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Conventional meat and dairy are products of confined animal feeding lots. In this article, we look at the evils of this industry, the related health dangers of those foods — and the not-too-difficult alternatives! What to buy instead …
This article is dedicated to my husband, Tim, who cares passionately that all consumers know what conventional dairy and meat cows eat…and what we’re supporting when we eat conventional dairy and meat. This article is written to Americans. It’s a bit “spicy;” but hang tight for the ride and please hear the cry.
Kids are great. They are great at saying the truth in a pointed way, cornering the real question like a coyote its prey, no mercy, no concept of what’s appropriate. Just, give me the answer because what you’re saying doesn’t add up.
My kids want to know why people eat conventional US-made cheese, ice cream, yogurt, milk, and butter when the cows these products come from are raised in confined animal feeding operations, (referred to as CAFO), and are fed genetically modified grain.
“We don’t do this very often.”
“It’s a special treat.”
“I don’t want to offend anyone.”
“I don’t want to come off as radical.”
“We can’t get organic food where we live.”
“We were in that neighborhood.”
Some of the most common excuses for eating conventional dairy products are listed above. They are all cop-outs, bad excuses, lies we tell ourselves as we delay doing what is right. Every time a consumer chooses a conventional cheese, ice cream, butter, yogurt, or meat they are supporting one farm and not supporting another kind of farm. Every time.
Why do we not care more? Why does some gourmet cheese or ice cream with good branding sway us to compromise? Conventional dairy is almost always GM! No matter how cute the font on the packaging, how gourmet the product, if it’s American, and it’s not organic or stringently sustainable, then what are you supporting?
Green washing and the rBST-free label
One recent trick that’s been completely successful for perpetuating the wool-in-sheep’s-clothing dairy industry is the label “rBST-free.” Many consciences have been assuaged by that phrase. When consumers read “rBST-free” they suddenly felt their milk or cheese no longer had growth hormones, antibiotics, or came from GM feedlots. A few years ago, during a holiday gathering, a relative said to me over his breakfast cereal, “Look, we buy organic milk too.” He showed me his Trader Joe’s conventional low-fat milk with the sticker on it that said, “rBST-free.” I smiled and nodded, knowing he was proud of his choice and really didn’t want me to tell him otherwise.
Alas, the rBST growth hormone was just one villain in a mafia-entangled, mega-enterprise of pollutants in our dairy. Taking out one growth hormone because it managed to be vilified is good. But what’s left behind is still trash milk, milk that comes from cows that are fed in feedlots huge masses of corn and antibiotics. That milk is not organic. What is important, though, about the success of no longer having this growth hormone in milk is revealed in this statement in 2006, “Two of New England’s largest dairies recently began ridding their bottled milk of artificial growth hormones to keep up with consumers’ growing demands for organic milk.” Consumer demand affects the suppliers’ choices!
Local vs. Organic
In most medium size American cities you can find one or many family-owned, local dairies. The people who own them might be lovely people. But they are feeding their cows GM grain. Down the street, or way across town, or maybe 100 miles away, is another family, possibly struggling to make ends meet, feeding their animals on pasture or grain they’ve grown themselves, grain that isn’t GM, although some are neighbored by GM farms. Choose the non-GM farmer every time.
Choose not because the first family is bad but because his choice, that whole system, is egregious. The only reason our current system supports Monsanto and its hoodlums so well is because more consumers don’t care. Monsanto’s millions of dollars couldn’t stand up against consumer dollars. BUY ORGANIC. CHOOSE ORGANIC. And here’s where I’ll be really inflammatory: CHOOSE ORGANIC OVER LOCAL.
Years ago, Ruth Reichl, the then-editor of Gourmet Magazine, exhorted her readers to buy local over organic, if put in a position to choose. I disagree for so many reasons. I remember being so frustrated at her position that I couldn’t even calm myself enough to write a proper letter to the editor, in response. It’s been over 10 years since her letter was published. I feel calm now. But I still see a more moderate and, I believe, logical perspective.
First of all, in many cities throughout our country these two categories are in no way mutually exclusive. You can buy organic, local dairy, produce, and meat, no problem. Just a little effort is required in finding the farm, connecting with the producer. More and more co-ops and local markets, as well as online co-ops, are connecting consumers to grass-fed producers.
Secondly, if you are in a city with zero organic meat, milk, or produce, the real issue she was hitting on was the fossil fuels required to truck food across the nation. This is an excellent concern and certainly one that I care about. However, we must weigh the evils and decide what battles to win first if we are going to win the war!
If we buy conventional, local dairy there are a couple benefits. One is that there is less pollution from trucks and planes transporting the goods, less petroleum used. Two is that a local family is being supported, which is great for loving thy neighbor and keeping the money from one’s own community within that community.
I would never diminish those benefits. Buying and eating locally is important. But what if what we’re buying is bad for our bodies, bad for the environment, and bad for our moral edification, as in, we’re lying to ourselves that something is good and not noticing the greater villain lurking in our neighborhood and very own kitchen!
If you must choose between these two values, and you need to buy organic produce or dairy from somewhere other than within your hometown, chances are that there is a farm within your state at least that is sustainably raising their meat or milk. If not, you can have these quality products shipped to you from another American state! We never need to buy zucchini from Mexico or pears from Argentina. We can reduce our carbon footprint by at least staying within our country, supporting the American economy, supporting the closest farmer to our home who is trying to live rightly, instead of not looking at the issues honestly.
How to budget for sustainable meat and dairy
Not to get too personal, but let’s face it: Americans love buying superfluous stuff, fancy stereo systems, phones, cars, clothes. We could spend more on food, less on snack junk food, impulse buys, beer, and football and more on the right preventative medicine, sustainably-sourced food. I can hear so many Americans saying they can’t afford to eat organic. What is more accurate is that they weren’t raised in a culture where they know how to deprive themselves of the above-mentioned optional purchases in order to prioritize purchasing organic food. While there are poor people in our country who truly can’t afford more expensive animal products, most Americans could redistribute their budget and make it work. But culturally many are prevented from understanding the importance or knowing how to implement the change. But is that you? It’s more often the case that Americans are making excuses.
Pain is a great motivator. The sicker we get, the more we’ll start to listen. And the more changes we’ll be willing to make in the way of preventative medicine and in an effort to heal.
Omega 3s and 6s in red meat
Regarding our health and grass-fed food consumption, Chris Kresser says,
The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in our tissue is crucial to health. Too much omega-6 in relation to omega-3 has been shown to be a factor in everything from depression and arthritis to heart disease and diabetes. There isn’t a modern disease out there that isn’t influenced by this ratio.
Feedlot cattle produce meat and milk that has 20 times the omega-6 ratio to grass-fed. This is the beef and dairy fat that causes heart disease. Whereas, as you may know, grass-fed products are comparable to salmon in their omega 3:6 fatty acid profile.
According to Chris Kerston of Chaffin Orchards, who spoke at the 2012 Weston A. Price Foundation conference, the pork industry is completely centralized, which means that from the time they are born until the time the meat is wrapped and packaged, ready to ship to grocery markets, the animals never see sunlight. They are housed in giant warehouses, shackled by an already corrupt farming system. To go back, or fix this system, will take a long time. The cattle industry, he says, actually has more hope in some ways because many calves are grass and udder fed until they are 6 months old. At this point conventional farming sends them to their barren feed lots. But if there is enough demand from consumers, the farmers and landowners who send their cattle to that purgatory, can have other more sustainable options, such as co-ops or selling directly to the public. US Wellness meats is one such company. They sell their grass-fed products to all 50 states through an online business! So for cities that are cut off from any sustainable products, here’s a company to support while also feeding your body what it should be eating.
What feedlot animals eat
Kerston’s own experience working for a conventional feedlot is what changed his life and practices. He tells us what the average feedlot feeds their cattle. Truths of these ingredients should indeed wake us up from any and all compromise, or delay of change. The ingredients in daily cattle feed, all to get the price down, include the following:
…erythomycin… testosterone, estadiol benzoate, sodium bicarbonate, poloxaline, propionic acid, chicken manure, cattle manure, chocolate, stale pastries, cement dust, molasses, candy, urea, hooves, feathers, meat scraps (but not from ruminants, as that has now been banned due to BSE/madcow), fish meal, pasta, peanut skins, brewery wastes, cardboard, corn silage, GMO grains, and various pesticides.
You see above that the first ingredient is an antibiotic? “70% of US antibiotic production is fed to livestock,” says Kerston.
Follow the link here to view an entertaining, quick movie short called, “The Meatrix.” This clever movie will motivate you to put down the Tillamook cheese block at Costco or the supposedly gourmet ice cream sold at your local market. It will show you the delusion we live in, the wool that’s been pulled over our eyes. Stop everything; see reality for what it is. Don’t buy conventional American dairy products ever. Buy only grass-fed or “better than organic” products, from small farms you actually know reject all GM feed options. It’s almost always nice to be gracious, to give someone the benefit of the doubt. But after you’ve lived and worked in the food and restaurant industry you quickly realize that the opportunities to compromise are linked to one’s success. Many businesses feel they can’t survive if they don’t create or use GM dairy or meat. The truth is that they may fail. But they still need to be brave, stop compromising, raise their prices if necessary, and offer the only moral option. Perpetuating a corrupt and unhealthy system is the black and white alternative.
More sustainable farmers everyday!
According to NPR, “A decade ago, there were fewer than 50 grass-fed cattle operations in the U.S. Now there are thousands.” This is what consumer dollars can do, literally change the world we live in, the America we live in. Farming is what first started this country. According to Almanzo Wilder’s father in the iconic book Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, farming is what made this country great. I have to agree. But if that’s the case, the number of heroic farmers growing in this country need our support. Local farmers buying GM feed do not need our support. They need to change their ways.
Farmers pasturing their animals, rotating them to fresh grass, have leaner animals. That means that their food takes longer to grow and costs more to produce, but also that their food gives them more pleasure and pride to produce. The cows are truly happy. The meat is healthy. We needn’t worry about things like fat and cholesterol when cows are eating what they’re meant to eat.
Please make a change today. Buy only organic or completely sustainably-raised dairy and meat products. Reorganize your budget if necessary. Don’t say to yourself, it’s gourmet, so it’s probably okay. It’s not okay. That company is trying to save a dime; so they’re using conventional dairy or meat. Yulch. No more. Organic or better than organic, every time.
I do, by the way, enjoy buying international cheeses at times, from countries that have outlawed genetic modification. I buy triple cream brie from France, for instance. But a recent shock came from Italy, as you may be aware; they are growing GM canola and topping it off with olive extract, then shipping it en masse to America to be sold as olive oil. The process is ongoing, even now, being so webbed with the mafia and lies. So even European (from the specific countries that have banned the use of GMOs) products, which should be trustworthy when it comes to genetic modification, should be purchased with caution. Extra-virgin olive oil is what we should be consuming anyway; so just stay away from regular, refined olive oil and you should be safe from that cheap snake oil.
The world is a beautiful place. But there are evils and we must be wise; we must care. We must create and sustain the beauty we desire. Smile and take pride in the farms and restaurants you are supporting.