I just read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and enthusiastically recommend you do the same. I learned so much about the food industry, about how the government’s subsidies on corn are a horrible thing, about how the industrial processing of animals in the United States today is beyond despicable, and about how good farming and growing conducted in a responsible sustainable manner can be if it’s done correctly. Food is the only industry in America that sells on one quality, price. Supermarkets advertise .79 cents for eggs, 2.99 lb for beef, .99 for bananas… what other industry would be able to use the motto “we pack it high and sell it cheap”.
I will never eat another animal out of the industrial system again, and I’ll give you some of the highlights as to why, first cows. Cows need to eat grasses, not corn. When cows eat corn they get very sick, so they get pumped full of pharmaceuticals 24/7 to keep them alive. A cows stomach, when it eats grass is pH neutral, but on a diet of corn it gets acidic like ours, so the bacteria that forms there will be able to survive in our stomach as well, unlike the bacteria that forms in a grass fed cow that gets killed in humans. The cows are locked up in tight confinement up to their elbows in dung. The corn diet fattens the cows up fast, and that is necessary for a system that treats animals as straight commodities; it is also necessary because the cows would die soon after the slaughter date because of their corn fed illnesses.
Pigs… piglets in the wild nurse off their mother’s milk for 10 weeks, but industrial pigs only get to nurse for 3 days. This leaves the pigs with an oral fixation and a need to suck for a lifetime. In their industrial captivity they are packed in as tightly as possible, and they chew each others tails to the point of infection. For this reason the piglets tails are snipped off with no anesthesia. The pigs live in pens with metal slat floors directly over a cesspool.
Hens live in pens packed in like sardines for their entire lives. They kill each other and rub their breasts bare against the bars. Broiler chickens are kept in open pens because of the scarring that occurs to the birds in the cages, but since it’s just the eggs and not the meat they’re after, they go for the most efficient method, tiny cages each containing 6 birds. That’s how they get eggs to you at .79 cents a dozen.
I am willing to pay more for food of higher quality. I am also willing to pay more for food that comes from animals that led a happy life. Polyface is a farm in Virginia that is featured in the book. They raise cows, chickens, hens, turkeys, pigs and more. The way they operate is brilliant. The animals each do exactly what comes instinctively to them, and Joel Salatin, the owner of the farm, is like an orchestra conductor rotating them around the pasture in a concert of productivity and sustainability. The results are amazing, the food tastes incredible, and it’s much healthier, the farm is thriving.
A friend of Joel’s tried to set up a meat processing plant because the USDA won’t let Joel set up a slaughterhouse on a farm, and they don’t want to send such high quality meat to the same industrial plant that renders 400 industrial cows per hour. So they followed the USDA regulations to a tee and after jumping through all the hoops the USDA approved the operation and they were open for business. But this facility only processed 10-20 cows per day, so the USDA shut it down because it wasn’t worth their inspector’s time due to the low volume. It’s a horrible face of this country that embarrasses me beyond belief. The system only allows food processing on an industrial scale because the lobbyists want it that way. And industrial food is supported by the strongest lobbies including Big Oil and Pharma. Joel Salatin is not supported in Washington because his farm is completely self-sufficient.
If we want the food industry to change, the best way to do it is by supporting your local farms. Buy organic produce, eat fewer processed foods and more whole foods, and buy as much of your food as you can from your local growers, and read this book!