Old McDonald Had a Hamburger…

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.

21 Replies to “Old McDonald Had a Hamburger…”

  1. very interesting. i like to read your book reviews. especially since i don’t have time to read much. i feel like i’m “still in the loop.”

  2. Nods head! 🙂
    Another reason to buy from a local farmer as well where you can stop by and look at exactly what you are buying and injesting. Another book I recommend along these lines is Fast Food Nation and also watching the 30 Days documentary on eating fast food. GROSS.
    So where are you buying your chicken now Kelli? I try to get to Whole Foods but most of the time get mine at Trader Joe’s….but still.

  3. I was JUST THIS WEEK intrigued by THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA and also disgusted when I cut a pork tenderloin in half for cooking. I’m a step away from vegetarianism myself….but still a step! I also found a new book called THE HUNGRY PLANET which is more of a photo journey w/essays about how differently “average” families eat/consume/food shop in different countries all over the world. Check it out. It’s on my library list.

  4. If you lived near me I could sell you some of our pastured poultry. When we do meat chickens, they live in their own (large) moveable pen which gets moved every day so that they get fresh grass and bugs -chickens love it. We still eat them, but they do have about the best chicken life possible until then. Having our own very small livestock operation has opened my eyes to how commercial animals live. We sell our eggs (from happy hens)for $1 a dozen, because we’re selling to family and friends, and it’s just a little project for the kids, it’s not our income. I’m afraid that to make a real profit, I’d have to charge more than most people around here would ever pay. There’s a great animated clip on the net about this….it’s called “The Meatrix.”
    “Lost Continent” is a hoot!

  5. Ack, I typed out a whole thing and then clicked the tab closed! I try and buy Demeter labelled produce (google it). Sometimes I just baulk at the price though and buy normal stuff, but my main aim recently is to eat more vegetables and less meat. It’s getting there (despite some family opposition!)

  6. I’ll give the Lost Continent a try. If you enjoy Bryson, you should read “A Walk in the Woods”. It was the first of his that I read, and made me laugh out loud many times.

    I’ll also take a look at Omnivore’s Dilemma, although it’s going to take a lot to make me give up BBQ.

    I’d send this URL to JW, but it would give him a heart attack. 🙂

  7. Bryson is great, isn’t he?
    Thanks for the info and links about Omnivore’s Dilema… I didn’t know that about ‘free range’ chickens but I should have suspected it. Yet another reason to find a local farm to support.

    And stop eating meat, again.

  8. i’ve had omnivore checked out forever but haven’t read it, and also have the nestle book, but haven’t started it. i go through spells about reading the food books, and this is not my time for them. but can’ twait to read all about how you like ’em!

  9. Yeek. This is just one more reason for meat to gross me out. Granted, I’m no veggie yet either, but since trying my first (and last) Kobe steak, I’ve been wary of all meat, especially beef. Which is scary, since the Mr is a midwest Omnivore from the beefiest state in the nation (KS).

    Don’t forget to post your review of Lost Continent tomorrow!

  10. “Food Politics” has been on my list for a while now. My whole family is getting into the whole nutrition/food-research thing ever since the whole natural detox process started for my brother. Did you know “Fast Food Nation” is being released as a feature film? I think that’s happening sometime soon. It was a great book, but how they’re making it into a feature and not a documentary is beyond me. Maybe it’ll be along the lines of “Thank You For Smoking.” (

  11. Uh, half my comment didn’t make it for some reason. In short:

    * “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” also sounds like a good read, although I don’t think I could ever go vegetarian. I’d cease being Pakistani.

    * As for Bryson, I’ve only read “Notes from a Small Island.” I’ve been meaning to pick up “A Short History of Nearly Everything” but other books keep getting in the way…

  12. Great post, Kelli!
    I read ‘A Year of Meat’ by Ruth Ozeki a few years back, and that made me relieved to be a vegetarian. I also once saw a documentary about the meat industry in Britian, and they were talking about locally-raised, organic meat and how expensive it was, but then made the good point that it’s OKAY to pay a lot for meat- after all, it is a life, right? It raises many questions about what price we put on life and our fellow earth-dwellers. I like the idea of meat being just a one-off luxury, and I think if the Western world treated it like that we would be a lot better off.

  13. Thanks for the good book reviews. I really want to read Omnivore’s Dilemma now. I was a vegetarian for about 7 years (and a vegan for about a year during that) and have recently started eating meat again because it makes me feel a lot healthier. I’m torn though, because I hate, hate the way America’s meat is provided to us. I must read this. I also love Michael Pollan! Botany of Desire was fantastic.

  14. La.La.La. I’m ignoring your book reviews.La.La.La. What I don’t know can’t hurt me. La.La.La.

    I love Bill Bryson…I laugh loud and I remember choosing where I was going to read his book during a quick lunch or at the airport as to not draw attention to myself.

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