Our food is revolting, in more ways than one. Fortunately, a counterrevolution is underway.
The CDC released a report 17 September 2013 that was real news—in 1970: routine injection of meat animals with antibiotics gives rise to supergerms that resist all known antibiotics. It took two generations to get the word out, and now we face the possibility of an era of untreatable disease that could kill people as if the 20th century had not happened.
Our food is revolting, in more ways than one.
We now face the possibility of
an era of untreatable disease.
Official reports speak only of these germs at large. I haven’t seen any mention of the affect of consuming small amounts of antibiotics all one’s life, but I can’t imagine it has no effect. Some biologists claim that antibiotics are not in our bodies, period. Frankly, I’m suspicious of that assertion. It seems to me that it’s more likely that any substance present in all of the meat we eat will also be in our bodies.
Heavy metals are not the same as antibiotics, for sure, but I can’t help but think of the problem of heavy metals. One California doctor a few years ago realized that several of her patients were exhibiting neurological symptoms. Questioning revealed that they all ate significant quantities of seafood every week. Blood tests showed accumulated mercury in all of them. Mercury in the environment in minute amounts ended up in small fish. When larger fish ate them, mercury concentration increased slightly in their bodies, and concentrated further in the larger fish that ate them. The higher on the food chain, the more likely the accumulation of mercury. We are at the top of the food chain.
Things tend to concentrate in our bodies
because we are at the top of the food chain.
Have we overreacted? Do minute amounts of chemical pollutants really cause problems? Well, consider the California condor, which was rescued from extinction by an extensive and costly breeding program that resulted in young birds successfully released into the wild. Lately, however, several of these expensive scavengers have turned up dead. The culprit? DDT, which was outlawed in 1972, ten years after Silent Spring. But it is still present in seal blubber 40 years later, even though seals live about 30 years at most. Environmental DDT, still present in minuscule amounts, concentrates in their blubber over the decades they live. When they die, their blubber is scavenged by condors. It would seem that we can’t afford to be complacent about what we call “progress”, and that includes practices in raising meat animals.
I put it all up to the usual suspects: corporate profit, with a long history of authoritarian planning having nothing to do with food quality or health. Food production is the premier example of what can go wrong with corporate capitalism, another case of bigger is always better and we know better than you do. What we eat is not designed to bring us health, taste, pleasure. It has one goal only: profit. Injection of meat animals with antibiotics makes them put on more weight, therefore it must be done. Any other effects are irrelevant.
Our factory food production
has nothing to do with quality or health.
Profit, it has been assumed, is always best achieved by mass production and factory methods. So eggs and chickens must be produced by hundreds of thousands, cattle by thousands. Beef cattle converge by tens of thousands on inhumane and grossly filthy holding lots. One animal is killed and butchered every few seconds, at great danger to underpaid and uninsured immigrant workers.
The country’s largest crop, corn, is not food. It is feed for pigs and cattle, and it is not even a natural food for cattle. Corn is the ideal crop for high-modernist, gigantic corporate farming, with its three-year rotation of corn-corn-corn on thousand-acre plots. Monoculture risks crop failure because any uncontrolled pest or disease will spread rapidly throughout the entire crop. This is what caused nearly all of the significant crop failures in history, starting with the Irish potato famine. Mono-cropping requires ever-increasing use of dangerous chemicals to control pests and diseases.
The newest development is represented by arch-criminal corporation Monsanto, which developed genetically modified cultivars that invade other spaces wherever they are used and have never been proven safe. Monsanto spends mega-millions hiding the dangers of their handiwork, as well as defeating legislation requiring disclosure of the use of GMO crops and food products. They also regularly launch expensive lawsuits against farmers whose fields their Franken-crops have invaded, particularly if those farmers rely on saving seed for their next crop. They would prefer that such farmers be compelled to buy Monsanto Franken-seed and compulsory Monsanto poisons.
Nobody needs to eat beef at all.
But the biggest is not always the best agricultural production method, unless yield is your only goal. The proponents of High Modernism with their gargantuan agricultural enterprises, are almost always confounded by the superior production of small farmers on their own land, irregular plots that defy the autocratic need for simplification, and using multiple cultivars chosen for local conditions. The products of these small farmers are of higher quality, better taste, and superior nutrition, and their soil is healthier. This has been shown around the world. The essential reason is that mega-production came about for tax purposes and for corporate or state profit, neither of which have anything to do with food quality, health, or anything else.
The health of market animals is managed for the entire herd. It is not possible to treat individual animals, and that is part of the problem. Antibiotic treatment is administered to the whole herd, oftentimes on hopes that disease can be headed off, even when no disease is seen. The result is germs resistant to all treatment.
More nutritious foods are gradually
replacing supermarket failures.
It is not necessary, or even especially profitable, for a large herd to be kept as a whole as is commonly practiced. These huge herds could be maintained in several smaller, separated herds, with fewer antibiotics, avoiding the spread of disease to other herds. Diseases, by definition, are abnormal, but they become widespread because of the way we raise crops and animals. My guess is that another element in the problem is that farm conditions themselves are unhealthy for animals because they are too crowded, leading to increased disease. That is undoubtedly true in these enormous filthy slaughter operations.
The understanding of these faults in our system, along with realization that the “pink slime” and similarly atrocious crap foisted on us by fast-food moguls is maybe not so good for us, has fostered a new food revolution, and food research just from the current century is showing us exactly why we should enlist in the revolution. As Jo Robinson’s book, Eating On the Wild Side, shows, the institutionally developed produce we buy is almost always inferior in terms of nutrition and taste, because it was designed solely for mega-production and machine management. More nutritious foods are gradually replacing these supermarket failures, particularly in farmers markets, and the best thing about the trend is that we can usually pick significantly more nutritious veggies and fruits simply by choosing varieties with darker colors. It’s that simple. A similar trend is found in meat, poultry, and dairy foods.
We can pick significantly
more nutritious veggies and fruits
by choosing varieties with darker colors.
Anyone with taste buds can tell that organically raised, so-called “free range” chickens taste better than inhumanely raised factory chickens that are cheaply fed, and organically raised beef and pork are similarly superior. The “perfect chicken” has become a rather baroque goal of certain high-end restaurants. Scraps of food from the restaurant are saved and fed to chickens raised only for that restaurant, and fed to them in settings that are chicken heaven, along with high quality supplements. The resulting meat is hoped to give the restaurant customized, uniquely tasty chicken dishes.
Pampered, boutique chickens are beyond the pale for most of us, but almost all of us can buy better quality chickens, eggs, and meats, or forgo meats entirely. If going veggie is not in the cards, and budgets are tight, smaller portions of better meat are in order, rather than oversized servings of tasteless, unhealthy meats. This meat can be supplemented by larger servings of improved veggie and fruit dishes, the way people have done for centuries. If you must eat beef, even after reading these new and alarming reports, choose small portions of organically grown beef. Nobody needs to eat a pound of beef. Nobody needs to eat beef at all.
The Slow Food Movement, organic farming, community gardening, rooftop gardening, farmers markets, and a number of other trends are strengthening rapidly. What is not happening is for good food to become widely available in less affluent urban areas, for people who are unable to raise it themselves. Nor is this better food necessarily affordable, or time-affordable, for many people.
But the revolution is at long last moving into the mainstream. It’s about time.