I’m currently trying to read three books at once — something I do not recommend. On the nightstand is Food Politics. I heard Marion Nestle speak in May and purchased her book on nutrition at the conference. It is good, but dry. We eat too much, especially processed foods. And the big food companies spend billions marketing the latest junk food. She makes some great points about not falling for buzz words like, “No trans fats!” and “Whole Wheat!” The food with these labels can still be total crap.
I picked up The Omnivore’s Dilemma at the suggestion of Jessica, who blogs about following a raw diet. This book I simply cannot recommend highly enough. It has taken this blogger, one who is well known for her love of all things fileted and barbequed, to looking and meat with disgust — not just for what they are doing to the animals but for what the current farming system is doing to the earth in her entirety. I’m not calling myself a vegetarian yet, but I’m on the highway to organic vegetableville and this book just stamped my passport.
I consider myself nutrition savvy. It’s something I’m interested in and is part of my job. And yet, Omnivore’s Dilemma taught me more than a thing or two. For example, did you know before WWII eating meat in the United States was a once-a-week luxury, not a three-times-a-day routine? After the war, the US government had an overstock of chemicals, which were given to farmers. The result was a mass crop of corn and the possibility of an agricultural market that could crash from too much product. The government, in turn, purchased the surplus corn and looked for very creative ways to get rid of it — including giving it to ranchers to feed to cows. Viola, we now have a system where animals that should naturally be grazing are living in pens being fed corn. When you change nature in such a way, you get all kinds of strange effects like the recent Ecoli outbreak in California that contaminated our national spinach supply. The Ecoli was tracked back to runoff from nearby cattle plants (you wouldn’t believe how much waste is produced in meat production thanks to the corn diet change). Another interesting note — you wouldn’t believe the amount of oil required to feed cattle corn. From the oil used to make the chemicals farmers have grown dependent on, to the transportation of corn to the farms to the transportation of the meat to market, there are barrels of oil spent on every stocked deli counter.
And if you are saying to yourself at this moment, “Ah! No worries. I eat chicken!” well, brace yourself. If you are paying for organic or free-range chicken, know that this USDA title means that the animals must have the ability to be outside and not living in pens like the good old standard Tyson chicken. All chicken producers feed chickens grain (corn!) until they can no longer stand on their legs. Then they are slaughtered. This typically takes about 7 weeks. Organic chickens are kept in pens with a tiny door at one end. After week 5, the door is opened. However, their bird brains are accustomed to being inside and so, even though the farmer keeps a teeny tiny lawn perfectly groomed in case a chicken decides to bravely venture where no chicken has gone before, your organic free-range chickens are only roaming in their indoor pens. Granted, organic chickens are not fed grain that was grown or treated with chemicals, but they certainly are not free-range cockadoodle-doing on a cute little farm before being rounded up for the ax.
Old McDonald has long since fled the farm. Instead, four large meat producers have moved in and are handling our nation’s meat in its entirety. You want to talk about national security? Eee, ay, ee, ay OH!
On a lighter note, the third book on the nightstand is Lost Continent by Bill Bryson. I’m participating in Finny’s online book club and have embarrassed myself more than once by guffawing loudly in public while reading this book. Bryson’s dry sarcastic humor is hilarious. Four out of five bananas, absoloodle.
p.s. The even more frequent blogging? I’m trying to do a month of daily blogging along with Mrs. Kennedy.