An article like this must come with a disclaimer: By no means is this a call to vegetarianism. Consider it more a “think piece” on the ethics of eating meat. View it as a wake-up call for the way we produce food. We must pay attention to what we eat. We can’t get away with this much longer: Our meat-eating habit is one of most destructive acts of mankind. Seriously.
Statistics like these can be convincing:
• A U.S. citizen eats 273 pounds of meat every year.
• It takes an entire acre of land to produce only 48 pounds of beef (or 60,000 pounds of pineapple and 40,000 pounds of potatoes).
• Crops for farm animals require 50 percent of the water and 80 percent of farmland.
• 800 million people could be fed just off the grain used to feed livestock each year.
And the stats go on and on.
When almost three times the current U.S. population can be fed off of what we are feeding animals annually, something is rotten in Denmark. Further, it is estimated that 70 percent of the fresh water in California is used for agricultural purposes, while 70 percent of this water is used to grow alfalfa for cows.
Our appetites are making it hard on our common sense.
The economy of scale is at play here. The only way meat can be grown this cheaply is by subsidization and the homogenization of the farming process. Some estimates show that if beef production was not subsidized in California, it would cost $35 per pound.
As renowned author Michael Pollan (“In Defense of Food,” “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”) states, “It is no small thing for an American to be able to go into a fast-food restaurant and buy a double cheeseburger, fries and a large Coke for a price equal to less than an hour of labor at the minimum wage.”
In regards to homogenization, in 1970 the four largest meat-packing companies slaughtered about 21 percent of America’s cattle; today the four largest companies slaughter about 85 percent.
This phenomenon may be good for a business’s bottom line, but it’s bad for our health. We are experiencing more and more recalls of tainted meats, and legislation is making it easier and easier to produce inferior food.
Take E. coli, for example. The news tells us to be afraid of it, but we can find it in the soil in our back yard. E. coli is not, by nature, a harmful microbe, but when the conditions are created for it to thrive, it can wreak havoc. These conditions are created by raising thousands of cows on an acre as opposed to hundreds. Rather than pass laws that prevent it, we implement stringent and costly standards that need to be followed by all farmers who allow the FDA to track down outbreaks of disease after they happen.
In other words, rather than prevent the problem in the first place, they are taxing everyone to allow the conditions that create the problem. That’s sort of like Monsanto inventing a toxic herbicide called “RoundUp” designed to kill everything, then inventing genetically modified plants that can withstand it—all under the guidance of the FDA! Again, brilliant business model, but bad for people.
A new study released on April 15, 2011 explains how almost half of our meat supply is contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria. The study revealed that 47 percent of the samples contained the Staphylococcus aureu bacteria, and that 96 percent of those S. aureus isolates were resistant to at least one antimicrobial.
People refrain from eating meat for many reasons: health, ecological and religious concerns, dislike for it, compassion for animals, belief in non-violence, economics and the list goes on. For instance, in a poll of 700 Vegetarian Journal readers, about 82 percent are interested in vegetarianism because of health; 75 percent because of ethics, the environment, and animal rights; 31 percent because of taste; and 26 percent because of economics.
I’m sure that in a poll of the Meatlovers Journal the majority of people would respond they eat it because it tastes good. What’s interesting is that many people have no clue from where the meat they are eating comes. Now, they’re waking up to this reality in droves. There are now meat community-supported agriculture programs (CSA) and even co-ops where people can purchase animals and work with a butcher to distribute them amongst a group.
The documentary “Earthlings,” while extremely blunt in its assessment, is a tremendous resource for folks looking for the truth about abuse of farming animals. It’s not only about treating them with respect but treating ourselves with respect. It’s safe to say that if we all knew what we were eating in regards to the meat we ingest, nobody would eat it.
Jamie Oliver’s show “Food Revolution” is back on TV again. In a recent episode, he describes how the leftovers of a cow, called the “trimmings,” were used to make “meat.” The meat parts were removed from the trimmings in a spinner and then washed in an ammonia solution. This is done to prevent E coli, salmonella poisoning and reduce other bacterial threats.
This “meat” filler can be used in up to 15 percent of processed meat products according to the USDA. The percentage is low enough that the package does not have to indicate ammonia as one of the ingredients. It is this ammonia-laden meat that is also used in school food. The more we look into it, the less sense it makes, right? It’s all done to satiate our national craze over meat. It begs the question: Is it really that good?
I ask readers to try going just one night a week without eating meat. There’s even a website dedicated to helping people with their newfound goal, www.MeatlessMonday.com. The truth hurts, but we need to be brave enough to face it. Rather than grabbing a cheeseburger in the drive-through, start a vegetable garden instead.