Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book review: The Ominvore's Dilemma

Consider the whole point of this book: what do you want for dinner? Depending on your store, you have almost everything in the world to choose from. Some of it has a low price in the store, but may have a high cost to society, the earth, and potentially our health. Although this is mostly related to meat and how it's born, raised, and eventually slaughtered, it could be anything. The Chinese pine nuts are an example of this. Think of the fuel it takes to transport that from China (along with just about everything that's for sale at WalMart, Target, Sams, the mall, you name it) or wherever its origin. There's an eventual price to be paid for it, and although I'm not saying we have to change everything, we have to at least be cognizant of it.
The concepts of the CAFO (concentrated animal farm operation) and the dominance that corn and its multiple byproducts have over the American agricultural industry are important ones, and have been going on relatively unnoticed by the general public for decades. But there may be bigger issues at stake here, including public health and immigration as brought out by Linklater's Fast Food Nation. Not to mention antibiotic resistance of common human pathogens like resistant staph infections.
The easiest question to ask but one of the most difficult to answer is this: Do you know where your meat comes from? Likely not, as you're limited to what the best deal Harris Teeter, Kroger, Schnuck's, Publix, Sam's, Costco, etc. can get. And the cheapest, high-yield production of meat is by CAFO with an artificial diet of corn products (that cows have to be forced to eat to their detriment and ours) . What about salmon, then, can't I just eat that and get my omega 3's and vitamin E back? Unfortunately, it may not be that simple. The diet change in the beef, fish and poultry products that we love alters the fat composition.
OK fine, so I'm buying all organic milk. That's better right? Maybe, maybe not. The definition of organic, and free-range, and pasture-raised, and wild varies with the industry and what the government forces them to do.
What's the difference between free-range and regular CAFO? An open door and a small patch of grass that the animals may have access to but don't necessarily ever traverse. I mean, is that really different or better? Maybe but not as much as we'd like to think.
I think we've been our own worst enemies here, as we are so far under the thumb of big agribusiness, that we're stuck with a lot of the status quo. I'm no expert on any of this, and like anyone, I have to process the information and decide for myself if it's real or not. It does, however, make sense to know that my chickens, pork, beef, lamb, eggs, etc. are pasture-raised by a farmer from Kentucky or Tennessee whom I've met, talked to, and who welcome visitation to their respective farms to see how things are done. It's not always feasible, because we all suffer from the Omnivore's Dilemma: we have access to just about anything you can imagine, and a lot of it we can get overnight.
Consider this: the world's largest pork producer is Smithfield foods. Do you think this is not an influential company? Just ask Paula Deen. The current flu epidemic is thought to have originated from one of their CAFOs in La Gloria, Mexico in the state of Veracruz. What was previously reported as the swine flu by the World Health Organization is now being called H1N1 influenza. Why? Because people started banning pork imports, the Egyptians started killing ALL of their country's pigs, and pork sales were going down. One of the first American officials to refer to this was none other than President Obama, back in April before the WHO officially changed the name.

My opinion is that there's almost certainly a not-so-friendly truth behind what we're being sold. Reading this book has forced me to think far differently about how I intend to feed myself and my family. I highly recommend it, and even if it doesn't have the answers, it is thought-provoking and worth a look. For all we know, this could be the subject of the next American revolution.

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