Musings on meat

As always, I love it when I happen across a random selection of articles in a short time frame that, together, offer a dynamic “bigger picture” of an issue. First, I read last week’s Opinionator piece from Mark Bittman, “Hooked on Meat.” Writing from the vantage point of a trip to Turkey, he spoke of the need to reduce our meat consumption and move toward a model of sustainable meat production.
Since I already do those things, he was preaching to the choir, in my case, but I think I’m objective enough to say that he makes good points.
[Sidenote: I was telling Jeff about this article at dinner one night late last week, and remarked that even though it might seem to the casual observer that we eat a lot of meat (because we have a freezer full of beef and pork), I had in fact not eaten any meat that day. He looked down at the homemade pizza we were partaking of (whole wheat crust, leeks, red onion, shallots, fennel, kale, arugula, basil, olive oil and Parmesan cheese) and said “Wow, neither did I. How someone do that without noticing?” I theorized that when someone eats a varied diet with lots of healthy foods, especially lots of veggies, even a meat eater is likely to eat enough vegetarian meals that, occasionally, a whole vegetarian day will happen by coincidence.]
The second article, “Why Mark Zuckerberg’s Meat Challenge Is Full of Bull,” is an opinion/analysis of the Facebook founder’s proclamation that this year he would not eat any meat he did not kill himself. In this piece, author Laurel Miller gives him some credit for making himself aware of where his food comes from.
“I’ve long believed that if we choose to eat meat, we should, at the very least, acknowledge that it was once a living creature (you would be surprised by how many people think meat comes shrink-wrapped from the grocery store, as if birthed by a Cryovac machine).”
I could not agree more. I am not a vegetarian, so clearly I don’t have an issue with eating meat. But I do care about how an animal lived while it was alive, and I do remind myself frequently that a cute steer and a roly poly pig did die to fill my freezer.
Miller goes further, asserting that if Zuckerman really wants to put his good intentions where his mouth is, he should do more than kill the animals he will eat…he should butcher and wrap them. While I see her point, I personally would not be willing to do that (Jeff might, though). She does offer some other alternatives for those who want to understand the extent of where their meat comes from:

“For those who don’t have access to a farmer, chef neighbor, or stacks of cash, the best way to educate yourself about where food comes from is to read books such as Michael Pollan’s excellent The Ominvore’s Dilemma, visit your local farmers market, take a farm tour, or watch a movie such as ‘Food, Inc.’ “

Then the bomb dropped. I’m sure you’re aware of the E.coli outbreak in Germany. It’s a story that’s had more twists and turns and international intrigue than a spy novel. The latest news is linking the outbreak to tainted sprouts produce in Germany. Whether that proves true, the fact is that this is a rare and particularly nasty strain of E.coli. It’s killed 22 people so far and caused acute kidney failure in others. More than 2,100 others are sick…with 600 of those in intensive care. Even better, this particular strain is resistant to antibiotics.
If health experts are looking at vegetables as the potential source of infection, what does this have to do with meat, you ask. Well, I’ll tell you. The fact that more and more strains of bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics is a BIG problem. I big problem that keeps getting BIGGER. Two practices that are contributing HEAVILY to this big problem are:
  1. People who go into their doctor’s office and demand a prescription for antibiotics when they have a cold or some other infection caused by a virus. Antibiotics don’t fight viruses…they fight bacteria.
  2. The practice by industrialized meat production to give animals “sub-therapeutic” or “prophylactic” doses of antibiotics to try to keep the animals from getting sick from the conditions they live in. By conditions, I mean that they live crowded together in their own feces and are fed diets that their digestive systems aren’t designed to handle. (For more on this point, see the recent New York Times Editorial “The High Cost of Cheap Meat” and the PBS Frontline program on “Modern Meat.”)
As long as most people eat more meat than they really need to, the population as a whole will continue to support a large industry that contributes to antibiotic resistance. How good is that cheap hamburger going to taste if somewhere down the line, you become infected with bacteria that refuse to lay down and die despite attempts to kill them with antibiotic after antibiotic? Think about those bacteria the next time you cut your finger, eat a meal, have surgery (especially if you also have a catheter or breathing tube) or are too tired to clean your contact lenses properly. And that’s only a fraction of the ways that bacteria can gain entry to your body to cause problems.
If you would like a good primer on antibiotic resistance, why it matters, and what you can do to avoid contributing to the problem, check out the Get Smart website from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.