Tag: big agra

Is There Any Safe Meat?

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 … Continue reading “Is There Any Safe Meat?”

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Guide to the Care & Feeding of Organicans, Part 1

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.

This Photo Belongs to Raraavis619

Here’s why:

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.

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[tags]organicans, organic food, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, scrub brush[/tags]

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Tuesday’s Thought Fuss

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites

1) Calm Cows

It’s all over the news: Scientists have invented a cow that may be immune to mad cow disease. Yes, that’s right – a whole cow. Not a drug, or a food, or a shot, but an actual breed of cow that is immune to getting a disease caused by…oh yeah: irresponsible, filthy factory food production. Of course, since our government still insists there is absolutely no cause to worry about killer burgers, we suppose this techie fix is just for kicks – you know, just in case. Hey, it’s always good to have an extra species of bovine on the shelf for those rainy day public health disasters. Why mop the slimy slaughterhouse floor when you can just make a new cow that won’t be affected by said slime? Hooray, technology!

If you’re interested in the dark underbelly of the mad cow conspiracy (we’re staying neutral for now…but boy, are they persuasive), visit our favorite little conspiracy site maintained by a gaggle of rogue journalists who probably eat tofu and have really messy hair. If you’re interested in the government’s take, visit the FDA. If you haven’t seen the news piece, here’s the clickativity. And we promise, no more cow pictures for a while.

Beneath the calm exterior…

2) Yeah, yeah, have a drink…

Yet another study reveals that one or two drinks a day may not be so bad for the heart – and now, it appears, for the old blood pressure. This is a debate that will probably never go away, and the fact that this large-scale (11,000: pretty good) survey (kind of lame by scientific standards) found a glass or two of Grandpa’s cough syrup is good for middle-aged men isn’t the worst news on earth, now is it? Of course, women should stick to one drink (in general).

However, keep in mind that:

a) A little sip is good, a little more is bad. Anything more than one or two drinks and you’re in the boiling-point blood pressure range, and,

b) while beer may – may – help raise good cholesterol a bump or two, so will a good multivitamin, a few weekly servings of lean fish, and daily use of olive oil or Smart Butter. We’re just sayin’.

Although, this does look good…

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We Take the Sting Out

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites

1) Taco Bell’s Fourth Meal Campaign – where they’re advising you to revisit mealtime late at night – is suddenly wrought with a lot of potential for humor in bad taste…and terrible puns. We’re not going to stoop to such low standards, but you can bet someone in the blogosphere will. And all because of scallions – scandalous. Clickativo. Good job, Big Agra. Way to win one for the team.

2) The intersection of morality judgments, motherhood and drugs: the debate over breast-feeding continues. The UK reports epidural drugs induce a desire in the mother to breast-feed; depending on when the drugs are given, there may be some unhealthy side effects; and doctors have concerns about another side effect: guilt in mothers who cannot breast-feed. Clickativity.

3) And the kids up at Evergreen U in Washington weigh in (sorry) on the whole Chicago-foie-gras-New-York-trans-fat fracas, which is apparently beginning to turn into a multi-city competition. Will Los Angeles (if it even notices) be the next to ban an unhealthy food? (What, no more white rice in the sushi?). Will Dallas come down on BBQ sauce? Will we start talking about “bootleg” buffalo wings? “Hooch” hamburgers? You know what the unintended consequences are of banning stuff people love: you get organized crime and mob syndicates. You’d think Chicago, of all cities, would remember that one.

Myspace, blogs, cell phones: the infrastructure exists, people. Soon we’ll see 14-year-old boys pelting city headquarters with ketchup packets on their way to deliver forbidden French fries to suburban housewives whose stressed-out husbands just have to have the hooch. Or not. Hey, we know this is absurd, but isn’t it absurd to live in a country where obesity is so out of control, cities actually ban certain foods?

The Evergreen U article suggests posting menu information instead of trying to tell people what to eat. That’s really logical and reasonable (one of the Worker Bees grew up a stone’s throw from Evergreen, and gosh, are they thoughtful people up there). But while it’s a nice idea, this food problem is way past logical. As Mark questioned last week in his musings on relative gluttony, would people really pay attention to the menu information? No one wants to be told what to do, but let’s face it, gluttony is the backbone of the American diet. So here’s the clickativity. Discuss, Apples!

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A Word on Cheese ‘Food’

Well, a few dozen words, which apparently still can’t compete with the number of ingredients required to make cheese “food”. When a food producer has to state the obvious, I get concerned. I start thinking about lobbies, factories, manufacturing, chemicals, and processes – things that sounded fun on the Jetsons but have disturbing consequences in reality.

Maybe I’m easily entertained, but I get a real kick (more pain than humor, actually) from “foods” I see in the grocery store. Some days, I can’t even make it through the center aisles – it’s just too much. But even the dairy case can be a minefield of scientific stupefaction for which no chemistry refresher course could possibly prepare me. Case in point: cheese food.

When did the food supply become about food products instead of food? When did it become acceptable to label something meant for human ingestion as a “cheese food”? What’s next: milk food, beef food, and perhaps food food?
I grew up in Maine: lots of trees, animals, mountains, farms. I grew up with the knowledge that cheese was something that came from milk after some fairly simple processing. Something about Miss Moppet and curds and whey. These days, cheese “food” comes from a factory and includes things like “anhydrous milkfat”. Google at your own risk. And schools feed it to our kids, meanwhile, and feel good because there’s calcium in it!

It’s a mass-produced, centralized, chemical-laden world of cheese food we live in, Apples. I encourage you to be vigilant about eating only fresh foods that don’t need descriptions like “process” or “product” or, as if we should eat something that comes with a reminder, “food”.

Here’s some clickativity from a less-perplexed soul who took the time to explain exactly what goes into cheese “food”. Read at your discretion.

[tags] lobbies, factories, manufacturing, chemicals, processed food, mass production, cheese food, anhydrous milkfat, strange food ingredients, dairy [/tags]

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Semantic Salmon

Remember the bread-is-to-crumb logic section on the SAT’s? Or how about the interminable hours spent in Mr. Johnson’s English Lit class deconstructing the deeper meaning of that tree in that poem by that guy? The latest and greatest fish debate is worse.

Environmentalists, food lobbyists, and fishermen and women everywhere are in a big huff over whether we should label certain fish as organic or not.

Take a wild salmon and a farm-raised, sea-lice-infested, sick salmon. Which one is organic?

It’s not a trick question. The fish furor (as reported in the New York Times today) is because the government is likely to permit only farm-raised fish to be called organic. That means pristine, wild, icy-water Alaskan salmon cannot be labeled organic.

This is not a joke.

The reason wild, and ostensibly healthier, fish cannot be labeled organic is because we don’t know where their food comes from. And the official requirements of organic food include strict feeding rules. That’s great for a chicken, clucking around in a cage in Omaha. By all means, feed that darn chicken some organic seeds! But the day a wild, clean, natural Alaskan salmon cannot be labeled organic is the day I officially conclude our government employees did not sit through Mr. Johnson’s English Lit class.

The debate gets more complicated (as if we care). Evidently, because salmon are not vegetarian fish, said fish fishers cannot prove that the fish these salmon eat in their natural habitats are also organic. (It’s okay if you have to read that a few times.)

However, a farmed fish, infected with sea-lice, raised so quickly it doesn’t have adequate Omega-3 levels, and crowded in with other fish like, oh, I don’t know…sardines… can be labeled organic. Because we know where its food comes from.

On the other side of the net, one organic-fish-scandal expert says that to allow wild salmon organic status is just really disrespectful to the meaning of organic. Organic, by definition, means organic feed. In other words, we’re following the rules because those are the rules, rather than remembering that rules exist to serve our needs. If a rule doesn’t serve a need or reflect a situation accurately, it needs to be modified. End of story. No deeper meaning, no semantic salmon. Let’s remember the entire reason for starting this organic craze: the realization that we need to go back to natural, healthy foods.

[tags] organic, wild salmon, farmed fish, sea lice, omega-3, Alaska, New York Times, fishermen, regulation, red tape [/tags]

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A Reader Rants

Junior Apple Sarah writes: “I just saw something on the news for an e. coli antidote and how it will revolutionize not only the food industry but also healthcare. What ever happened to just making sure that the food and facilities are clean? It’s my understanding that e. coli comes from fecal matter. Is it too much to ask to keep poop off my food? Why do we have to put another chemical in something / everything we eat?” A recent article in the New York Times entitled “The Vegetable-Industrial Complex” deals with this issue at length. Writer Michael Pollan explores how modern food production yields more than bumper crops – it also yields very high potential for significant public health hazards. It’s the law of unintended consequences put to play on the dinner table. I really recommend that you check out the article. In a nutshell: – Modern food production has created two problems out of what was once a single solution. Animals fertilized crops, and crops fed animals. Pull them apart, mass produce them in factories and feedlots, and you have two problems: 1) As it collects in feedlots, manure becomes pollution, full of antibiotics, chemicals and e. coli, leading to the second problem: 2) Crops are now at risk for contamination, which invariably means crops get fertilized artificially. Great for the chemical industry, not so great for small farms, public health, economic efficiency, animals, or the earth. – Calling for local, organic, small-time food production isn’t about being a dread-locked tree-hugger. It’s actually far more logical and economically viable to return to the way we used to do things. Small-scale food production is healthier. It’s easier to trace if something goes wrong, and fewer people are likely to be affected. Small-scale food production benefits small businesses instead of huge single food conglomerates. That means a freer market, more competition, better choice. Everyone wins: small-scale farming is better for the environment and creates a solution whereas now we have two big problems. – Small-scale farming also avoids the current obvious threat of terrorism. The article points out that our meat comes from but a few slaughterhouses. All the bagged spinach in the country passes through just four locations. How easy would it be for a terrorist to contaminate our food? That’s what Homeland Security is wondering. Unfortunately, industrial food production looks to short-term, engineered fixes. When e. coli was found in the beef supply during the whole Jack in the Stomach fiasco of the 90s, producers just blasted the meat. (Pollan writes: Rather than clean up the kill floor and the feedlot diet, some meat processors simply started nuking the meat — sterilizing the manure, in other words, rather than removing it from our food.) Why bother cleaning up the waste? It’s only our health on the line. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if our government starts requiring that our entire food supply be irradiated. – Finally, well-meaning though it may be, calling for even more regulation … Continue reading “A Reader Rants”

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How Do You Say ‘No Shame’ in Spanglish?

I have to hand it to Taco Bell for being both devastatingly brilliant and unforgivably evil. In a new campaign called the Fourth Meal, they’re pumping the fourth meal (yes…“the meal between dinner and breakfast”) with a dazzling disregard for health, ethics, decency and taste. Normally, I tend to admire rebels and rule-breakers. I don’t exactly have best friends over at Big Pharma. And I understand Taco Bell isn’t in business to kiss babies and hug Aunt Sue. Taco Bell is in business for the same reason everyone else is: to make some cash. Hopefully, you can make some cash while doing something good. Not so with el Taco. To that end, their marketers are brilliant. Running a late-night campaign obviously aimed at college kids, night owls and (let’s be frank) bar flies – and being so blatantly cavalier about – is smart business. The website is so cool, it’s appalling. At the site, viewers can choose to enter as a hip young man or woman. Next up, you pick trendy threads to wear. You navigate a late-night, funky urban street. Via a glossy black virtual handheld device (of course), you can talk, make buddies, and play – you can become a “Fourth Mealer”. That’s right: Taco Bell is pushing an entire online community a la MySpace, Friendster, Squidoo (and your very own Mark’s Daily Apple) devoted entirely to feeling cool about scarfing a late night meal complete with the Taco Bell version of the four food groups: Melty, Crunchy, Spicy, Grilled. Hey, I was a college kid once; maybe you were, too. We’ve all had a wild night (or ten) at some point in our lives. I don’t hold anything against Taco Bell for wanting to make a buck. In fact, I advocate a fourth meal – in the sense that I advocate several small meals throughout the day to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels and keep the metabolism firing full speed ahead. But let’s consider, just for a second, if Taco Bell could have done something different. Kids are smart. They also like to rebel against authority. Don’t we all? What if Taco Bell had incorporated a few healthy items into their menu, marketed them as still being tasty (surely the food chemists can handle that order), and gone with the whole Fourth Meal campaign anyway. Only, instead of advocating the late-night consumption of complete garbage, pitching the healthy Fourth Meal as something only college kids and night owls would really “get”. Taco Bell: “Hey, it’s late. The parental units are home in bed and feeling great about their three squares. Your boss thinks you’re still at the office and your professor thinks you’re studying for that exam. Right. All the nerds are probably reading and listening to Beethoven. But you need a little veg, a little protein, and a little taste – now. So you’re eating a cheap, fast, healthy meal because you have a life. You’re a fourth-mealer. You either get it or you don’t.” [tags] … Continue reading “How Do You Say ‘No Shame’ in Spanglish?”

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My Beef with Beef

I can’t tell you how furious I am about what I feel is the meat industry’s blatant disregard for human health. While I’m no vegetarian, I saw this study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, and let’s just say, I’m not buying the “Happy Cows” line.

The researchers looked at 90,000 women. That’s a huge study. They compared US and UK women, and here’s what they found:

Eating more than 1.5 servings of meat daily doubles a young woman’s risk of breast cancer. What concerns me is the type of cancer which had double the risk: hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. To me, that says something pretty sobering about the meat industry’s production habits.

Both the study, and the BBC News article that covered it, are cautious to merely “suggest” a link between eating red meat and increasing – doubling – the risk of breast cancer. It doesn’t take much to read between the lines here.

The reason I think this study is really important to highlight is not because I hope to bandy a statistic like “double the risk!” about. (Remember the Statistics Game: always consider context and relative risk or results.) It’s important because the women who ate high amounts of red meat had double the risk of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. That is a big issue, namely, because the American meat industry uses growth hormone like it’s manna from Heaven. Growth hormone helps the animals get bigger, faster, which translates more profit – but I’m pretty skeptical about how this practice could possibly be in the interest of public health. I just wonder how these people sleep at night knowing their profits come at the expense of other human beings.

Personally, I believe it’s clear that human physiology supports being omnivorous. No culture anywhere at any time has done without some sort of animal flesh, whether it’s fish, beef or reindeer. So I’m not “anti-meat”. However, I am strongly opposed to the way meat is produced in this country: quickly, unethically, with little regard for the animals or the people eating the animals. That’s why I only buy meat that is free-range, local, organic and definitely hormone-free.

The researchers were careful not to draw any ultimate conclusions. I think we can probably begin to draw our own, with some additional critical considerations:

1) Processed meats generally contain a chemical known as heterocyclic acid, which has been shown to cause cancer;

2) Red meat, of course, contains iron, which can sometimes encourage the growth of some types of tumors (though this isn’t a significant concern, likely);

3) The standard line: “The biggest risk factors for breast cancer remain gender and increasing age.” This from specialist Maria Leadbeater, quoted in the BBC article. Fair enough.

[tags] breast cancer, beef, red meat, cancer, factory farming, growth hormone, omnivore, Maria Leadbeater, BBC, hormone receptor, heterocyclic acid, risk factors [/tags]

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