Reader Sheila asked me a great question recently: is there really any safe meat to eat these days?
Beef and pork? Raised in cramped factories and fattened as quickly as possible, the happiness of the animal is nonexistent and the health of the meat is seriously in question. These animals are fed hormones, antibiotics, and an unnatural high-sugar grain diet that reduces beneficial fatty acids in the meat and causes illness in the animal (hence the need for drugs). Red meat and the “other” white meat (come on, it’s red) aren’t exactly the boon of health we low-carbers would like them to be. Sheila wondered about the rumors of dangerous parasites and germs in pork. Because of the modern factory system, pork really doesn’t have any greater health danger than beef. However, just because things like listeria have been reduced since the days of Upton Sinclair, doesn’t make meat healthy.
The sheer production level of meat is so high that it draws greedily on natural resources like oil, water, and land (and it’s a major contributor to rainforest deforestation). It’s no wonder many people are turning to vegetarianism. Either that, or it’s the fact that a typical burger patty is literally a composite of hundreds of cows, and processed meats are made of stripped spinal meat, which is turning so many people off of meat. This always turns my stomach, and although I do espouse responsible meat-eating (more on that in a moment), I’d sooner go hungry than eat a single meal that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of animals. To me, it’s cruel and vulgar, and yet, a burger is the most popular food item in America. Sad.
How about chicken and turkey? Fowl is raised in much the same manner as beef and pork. Modern chicken is far more fatty than the chicken your grandparents ate. You even have to be careful with free-range products. The only thing that “ranges” with many of these free-range products is the degree of accuracy in the term. In some states, the “free range” is still a pen, albeit with some sunlight. My idea of healthy protein is not tens of thousands of chickens crammed into a sunless room smelling of chemicals and covered in filth, and I’m sure it’s not yours either, yet this is the reality.
But fish is healthy, right? Again, it’s not a pretty picture. Our oceans’ fisheries are in jeopardy. In fact, an entire section of California’s coast has been banned because the fish populations are close to being wiped out. This sort of thing is going on in many places. This isn’t fun news, but the facts remain. Our way of life is causing serious problems. Couple overfishing with the gross levels of pollutants in many waterways – particularly southern waters – and fish isn’t necessarily your best bet. Farmed fish is problematic because it can interfere with wild fish habitats, and farmed fish are often overcrowded to the point of cannibalism. And there’s the sea lice infestation to consider.
Sheesh! What about shellfish? My staffers jokingly call shrimp “sea bugs” because they have exoskeletons, much like any ordinary garden insect. Like lobster and crab, they sorta are sea bugs, if you think about it. Here’s the “bad news” about shellfish. I personally avoid shellfish.
This isn’t an apologia for vegetarians. I eat meat. But I have friends, family members and staff who don’t. If you think what I’ve just written is depressing, spend some time on the vegetarian blogs and you’ll see where my pals are coming from. For me, the problem is that our modern meat production system is grossly out of step with sustainability in every sense. This is a radical problem for the environment, for our sense of compassion and our ethical integrity, and human health. It’s that serious.
I believe another serious aspect of this problem is that the human body is designed to be omnivorous – subsisting on a healthy mix of animal flesh, vegetables, seeds, nuts and fruits. I am firmly against the modern diet rich in sugars, refined flours and processed starches. I think occasional whole grains are fine, but based on my background in biology, neither burgers nor burger buns are the road to the blessings of good health. I believe humans are meant to eat some meat – whether fish, fowl or livestock – based upon the facts I have observed in my studies of human evolution. That’s where most of my veg pals and I part ways. For example, I don’t think most types of soy are healthy. But we can disagree while still agreeing that the basic problem – the current system of meat production – has got to change. Period.
What to do?
If you don’t want to “go veg”, whether for reasons of personal preference or scientific convictions (my case), then do all you can to support better practices:
- Go organic. Expensive, yes, but I believe this is a non-negotiable. If you buy “free-range”, make sure it’s really free-range.
- Try to find local producers. This supports smaller farms, who often raise meat sustainably and in accordance with organic protocols but can’t afford the hoops of being officially labeled organic. This requires significant digging and a lot of phone calls, but this is your earth and your body, so I really don’t think it’s such a big deal.
- Eat less. This is a huge one that I never see anyone talking about. I am a big fan of “low carb” eating. I think sugar is no better than a toxin. But that doesn’t mean anyone needs to eat massive steaks. Humans are designed to eat some flesh, but fish and eggs are certainly sufficient, and more importantly, you only need 1-3 ounces at a time. Unless you’re an athlete in training, the need for anything more than a small handful of flesh is exaggerated. We’re used to eating huge servings of meat, but then, we’re used to eating huge servings of everything.
- Write some letters. It’s easy.
So, Sheila, in answer to your question, I don’t believe there’s really any one type of meat that is superior to any other – the way meat is currently produced. Produced sustainably, organically, with the animals’ health in mind, chicken is a great source of protein. And grass-fed, “happy” cows provide meat rich in good fats. And wild fish from safe, cold-water regions like Alaska contains Omega-3′s and very low levels of contaminants. Pigs not raised in cruel, cramped gestation crates provide lean protein. Personally, I eat mostly fish and fowl. But for every type of flesh we can consume, there’s a healthier, saner alternative. I don’t recommend one type of meat over the other, because ultimately, it’s the whole system that’s gotta go. I recommend rethinking the entire “meat paradigm”, and shifting your habits to support a better way of life. In a few short years, we’ll all have to anyway.
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A self-described starving student recently wrote to me asking if it’s more important to focus on organic produce or organic meat & dairy at the grocery store. I get asked this question fairly often, so let’s talk about it.
Organic food costs can easily rival student loan payments – so, if you’re young or simply on a tight budget and you have to make a choice, what do you buy? Does organic food of any kind even make a difference (aside from the dent in your bank account)? The answer, my would-be organicans, is yes.
Organic produce is grown without the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals and is environmentally-sustainable. Organic meat and dairy is raised and produced according to similar regulations. The animals can’t be mistreated (a matter of course for regular meat) and they must be fed the food that nature intended. Hormones, antibiotics and fillers are big no-no’s. Organic products of any kind, as a rule, are ostensibly good for the environment. Though there is a fair amount of weaseling and hype in the organic industry (as with any industry) that’s a topic for another time.
Don’t listen to the naysayers. Eating organic food is a healthy habit. Local and organic is even better. But, if you’re on a budget thanks to Sallie Mae, I recommend focusing on organic animal products and buying the cheaper conventional chemical-bathed produce. Just invest two bucks in a really aggressive scrub brush.
A lot of people get excited about organic produce and forget all about the animal products. But what’s the use in eating a bowl of organic salad greens topped with grilled meat that is loaded up with hormones, antibiotics, and chemicals and was fed on greens loaded with hormones, antibiotics, and chemicals? When you eat conventional animal products, not only are you ingesting your very own pharmacological experiment, but you’re supporting (and eating) the non-organic feed that fattened up that hoofed friend.
Like I always say, you can wash the chemicals off a cucumber. I’m not sure how to do that with milk (although this little one has it all figured out).
Apples: If you have to make budget-friendly choices at the market, what do you choose? What are your tips for eating organic without breaking the bank? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Worker Bees’ Daily Bites:
Here’s today’s wrap-up from the world of health, Apples. Thanks for all your great support and feedback this week. Keep those suggestions and questions coming! Stay healthy and have a wonderful weekend!
We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Hormones
…in our milk. The latest Big Moo decision is sure to please, although analysts on both sides of the issue wonder how significant the impact of hormones really is. It’s a good question – unfortunately, as of yet, there’s no clear answer, but this decision certainly won’t hurt.
(Ian Britton photo)
Side Effects Include Death
Yeesh! The FDA issues a warning for anemia drugs (the kind typically used for those who have undergone chemotherapy).
Don’t Have One This Weekend
Apparently, having a stroke over the weekend is riskier than having one during the week. But don’t worry too much: studies show the risk varies between being 4% and 15% greater. While 15% is statistically significant, bear in mind it’s not 15% across the board (oh, fun with stats…). Our take? Since this isn’t really something you can plug into the Blackberry anyway, don’t sweat it too much.
And you thought productive leisure time was enough. This is a fascinating article about scent, sleep and memory. Don’t miss it!
Locavores Vs. Organicans
Time has a great piece on the edible issue of going local versus going organic. The debate? What is better: eating an organic apple that traveled halfway around the world thanks to Middle Eastern oil, or munching a local yet pesticide-bedecked Red Delicious? It’s a tough call. What are your thoughts?
Worker Bees’ Daily Bites
News to click before you sneak out of the office for the weekend.
Funny, we remember it was only a year ago that the government was emphatically denying any mad cow problems in the U.S. Then, the Alberta beef contamination scare hit. (And about a million conspiracy theories.) Next, we witnessed a spate of food poisoning incidents in everything from spinach to peanut butter. Surely something is going on, because now this protocol is scheduled to begin. Dare we say…progress?
Burger suppliers are in a twist because they don’t want inspectors dropping by unannounced – they like the current system of self-policing and occasional inspector
wink-winks check-ins. Well, yeah, who wouldn’t? Strangely, even consumer advocacy groups are taking issue with this new risk-based protocol (they say it’s all happening too fast). We’re starting to think it’s not the cows who are mad.
We’ve been bringing you news on trans fat for several months now, Apples, and here’s the latest from the fryer:
NYC, Philly, and L.A., plus an entire state – Massachusetts – are working to ban trans fats. Fabulous. (Well, actually, Los Angeles is merely reminding everyone they never ate trans fat to begin with.) But we digress.
There’s a growing problem with the trans fat furor, and it highlights a problematic issue with Americans and our health efforts. We tend to gravitate to “super” foods, “miracle”nutrients and “perfect” new diets, rather than following a generally healthy diet of moderation. By the same token, we ridicule, ban and boycott newly-discovered unhealthy foods and ingredients with a level of collective loathing only outdone by our feelings about garden slugs.
To wit: we’re now banning trans fats, but eating the same old garbage. It’s taken about three seconds for restaurants and food companies to create reasonable fat substitutes for trans fat. Notice, no one is getting rid of the French fries, potato chips and pastries; we’re just using a different fat. Trans fat may be going the way of skinny jeans, but the same old fattening, sugary junk is still lining shelves and spilling out of drive-through windows everywhere.
“Trans fat-free chips” may sound great, because we know trans fat is bad, but that doesn’t make the chips any healthier to eat.
Women and Depression
Though recent studies have confirmed that just as many men suffer from depression as women (they’re just less likely to seek help), depression manifests in different ways depending on gender. One possibility: depressed women may self-medicate with alcohol more intensely than men. It’s difficult for scientists to pinpoint, because it’s a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg dilemma. Does depression cause alcoholism or does alcoholism cause depression? Or are they simply manifestations of a single root health issue?
(Christy Thompson photo)
A completely unscientific observation from Sara and Jen: it does appear that women’s television shows are featuring heavy drinking more frequently than ever. Sex in the City was well-known for its endless cocktails – hey, it made Cosmopolitans famous. But shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Men in Trees and others feature stressed-out young women pounding shots whenever they’re upset (didn’t it used to be ice cream?). Scientists do say that when it comes to drinking, women are “keeping up” with men in increasing numbers.
What do you think, Apples?
Web it out:
Vegan Lunch Box turned us on to this great article about the difference between soda and fruit juice (the answer: not much). The article isn’t brand-spanking-new, but since the unethical bloodsuckers over at Capri Sun and Sunny D are still raking in the cash, it could use a little clickativity. Spread the word, Apples.
We’re as sick of mad cow as you are (just feed them grass and keep them clean!), but we promised to find out who was behind the crazy study to breed mad-cow-free cows. Ladies and gents, we present Hematech. This outfit uses cows to research and develop all sorts of human disease antibodies. In a bizarre example of how this corporate world works, Hematech is owned by none other than Kirin Brewing Company. As in, the beer.
Drop in later for Mark and Russ’s chat on core fitness, today’s Smart Fuel, and the weekly roundup!
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