in the Copenhagen Airport are in both Danish and English. So you can see to the left that we had no trouble finding the Transfer Center and our Gate.


I'm also pleased to report that we had no trouble finding the Assistance Center. Again, the inclusion of English on the sign was key to our success.


It was all very civilized. We took a ticket and waited our turn. We heard other Romanians similarly grounded around us. Our turn finally came. A very helpful woman informed us that the best she could do for us was to book us on a flight to Brussels at 3PM, with a follow-on flight to Bucharest, Romania that would arrive at 10:30PM. I immediately did the math. By the time we could get that meat to the freezer it would be out for 28 hours. I sighed. There's no way that meat's surviving outside the freezer that long. But that's no longer something we can control. The Airline was very kind and gave us a generous food voucher for the airport to get a meal before our continued flight. 

3PM finally rolled around. We were working on little sleep at this point. I can personally never sleep on planes. We fly to Brussels. I'd never been there before. At least I can add Belgium to the list of countries I've visited.

We had another long wait in that airport. We found a nice airport bar to relax at. We drank a few glasses of red wine. Our follow-on flight was finally ready to board. What a long day this had turned into. 

At 10:30PM local time, Tuesday July 2, we land in Romania. We're Zombies at this point. We're waiting for luggage that we fear now holds rancid meat. We wait and we wait. And the luggage carousel stops. Our luggage did not come with us. Priceless.

Adriana goes and fills out the necessary paperwork. She learns that our luggage didn't get put on our flight. It would fly to Romania the following day. And then be delivered to us by taxi--on Thursday morning.

We both just laughed at that point. I mean, pity the poor taxi driver who has to spend time with luggage that will certainly be smelling like a garbage dump. 

The following day comes and goes. We get a call in the evening from the airline that our luggage is indeed at the airport in Bucharest but it would not be delivered to us until the following morning. 

Thursday morning comes. We get the call that the driver has arrived. We take the luggage from him and head back up to our apartment. Adriana suggested that we just plug our noses and throw the meat bags down the garbage chute without even bringing them into our apartment. I suggested that we just carefully open them in our apartment to see what the damages are, ready to hurl them out depending on what we find there.

The meat had been out of refrigeration for 63 hours.

We open the suitcase with the smaller amount of meat. We can see the wrapped insulated bag in the middle of the clothes. I pick the thing up as if it were plutonium and set it on the kitchen table. I carefully tear away the tape and open the bag. We're both bracing ourselves to gag as I slide the meat out of the insulated bag.

And strangely, I feel quite cool meat come out of that bag. It wasn't exactly cold. But it was truly quite cool. Not a little cool. Quite cool. We examine the meat. These single pound hermetically sealed packs of meat were just fine. No air bubbles, no discoloration. We put them in the freezer.

On to the larger block. We open it and see blood all over the inside of the bag. But this one was actually still officially cold. One pound pack of ground bison had clearly somehow opened. It had air inside the package and no blood around the meat. We threw that one away. All the rest of the beef, bison, and chicken breast were still quite cold and hermetically sealed. We rinsed the blood off everything and put them in the freezer.


Against all odds, our meat had survived. All we can figure is that the combination of deep freezing, insulated bags, and the cold storage areas meant that the meat arrived to us still fine, but in the final hours of being fine. 

If our connection had actually happened, that meat would have still been frozen when we arrived in Romania. If the luggage had come with us, it would have still been largely frozen and quite cold. And, it turns out, 63 hours after we took it out of the freezer, that meat was still fine.

I ate a burger from that meat yesterday to celebrate the Fourth of July. Here's a Chili I made with it this evening.

Between various social engagements we know we will attend and evenings to cook at home, we have enough excellent organic meat to survive until the end of July, when we will return to the United States.

God Bless America. God Bless Us All.

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