I was born into a household where my father did not consume animal products, at least not from dead animals. He did eat eggs, cheese and other dairy products.
As a young adolescent, I thought this policy was strange, as no other family I knew, had followed the principle. Vegetarianism was certainly not new, as a list of vegetarians from history will attest. Those figures include dudes from Ancient Greece, such as Pythagoras and Plato, religious giants like Saint Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther – Luther: who knew? There were also those who chose science over superstition to arrive at their non-carnivore dietary preferences. Who would have suspected that Ben Franklin took time off from hell-firing to settle down with a nice veggie burger? The writers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hans Christian Andersen, Charlotte Bronte and Henry David Thoreau were meatless, and Tolstoy made War and Peace on meat and the vegetable comestible, respectively.
Some times I was embarrassed when our family went out to dine, as I heard Dad clumsily explaining to the waiter at Tung Sang that he didn’t eat meat. He was only trying to ensure that his vegetable–only request would be strictly observed, by a wait staff whose mastering of English was questionable.
My father did not impose this restriction on the rest of our family, and at the time I was grateful. After leaving the household, I spent the next forty-five years consuming all the mammals I could get my teeth into. I was one of Burger King’s best customers (McDonalds was off-limits because of Ray Kroc’s Nixon campaign contributions).
A good friend told me how she gave up the consumption of meat shortly after a visit to a slaughterhouse. She described, in vivid detail, the suffering of animals scheduled for slaughter. She could have only been revulsed further if the slaughterhouse she had visited used the Kosher process. God is happy if you kill an animal in this fashion. The cow? Not so much. Neither of us was aware of the inhumane conditions, which was the ordeal of all animals selected to provide us with life-giving sustenance. Since that time (about twenty years ago), conditions for animals in factory farms have gotten much worse. You can imagine how restless the nights and days of these hapless creatures must be, born into captivity, and constantly living within inches of their fellow cage-mates.
One day I just quit, cold turkey (although poultry is still something that I consume, at least temporarily). Since making that decision, five or six years ago, I have learned more of the reasons why my choice was a correct one – for me.
The other morning, I learned that in addition to the hormones and antibiotics that are added to the diet of beef cattle, some factory farms feed chicken manure to their beasts of unspeakable burden. This is to keep a competitive edge, against producers who treat their animals a little more humanely (as if that were even possible). The idea is produce the product at the cheapest possible price, ignoring health threats to human consumers of beef. It seems that one of my favorite corporations, Walmart, which practically owns the food retail business (as well as the souls of its employees), mandates this cheapest pricing structure. So if you believe that you ARE what you eat, and someone accuses you of being chicken shit, you can respond affirmatively.
What are some of these health threats, I hope you are asking?
Let’s start with antibiotics. Each time you swallow a mouthful of non-organic beef product, you’re ingesting some of those. Eventually, you, and the cow you are eating, will develop immunity to the diseases these agents seek to prevent.
What about those hormones? About two thirds of all slaughtered beef are injected with “growth enhancements”. Leave it to the Ag Industry to think of this euphemism for poison. The idea is for the animal to attain maturity before nature had intended, to achieve the obvious reward – less time on the farm; quicker to your stomach. These additives to your food are potential health risks. Most adult men have a little less to fear from growth hormones than women who are pregnant, or one day, hope to be, and young children. But they are only a small majority.
Now my favorite of these additives is chicken manure, mentioned above. My doctor told me I wasn’t getting enough of this in my diet. She also told me I was deficient in Pink Slime, which the industry now calls “Finely Textured Beef.” Why they would change the name from the original is beyond me. A better question is what idiot named it that in the first place? A marketing genius, I’ll wager.
So what are some of the pitfalls of feeding this to cattle? We’ve all heard of mad cow disease (who could blame them for getting mad?). Chicken manure in the feedlot has been known to cause this malady. The industry is probably putting heads together, as we speak, to euphemize this term to something like, “Poultry Poopular.” And while they are at it, they should take a whack at the name “Mad Cow,” and call it “Slightly Perturbed Bovine,” or ”Disturbed Herd Mentality.”
I could just see the ad now: A young child, with a white bacteria-infested mustache appears, smiling, as she utters (or udders) the line, “Got salmonella?”
So, other than human health, and inhumane treatment of animals, what were my other reasons to avoid meat?
Global Warming: Cattle is said to be the greatest emitter of methane, a greenhouse gas considerably worse than CO2 (and I thought that my best high school buddy was the greatest emitter.)
Food Security: With over 7 billion mouths to feed (and that’s just from the Octa-mom), and until now, population has increased exponentially, how can we justify raising crops that could be consumed by humans, in order to feed animals? No matter how you slice it (or chop it), there is no question which method of consumption gives you more bang for the buck (sorry, Bambi). It’s bad enough that much of our agricultural output is put in gas tanks instead of stomachs, but that is a subject for a future discussion.
The demand for meat protein rises with affluence. As emerging economies such as those lately seen in China, India and others, this protein source becomes more competitive, putting the poor at a severe disadvantage. Yes, there will always be poor people, but do we have to make their lives even more miserable? Even caring candidate Romney has addressed this, stating, “I love poor people. They’re just the right height.”
According to an expert at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, it requires 41 million tons of plant protein to produce just 7 million tons of animal protein. That’s about a 5/6 hit to the supply. It’s only logical that eliminating cattle as a source of food would be a far more efficient use of dwindling resources.
Celebrity Status: I can eat in the same restaurants as Michelle Pfeiffer.