Sunday, April 18, 2010

Healthy Food for Healthy Us

Back to food. Back to meat. Back to what makes sense. Many of the things I want to touch on I think many of us have heard faintly before, but perhaps we haven't gotten the full story or made connections which would inspire learning more or eating differently. So here we go, just a few reasons we should take a deeper look into our meat-eating habits and where that meat came from.

I was driving around Denver the other day for work and I had the opportunity to hear a segment on NPR about public health and new and mutated 'super-bugs', or strains of 'resistant' bacteria, which are popping up all over the world. The experts on the segment focused mainly on the much under-reported topic of the overuse of antibiotics in our society today, in particular, in factory farming (which happens to supply the vast majority of all the meat we eat). In the United States, humans consume about 3 million pounds of antibiotics annually. But a staggering 17.8 million pounds (a low, industry reported number) are fed to livestock annually (Foer, 2009). So let's look at the place where all this takes place, the factory farm.

Many proponents of factory farms say that they are an incredibly efficient way to produce a lot of meat which society needs to stay healthy. However, it is sad how little research and common sense it takes to prove every facet of this argument wrong.
At first glance, that common sense goes something like this:

The animals are taken off the lands and diets they were designed to live on and shipped to a factory farm, where they are fed genetically modified food -- which itself has been shipped to that farm, cannot be consumed directly by humans, requirs vast amounts of non-renewable resources to produce (think pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers), and requires government subsidies to pay the farmers who grew it.
Then, because the living conditions in that factory farm are so deplorable that hundreds of thousands of animals die from infections or are so mutilated from eating the food their bodies can't process that they are turned away from slaughter (or just mixed in at slaughter, as has been widely documented as happening), all the animals are fed millions of pounds of antibiotics 'nontheraputically', which then ends up creating massive spending on public health to address the outbreaks of never-before-seen illnesses.
All this not to mention that back at the factory, the millions of pounds of highly toxic, chemical and antibiotic-laced excrement gather in vast lagoons which, when not properly managed (as is generally the case) seep into the ground water thereby sickening yet more people unnecessarily.
So now what the proponents are really saying, no-one can deny: the only thing factory farms are good for is quickly producing profit for a startlingly small number of huge corporations who are not sufficiently regulated and who know that taking public health as a serious priority would mean a serious cut into their quarterly statements, not to mention the deconstruction of this vastly in-efficient system they have built.

The argument for continuing the practice of factory farming falls short on every front. Why would we continue to strengthen bacteria by mis-using antibiotics when the meat those antibiotics are producing is actually weakening those who eat it? Why should we continue to subsidize a system which creates profit for a few while the many of our society have to foot the bill to clean up the mess? When will enough be enough? How much money do we need to spend on public health, on the environment, on medical bills and funeral arrangements until we demand a change?

Let's start now. The American Dietetic Association puts in conservatively when they say:

"Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for all individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes."
Let's start saying no to meat unless we know who grew it, where and how it was raised, and where and how it was slaughtered. Not only that, but let's start telling our friends to do the same. Only when we the 'consumers' start changing will the industry finally recognize that they can no longer tell us what to eat.