Monday, February 04, 2008

The Meat You Eat

The Meat You Eat

I just finished up an article in the New York Times titled A Dying Breed about meat consumption. It was relatively free from the usual indignant hippie flavor that such articles have, but even with that small comfort, it was still mostly figures about how Americans eat more meat than anybody else and production figures and whatnot. There were a few things that jumped out at me though.

Let me preface this section by saying that I’m not a member of Green Peace, the Humane Society, a hippie, or a vegetarian. Not that any of those things are bad, I’m just not on any of those particular band wagons and may not be fully up to date on all the finer points of things that I’m going to be getting into here.

The first thing was about the proliferation of factory farms. That’s where the animals are kept in pens the whole time and fed the most fattening diet that can be contrived and loaded with hormones to make them grow and antibiotics to keep them form dying off. I’ll skip the environmental impact statement, it’s obvious, as is the humane society rant that always pops up. The thing about those farms is that the animals are fed grain and soy as opposed to grazing to get them to grow faster. That same grain would go a lot farther in feeding people if the people just ate it themselves. Getting calories out to a consumer by running them through a cow, pig, or chicken first is really kind of a luxury situation, especially since humans can get all the protein they need from a vegetarian diet.

The original source of those calories is somewhat of a hot topic as well. With alternative fuel production starting to ramp up, corn is in demand and the prices are rising accordingly. Get this… it’s actually becoming almost competitive for farmers to graze their animals. So with all these precious calories, poor penned up animals, and lakes of poo dotting the country side, the writer of the article sees that among those who partake of the luxury of eating meat, those who are willing to pay even more for free range meat are a pretty small group.

There’s just so many arguments against factory farms and for small independent farms. Factory farms developed because small farms couldn’t remain competitive. So now there’s these sprawling meat factories that nobody wants to live near, wrecking the ground water. What’s more, all the feed has to be trucked in, and all the meat trucked out, so there’s an additional layer of environmental harm. If ethanol takes off, the cows and the trucks they ride in will actually be competing for the same corn!

What if the small, local farm became viable again.

It would seem that loads of people would have to get on board for that to work. BUT!!! It’s really not that expensive. My family bought half a pig, a quarter of a cow, and an enormous free range turkey from local farmers this year. Only the bird was more expensive per pound, but at 29 pounds (he was the smallest one they had by the way) we’re going to be eating some fine turkey for quite a few meals. Yeah, so I’ve got a freezer full of free range meat, untainted by hormones, raised on food that it was meant to eat and be healthy on, and it all tastes way better than anything I’ve ever had from the store. And I’m not just talking about the smug factor (see: Prius owners) I’ve been completely ruined for store bought bacon by this stuff, I won’t even consider it.

So… what if the small local farm were viable again.

Families that operate farms gain independence and furnish jobs for their neighbors. Pollution is reduced because manure can be spread in sensible amounts on nearby fields, where the feed for the stock is grown. Trucking of feed is greatly reduced, trucking of product is greatly reduced. It’s win, win, win here. Rural America is busy growing corn for our gas tanks, and grass to fatten up healthy animals. Fresh, healthy, great tasting meat shows up at the store and everybody’s happy.

But, this is America and it’s the new millennium folks. People are actually talking seriously about “meat without feet”. Yeah, animal tissue grown in vats and then sliced or ground up. Appetizing huh? I’m all for progress, but couldn’t those people be busy figuring out how to do something that can’t already easily be done? Like quitting AOL or making income tax forms intelligible? Do we really need to relegate the practitioners of “the oldest profession” (I’ve been waiting years to use that in reference to farmers instead of prostitutes) to checking on vats of veal when they really ought to be out doing things to better their neighborhood and the condition of the stuff on our plates?

All I’m saying is if you could have really good tasting meat on your table, from animals fed stuff they were meant to eat and allowed to stretch their legs, and at the same time reduce pollution, and improve your local economy for only slightly more effort and actually sometimes less money wouldn’t you do it? I did, it was pretty easy, I feel pretty good, and it tasted wonderful with a little rice and broccoli.

By the way, it hasn’t come up yet, but I could really give a damn about cloned animals. Gardeners have been cloning plants since some ancient Sumerian first put flint blade to seed and the plant world has been none the worse for wear for it. But if it comes to meat-from-a-vat… I’m outta here. Seriously, you can bury me under what used to be a hay field somewhere cause that is just too weird.

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